You’ve probably noticed that everything kind of sucks right now. And ground zero for this suckiness is the one place that tends to elevates outrage and feasts on negativity – social media.
If you don’t have social media and don’t care to have an account, that’s totally fine. You can skip this and go back to meditating or whatever it is you people do. But if you’re a Public Information Officer or a Social Media Manager in any public capacity, you really don’t have that luxury. The social media battlefield is where you live and breathe, and your need to constantly be connected for work means that you're probably consuming way more than the doctor-recommended social media dose. Additionally, if you actually care about your job, you probably identify with the agency you work for. In that case the arguments, outrage and trolling can feel oddly personal.
Either way, by the time you log off at the end of the workday (or night) you’re pretty drained, yet you constantly find yourself checking back in. It’s not really your fault, our phones have conditioned us by design to keep coming back for more, kind of like horses that run back to the barn that’s on fire because it’s the only place they know (that’s a thing, you can look it up.)
Whether it’s work or personal, our time on social media should be well spent connecting and learning. It definitely shouldn’t be spent fuming over a political meme your co-worker from 3 jobs ago shared on his IG story, or fighting on Facebook with some guy your ex-roommate dated once (and don’t even get me started on your neighbors on Nextdoor. Those people are intense.)
In my years in the digital space and especially in my previous role as director of social media for the NYPD, I’ve learned that as long as you’re human, the negativity on social media is going to sting, or at the very least exhaust you. I’ve read many mean posts in my life, and though I've never reached the point where I could brush them off, I did develop a few ways to minimize the stress involved with a shell-shocked day spent online.
Believe in the grace of the Lurkers
Your posts may get a few hundred or thousand views on average, but probably only a handful of engagement. That means that when the world seems to be attacking you, at least 90% of the people seeing your message are choosing not to jump in to the mosh-pit of comments and shares. Who are these Lurkers? What purpose do they serve?
Lurkers are kind of like God. We don’t really have proof they exist, but we need to believe in them in order to maintain our faith that the world is a good place. They are listening, taking in the information and considering it without judgment or outrage. Don’t believe it? That’s fine, but you can’t prove I’m wrong either!
Pick your battles
When you're scrolling your personal social media, It’s hard not to jump in when you see something outrageous, especially if it’s about a topic you care about or have knowledge of due to your work. Getting into online arguments is rarely fun, but sometimes it's the right thing to do. Before you dive in on a thread, ask yourself the following questions.
1. Am I willing to engage? Don’t throw in a “one and done” comment on someone’s post if you’re not willing to actually have a conversation about it, because you WILL be dragged into one (“conversation” being a generous term.) The notifications will pile up, and even if you swore you wouldn’t respond, you’ll likely be sucked in. So before you post, ask yourself if you can be in it for the long haul.
2. Will engaging with this make me feel better or worse? Do I think I might influence someone’s opinion, or will it get very ugly very quickly? Remember, the lurkers are still there in the atmosphere, so just because you can’t change the original poster’s mind, doesn’t mean you won’t make a difference. But ask yourself if the stress is worth it.
3. Is my tone respectful? If you do comment, try to be nice. Not only because it’s, well, the nice thing to do, but also because no one’s mind has every changed because someone made them feel crappy. So leave the snark out of it and try to treat the other party like you want to be treated. A condescending and obnoxious tone might get you a few chuckles and likes from people who agree with you anyway, but it won’t make anyone sympathetic to what you have to say.
Facts are your friends. Social media algorithms are not
Social media will make use believe the sky is falling. Just because you see more and more videos of “Karens” calling cops or of people looting stores, doesn’t mean we’re in the middle of an outbreak, or that those incidents reflect society as a whole. An increase in incidents caught on camera and shared on social media has nothing to do with how widespread they are. It doesn’t even have much to do with how often these incidents are being filmed, but it does have to do with how much traction they get on social. Before you come after me – this is good news! It means that things aren’t always as bad as they seem. Next time you are outraged by something you see on social media, look up facts and figures from reputable sources to determine if it is part of a bigger problem, or just a moment in time. Doing so will probably bore you, and that’s fantastic. Boring is so much better than angry.
Create a Twitter list of normal people
Twitter can be an awful place and it can be a wonderful place, and you should make sure you have easy access to the wonderful. Make a private Twitter list of accounts that share balanced, insightful information that you enjoy reading. Maybe even throw in something unrelated that will make you smile. When you open Twitter a million times a day, go to your list to read thought-provoking commentary and watch funny videos, that's what we envisioned for it in the first place anyway.
Choose what you share wisely
When we think of fake news we think of that email our aunt forwarded us about how if we don’t copy paste this into Facebook, mark Zuckerberg will steal our photos. Those are easy to dispute. But what about widely-circulated split second videos that don’t paint a full picture? Or an outrageous headline that leaves out important information? Recently, Twitter recommended people read things before they actually share them. I would also ask you to read something else about the subject too. You’ll find the horrible truth about the truth, is that it (usually) lies somewhere in the middle. And the middle, as any person who has ever gone viral will tell you, doesn’t get any shares.
Every time we share something that’s not entirely true yet causes anger, it’s akin to being on fire and then taking a match, holding it to your head and throwing it at all your friends so they too can be on fire. Why would you do that? Don’t set friends on fire unless you need to (please create your own metaphor as to why you may need to light someone on fire)
If you can, take a break
Some superheroes manage to remove social media apps from their phones entirely. Some check social media only at specific times, God bless them. I recently took a 7 day screen/life challenge designed to help you “break up” with your phone. I found it incredibly useful and eye-opening, even though I only made it to day 2. I even went out for a walk once without my phone, though I spent the whole hour wondering who Halsey wrote the song “You Should Be Sad” about, without the ability to look it up.
You don’t need me to tell you that you’re addicted to your phone, but I will tell you that if you spend some time without it nothing bad will happen, and you’ll probably feel good for a little once you get over the initial anxiety. You’ll be less stressed, more present and maybe even talk to some nice people. I promise all your questions will still be waiting for you when you are reunited. (Sources say she wrote it about G-Easy)
The idealist in me still believes in the power of social media to create movements, connect people and change the world. But like everything, it can unleash its power with devastating and negative effects to people and societies. You may not be able to stop the wave, but you can at least protect yourself from some of it’s more toxic elements. And as they say, if you look around you and talk to your friends and neighbors, you may find that the world is a much better place than you’ve been told.