There’s nothing like a national crisis to stir up a bit of trouble on social media.
I frequently turned to social media for curated reflections in 2016 and early 2017, and it proved to be severely detrimental for my mental health.
So far as I can tell, I had relatively good motives. I was seeking out the opinions of a wide variety of experts in real time.
Why would that leave me feeling anxious, sad, or hopeless?
Divisive, Extreme Views Thrive on Social Media
The challenge with social media is that it rewards the most divisive, shocking, and reactionary voices with more attention, not less. Taking the most recent news of Greta Thunberg’s advocacy to take action against the global climate crisis as an example, the critics who shared some of the most controversial or even cruel responses to her received the most attention on social media this week.
That’s just how social media works.
As I have used social media with more awareness (and MANY more limitations), I’ve noticed how the most extreme and divisive views tend to get the most interaction and responses. Even if I want to seek out helpful perspectives on social media, I’m also exposing myself to the toxic actors as well.
Most bloggers and social media users know that the easiest way to draw a crowd online, or anywhere really, is to start a fight.
Even worse, numerous reports and studies of social media trends have found that more groups and nations than ever are employing automated “bots” or programs written to promote certain content. Pew Research estimated in 2018 that 66% of links shared on Twitter were shared by bots. In other words, there is an unknown amount of manipulation to social media trends.
We Are Exposed to Despair on Social Media
If you’re already a bit nervous about an issue, event, or an individual, you will most assuredly be exposed to a wide array of responses on social media that may leave you wondering about your own views.
Perhaps the person voicing reasons for despair or a lack of hope will place just enough doubt and unease into your mind to leave you feeling unsettled. In fact, you may even know on an intellectual level that such a despairing view is most likely wrong, but just knowing of the possibility may be enough to disrupt your day.
Even when I’m expecting to find people on social media who are drowning in despair, their comments on otherwise informative posts can still change my mindset.
Social Media Can Spread Deception
If the primary way to get noticed on social media is to trigger a reaction of any kind, then the truth of a statement is less important than the sentiment it stirs up in readers. In fact, we all struggle with confirmation bias that expects people to act in certain ways.
Narratives, whether based in reality or in a twisting of the truth, can be woven on social media and passed off as factual because they fit within our expectations.
If we’re already despairing of a situation on social media, then we may be more likely to believe a story that alleviates that despair.
If a particular narrative, whether true or not, has already left us angry or divided from others, then we may be more likely to believe a story that justifies that anger or those divisions.
Finding confirmation bias in my own social media use has been humbling but quite good for my soul.
Saving Our Souls from Division, Despair, and Deception
Now is a great time to ground ourselves in silence before God and awareness of our family and friends immediately around us. Social media can sweep us away in a current of emotions that can leave us feeling fearful, angry, or uncertain.
There’s only so much we can do in a given day, and most of what we can do that will make the most difference for our souls and for our neighbors won’t require extensive time spent on social media or any digital devices.
If you need to check on the news, consider going to a few different news websites rather than subjecting yourself to the chaos of social media. While there may be a time to engage experts on social media or to share posts on social media, beware the way that we can be swept away by the emotions, divisions, and narratives placed before us.
Social media is not designed to help our souls to thrive, and any benefits it offers for connection come with perhaps even more serious threats for disconnection from one another and from God’s present love for us.
Reconnect with Soul Care
I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).