I've just read a really thought-provoking article by author Matt Haig about the downsides of social media. It's a an interesting opinion piece covering the potential harm that social media can do to our mental health and he concludes the article by saying:
"Of course, we won’t stop using it – I certainly won’t – but precisely for that reason we need to know more about what it is doing to us. To our politics, to our health, to the future generation, and to the world around us. We need to ensure we are still the ones using the technology – and that the technology isn’t using us."
Social Media (SM) is still in its infancy and I feel we're often reacting to events as opposed to being one step ahead of this modern monster.
SM is a global phenomenon fraught with danger - trolls, bad ideas and people shouting at each other from their keyboard. But despite all its potential evil, I believe that if you use it right it can be an amazing force for good.
Whilst there is no definitive international guide to SM, by just applying a little common sense, you can keep yourself safer online.
So, my Rules of Engagement are:
1. THINK BEFORE YOU POST
He said WHAT???!!! She posted THAT??!! If you just seen something on SM that's pressed a big red button inside you, before you hit 'reply' to give them a few barrels of your helpful 'feedback':
STOP AND WALK AWAY from your screen.
Most people on social media are completely unaware they're playing a game - adopting the roles of persecuting others, feeling victimised or rescuing the victims from those nasty persecutors.
Each and every game is tedious, time consuming, emotionally fraught and ultimately pointless.
Some preach to their church, others shout at the preaching - neither will change the other's opinions or views of the world, but they just can't help themselves but be dragged into an often highly abusive, personal, public scrap, simply because they don't agree with each other.
You might gain valuable insight into what I mean by watching Tracey Ullman's "Not Everyone Thinks Exactly the Same As You Do" Support Group which makes me laugh out loud every time I view it:
You have a choice whether to engage or not. But remember, because everyone's opinions are influenced by their past life experiences and biases, opinions always say more about the person than they do about reality.
2. AVOID COMPETITIVE INTERACTIONS
It's really important to remember that every time you interact with another human being what flows from your mind, mouth or fingers onto a keyboard is either competitive or co-operative. All of your interactions fall into these two categories.
This is really important, because the more you post competitively or read posts that are competitive, the more unhappy you're likely to be. Surrounding yourself with Co-operation brings about more positive feelings & a far healthier outlook on life.
Just take a minute to look at one of your SM's news feeds / timelines right now & sort everything you see into these two categories.
I'm looking at my Facebook feed as I type (deep breaths, ready to WALK AWAY) - here's what I see:
A friend's pictures from their luxury villa in Mauritius = competitive
Kids' pics back to school = competitive
A post on a local page about how disgusted a man was to see a drug addict dying on the street & having to explain this to his child = competitive
A follow up to the same post from a lady who accompanied this 'drug addict' to hospital saying the man was not a drug addict but had actually had a stroke & epileptic fit & was now in hospital = started co-operative, but ended competitive with a 'don't judge' type of comment.
A post requesting extras with long hair to appear in Poldark = co-operative.
A friend imposing their values and opinion on others re: Brexit = competitive
Someone asking for a lift tomorrow and offering to chip in for the petrol = co-operative
Someone posting links regarding their hobby = competitive
And so it goes on.......as you can see, slightly more competition than co-operation. It's all about an unconscious game of power but it's one that you don't have to engage in.
Now, I'm certainly no innocent when it comes to competitive posting, however, since I've made the effort to become aware of this behaviour and refrain from engaging with it, I've found SM far more enjoyable.
Offering a co-operative interaction will not only make you feel OK, but also anyone who sees your post. And if you're going to scribe something competitive, stop and ask yourself why? Why am I doing this? Am I persecuting, victimising or rescuing? Do I really need to? Frankly, what's the point?
3. DROP ANYONE YOU REALLY DON'T LIKE & ONLY FOLLOW THOSE WHO BRING OUT POSITIVE FEELINGS
OK, so if you're not brave enough to blatantly unfriend all those people you find annoying, simply mute them.
I've muted quite a few on Facebook and I regularly unfollow anyone on Twitter who I experience as consistently snide or nasty. I don't find value in their hate-filled posts and I simply don't need to read them.
I know there's a risk of ending up in an unhealthy echo chamber, however, at the moment my Twitter feed is a rather peaceful, educational, amusing and positive one, not filled with doom, power play and hate. I can't see how that's unhealthy.
4. DON'T POST ANYTHING YOU WOULDN'T MIND APPEARING ON THE FRONT PAGE OF A NATIONAL NEWSPAPER
Your SM posts are your online shop window to the world and you need to treat them with extreme caution/care. Privacy is a massive issue for anyone engaging online.
How much do you want The World to know about you?
Your name? Your partner's name and picture? Your children's names and pictures? Your address? Your age? Bank details? What you like for breakfast? Your political views? Your religious views? Inside leg measurement?
This is all stuff that only a few years ago most people never had access to. But now I can look fairly intimate details of strangers with just a few clicks sat at my desk. And if I can do that, so can your employer, future employer, Inland Revenue, local stalker, international fraudster & anyone with severe mental health issues.
And do you really want your Mother knowing about what you did last night?
It can be a minefield out there & your privacy really needs to be one of the first things you think about before you post.
5. NEVER EVER EVER USE SM WHILST UNDER THE INFLUENCE
It's obvious and I'm not telling you anything new, but for all the reasons listed above, this is the ultimate no-no! You are NOT more funny / clever / interesting after a few drinks or drugs and you never will be. Plus, you will have to live with the inevitable backlash / aftermath that may follow you around forever if you choose to indulge whilst inebriated.
Make it a personal rule to avoid SM like the plague when you know you're not in full control.
Try following those rules for a week and see if it make a difference to how you feel about SM. They're not bomb-proof & trolls, show-offs & provocateurs will always exist, however, you may reduce your chance of finding one if you engage with SM in a more positive way.
SM can be a brilliant tool for some positive learning, co-operating and engaging or an utter nightmare that has ruined many peoples' lives.
You have a choice in how you use it - which scenario do you prefer?