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Social Media is Toxic, But Only if You Let It

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When social media started out in the mid-2000s, it had a simple goal: connect friends and family to each other.

The first generation of social media platforms pretty much succeeded in that. Friendster encouraged people to make positive ‘testimonials’ about each other, MySpace made it easy to connect with strangers who had the same interests as you, and Facebook took all the positive aspects of the previous platforms and helped users create a network of people they cared about.

The early days of social media were all about posting on each other’s feed with little messages, funny photos, and videos, and pretty much anything else that made the other person feel connected to you, not to mention a great way to maximize your time at home.

Fast forward to 2020  and we now see social media as this vile, toxic place in cyberspace where people are just yelling at each other, spreading fake news and gossip, and in some cases, even bullying other people to suicide.

Social media has become toxic for a number of reasons, but there are ways to combat this. Here are some reasons why social media platforms have become a bad place, and how you can do your part to bring back the positivity:

The Problem: People Value Likes So Much, It’s Making Us Crazy

Scientists have, again and again, proven that the likes, comments, and shares we receive on social media are detrimental to our mental health. It’s practically become a digital drug: every time a notification pops up on our smartphones, our brains get a little hit of endorphin.

In fact, a study conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the more likes and reacts and shares we receive on social media, the less life satisfaction we receive in the long run.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have classified “Facebook Envy” as a burgeoning psychological condition, wherein people start feeling mental anguish, usually brought about by jealousy, over their friend’s social media activity.

This happens because of what scientists call a “context collapse”, wherein we blur the lines between our online personas and our real-world ones, and they merge into a single entity. Human beings naturally have different personas: we’re slightly different when we’re at work with our professional colleagues and when we’re at a bar with our friends, or when we’re at home with our families.

However, Facebook has conditioned us to create these online personas that represent the best and most perfect version of ourselves and we tend to forget that other people are doing the same exact thing.

In fact, context collapse has gotten so bad that people have actually resorted to buying social media followers to not only boost their online relevance but also their personal psyche.

The Solution: Remember Who You Really Are, and Remember That No One is Perfect

The key to avoiding a context collapse is to remind ourselves that the online personas we have are highly curated, which means that other people are just as flawed as you. Maybe the success they show is their best version, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not without problems or imperfections.

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As the age-old saying goes, “mo’ money mo’ problems”. Sure, social media has become a great way to earn passive and extra income, and you can only get that from more followers to generate leads. But that doesn’t mean you forget what the platform is for: connecting with family and friends, and you don’t need to impress them.

It will also do us well to remember who we want our likes from. Sure, getting 1,000 likes over a Facebook post feels good, but if none of those 1,000 likers are from family and friends, what’s the point?

If you’re going to place value on social media likes and reacts, value those of your friends and family and forget about everyone else. Everything else is just digital noise.

The Problem: We’re Being Forced to Churn Out as Much Media as Possible

Because of social media’s penchant for generating ad revenue, it needs content to market. However, social media is just a platform: it needs its users to create the content for them. So they encourage us to post and create as much media to consume as possible, rewarding our engagement with likes, reacts, shares, and the distant promise of virality.

This has created a social media environment that is geared towards attention-seeking by any means necessary: people create fake pranks just to get views, users create false rumors like the ‘Tide Pod’ incident of 2019, and more seriously, governments are even leveraging social media to sway elections via political propaganda.

It’s come to a point that these activities have conditioned us to believe that the only way for us to be relevant in the digital space is to churn out as much content as possible, whether we want to or not.

The Solution: Create Meaningful Media that Your Friends and Family Will Enjoy

Going viral might seem like an indulgence that’s worth it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of internet strangers saying they like you. Go back to basics: social media is about connecting with family and friends, and the beauty of this technology is that it allows us to post various kinds of media for them.

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Post photos, make videos, create GIFs, even make personalized avatars, of your family and friends, and keep your personal network engaged with each other. After all, if we’re going to seek attention, why not seek it from people that actually matter, and not just faceless people on the internet.

The Problem: Social Media is All About Making Money

Over the past decade, Facebook has become pretty much synonymous with social media, thanks to its aggressive buyout of its competitors and its constant push towards blurring the lines between being relevant in both the digital world and the real world.

Unfortunately, this also means that our notion of social media is bound to the direction Facebook is taking, and unfortunately, the social network has long-forgotten its purpose of connecting family and friends and focused more on generating profit and revenue.

Think of it this way: despite a considerable drop in new user registration over the past few years, Facebook ad revenue actually went up by a whopping 42% back in 2018, a glaring indication that the social media giant cares more about the bottom line and less about creating a space that was primed for connectivity.

And it doesn’t stop there: Facebook’s corporate machinery is notorious for being difficult to work with, not the least of which is because of their revenue-first mindset. After Facebook acquired both WhatsApp and Instagram, the founders of those networks left after tensions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. WhatsApp founders didn’t appreciate Facebook’s decision to sell user information to third-party marketers, while Instagram founders didn’t appreciate being integrated into Facebook.

Even now, social media has conditioned us to believe that their platforms are the best way to set up an online business and get in on the action, but at the end of the day, what you earn is meager compared to what the social media execs will be making.

The Solution?

Unfortunately, this goes beyond what many of us can do as private users, other than reminding the higher-ups, either through petitions or posting about it on the platform, that social media is supposed to be focused on the people, not money. Whether or not we’ll be heard is a stretch, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

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While social media can create a toxic online environment, you still have control over it. You can filter out posts or pages that are giving you anxiety, and focus on the positive side of it. We are not just our social media profiles, we are multi-faceted human beings who have power over our deeds and emotions.

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