Sing it with me…
I’ve got clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right, here I am
Stuck in the middle with you
Some days these lyrics can feel like a pretty accurate reflection of how I feel about social media in 2020.
Good, because this is a conversation I’m having A LOT lately and I’m wondering if you feel the same.
I don’t know about you, but I first stepped into social media as a space to authentically connect with friends from around the world. It made my life sooo much easier because I’m a connector at heart.
Then brand ads got involved and it felt like we were connecting amidst a sea of commercials that eerily reflected recent topics of conversation and my latest Google search.
Then the hackers and Russians showed up and we realized how easy it was to manipulate the system and flood it with heaps of misinformation.
For me, social media has increasingly become about the soundbite/clickbait and it lacks the depth, authenticity, and that sense of real connection that we all need now more than ever.
Are you feeling that too?
Right now we are breaking free from old systems and let’s be honest…social media can be an incredibly toxic space full of false news, judgment, criticism, and trollish venom. We’re in the messy, gritty, “who’s got a damn flashlight?” middle. We can’t go back and we can’t see the other side yet. Which makes it a hella uncomfortable space to be in. And the resulting turbulent divisiveness I’m seeing online isn’t helping anyone.
It’s like we’re trying to build a brand new plane while we’re flying it! And if we’re going to keep this bird in the air, we need to buckle up, put our oxygen masks on, and work TOGETHER in order to keep moving forward.
So, how do we show up courageously, authentically, and with vulnerability and empathy when social media starts to feel a little, well, soulless?
Here’s what I know for sure – uncertainty isn’t going away. And neither is social media. From COVID-19 to the looming November election in the US and everything that has transpired around the globe in between, uncertainty seems to be the common denominator. No one is able to even remotely predict what’s going to happen next.
And since all this uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable – how do we ‘buckle up’ and show up online? Well, let me introduce my Social Media Survival Guide for 2020. Six ways you can help pilot this plane through these turbulent times:
1 – ENERGY
We have a limited amount of energy every day and sometimes we don’t realize how much we’re fueling our anxiety and depleting our energy resources by hanging out on social media. Take a moment to consider these questions:
- How much energy do you give to social media? (hint: if you don’t know your weekly screen time report on your phone will give you some idea)
- Do you have scheduled times every day when you check-in? Or are you scrolling whenever you get a spare moment?
- Are you purposefully checking in with friends and family? Or engaging with whatever pops up next? (Oh, look! Something shiny!!)
- Do you like to start your day with news and social media or end it that way? Or just check-in at lunch?
There are no right or wrong answers here (and zero judgment as always) just an opportunity to be more mindful and make sure you’re choosing what best supports your well-being.
When we engage mindfully on our own terms we can take back control of our energy. Which brings me to…
2 – BOUNDARIES
It used to be that we got our news once a day from the local newspaper. Then, with TV, came the evening news. And by the time breakfast news shows came along, we were consuming the news morning, noon, and night.
Now, you can spend 24 hrs/day and get your news delivered in print, email, TV, streaming, and social media (About 1/2 of Canadians say they get their news from social media). It’s an impossible amount of information to keep up with and it’s often biased, contradictory, or even downright false.
It’s up to us to set boundaries around what sources to engage with, when, and how often. The goal is to create boundaries that protect your mental health, honour your core values, and still leave you feeling informed.
3 – WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
When the world outside your window is feeling uncertain and out of control it fuels feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and depression. It’s important to remind ourselves of what we CAN control, even if it doesn’t feel like much some days.
- You CAN control how you respond.
- You CAN control how much you absorb (and if you’re feeling heavy afterwards, lean on your self-care practices).
- You CAN control what you’re saying about it/contributing and putting out into the world.
- You CAN prioritize your well-being and skip social media and the news for a few days (you could try taking weekends off).
4 – NO TROLLS ALLOWED (AKA DISCERNMENT)
You don’t have to look hard to find that trolls and bullies are everywhere on the internet. And even rational, well-intentioned people can get sucked into engaging with them.
Remember, it’s YOUR job to protect YOUR energy. Do a ‘media friend cleanse’ and notice how you feel afterwards.
Putting up hard walls around trolls doesn’t mean we don’t need a diversity of voices in our feeds. This is where discernment comes in.
We need to look for individuals and brands that offer a different perspective and challenge us to question what we think and the status quo. But that doesn’t mean we should allow in the voices that are purposely spreading misinformation. Surround yourself with people that make you go “Hmmmm” not those that make you want to crawl under a rock or search Amazon for DIY Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kits.
5 – MISINFORMATION
“MIT found that 70% of false news stories are more likely to be retweeted than true stories.” That’s a LOT of misinformation floating around in cyberspace and it isn’t always easy to spot. Even legit news sources sometimes resort to sensational headlines to drive clicks.
Before you post, share, or comment do a quick fact check as best you can (I’ve got some links and resources for you below). Read widely to understand the background/context of what you’re posting or commenting on.
6 – EMPATHY
This might be the last point but it’s also the most important. Show up with empathy.
The nature of social media encourages us to respond right this very second. To make a drive-by comment and keep on scrolling. There’s pressure to jump on the bandwagon before we even know what it’s all about. And while we’re making all these rash, split-second decisions and comments there’s also this urge to call people out publicly when often the best course of action is to get out of the comments and threads and have real face-to-face conversations (or zoom-to-zoom these days). As Brené says, “It’s hard to hate a stranger close-up.”
We’ve all witnessed moments of criticism and judgement online. Where fear gets the best of us. Where people are quick to resort to shame and blame because it’s easier than staying open and being vulnerable. It’s easier than taking responsibility for what we’re putting out into the world.
Knowing the keyboard warriors could point their virtual pitchforks at us keeps us small and silent. It feeds the fires of perfectionism (I mean “Instagrammable” is now an adjective we use to describe something “worthy” of being included in our feeds). We’re scared to show up because we likely won’t get it right. Which kicks up our fears of not being good enough, not having the perfect answers or arguments. So we shut down and default to silence. We’ve never been taught how to lean into vulnerability (defined as ‘uncertainty + risk + emotional exposure’) even though it’s the birthplace of all we truly desire in life (like joy, peace, fun, intimacy, creativity etc).
I want you to remember that we will all make mistakes – it’s inevitable. What’s important is to honour the impact you’ve made (all good intentions aside). Acknowledge, apologize, make amends, and tuck that into your lessons learned suitcase. And please show up with empathy for yourself and others who are wading through all the same misinformation and trying to figure it out as they go. Again, we’re building this plane together as we fly it.
When everyone is talking the noise is deafening. It’s more important than ever to take a step back, ground ourselves, centre ourselves in our core values, listen deeply, formulate our thoughts, and speak mindfully and intentionally.
Social media started as a space to authentically connect with friends from around the globe. I believe we need authentic connection now more than ever. But it’s up to us. It’s our responsibility to create spaces that are more equitable, honest, and compassionate for EVERYONE. So, how will you choose to show up with courage and empathy on social media?
PS: Fact Check Links
It’s essential to look at the bigger picture and educate ourselves BEFORE we rush to judgement and criticism. It’s such a volatile time right now even the media is starting to try and provide greater context.
Google News is rolling out the “for context” button that links you to another article that provides background.
Actor Chris Evans co-created A Starting Point, a website that allows elected officials in the US from both sides of the aisle to talk about the issues that matter to them (now who’s going to ask Chris to come and do the same thing for Canada? For now, you can do your own Canadian fact-checking here).
NBC has started The Left Field. A new internationally-minded video troupe that makes short, creative documentaries and features specially designed for social media.
And my favourite daily Canadian news digest The Bullet does a great job of providing context. Once a week they take an important topic and dive into all the sides and stories. Just the other weekend they dedicated a whole post just to this very topic of misinformation online so I’ve re-shared a few of their links here:
Politifact – I love the visual meters on this one…’liar liar pants on fire!’
In the spirit of inquiry and showing up bravely and imperfectly I’ve brainstormed a list of questions to help you take a step back (gather that context) and also lean in further (with empathy). Read through them with a specific issue in mind and answer whichever questions jump out at you. Or answer them all. Or allow these questions to be a springboard to other questions you want answers to. You can grab the free PDF right here.