So much happened over the past couple of weeks that led many to reassess their engagement on social media. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica debacle might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but social media has been under scrutiny for quite some time. From Twitter’s problem with hate speech to Snapchat’s dubious advertizing, to Facebook, we have been reminded daily that social media is not a heavenly world.
Despite all that has been going on, however, I am not ready to pack everything up and walk away just yet. I have, though, reassessed how I use social media and realized that the following five simple rules might help me remain sane.
Invest time to figure out how things work
I am a strong advocate of taking matters into my own hands. When it comes to social media, you should not be expecting to have the platform you are using be explicit about what data they collect and who they share it with.
I believe that often in real life, and too often in our digital life, we give away personal information without thinking about who will eventually get their hands on it. If you are a parent and you have taken your kid to one of those jump/climb/play birthday parties you know that the liability form they ask you to fill in is just a way to have your address for advertising. I have learned from a friend to say no to any additional information other than my signature. Why are we not that picky when it comes to social networks?
Of course, most sites don’t make it easy for you to find the information and when you do understanding all the ramifications requires a legal degree and the patience to read through it all. Many people don’t realize how Facebook works. They might know it is advertizing, and they might know they are using some personal information but they do not know how deep the link between these two is.
After the Cambridge Analytica news, I went into my Facebook settings and revoked access to all those apps I no longer use, or I could not even remember granting access to them in the first place. I stopped logging in with Facebook or Google to any new service, app or website, and instead, I create an account. Yes, it is painful, but in most cases, it is only a couple of minutes more. I am particularly careful with allowing access to my friends’ information. I might be ok with sharing, but I cannot make that decision for my friends.
Whether or not this is all a lost cause because there is plenty of data about us out in the wild does not really matter. The point is that some tools are available to us and while we should demand more from the platform owners, we should also start using what is already there.
Do Your Due Diligence on News
A big part of social media has to do with news. I know I use Twitter to get breaking news and analysis from my favorite tech reporters and commentators. The immediacy of social media is such that you feel like you have your hand on the pulse. Yet, that immediacy does not give enough time to vet the information being shared. Even relying on official sources might not be enough to avoid mistakes. I am not talking about fake news, I am just talking about news hot off the press that is being reported as it develops. If you are the kind of person who wants to follow news as it unfolds, make sure you validate the information especially before sharing. Yesterday shooting at YouTube HQ was a sad example of how people also try to take advantage of the situation to spread hate and misinformation, as the Twitter account of a person who was caught up in the incident was hacked.
When it comes to news you also need to be aware of your bubble. It is inevitable that you follow or befriend people you like and share interests with. This might cause you to have a very one-sided set of information even more so than it used to be when you bought your favorite newspaper or watched your favorite evening news show. It is on you to balance your sources.
Be considerate to people you interact with and yourself. I never say something on social media that I would not say in person, and this applies both when I talk about people or brands. I do clean up my language more than I do in person only because I don’t know who is on the other side of my tweet or post. This is not different from not swearing in a room full of children or when you don’t know how people feel about it.
My digital me is also kinder than my real me. When you blast out an opinion or thought you don’t know every person you are going to reach. The number of people who will engage with you is probably a fraction of the people that you reach and might be affected by what you say.
I might be kinder and have a cleaner vocabulary, but I am always myself. All right, maybe on Facebook, I am also the happier side of myself! The point is that I stay true to what I care about and what I believe. This is why at times I would veer from my tech coverage on Twitter to talk about women, diversity, and education.
Also, remember to be kind to yourself. Mute, unfollow, report people who create a toxic environment. Don’t think for a second that just because they do not say it straight to your face, it won’t eventually affect you. In the same way, as you would stop talking to someone in real life or stop going to a place where everyone is obnoxious you should walk away from social.
The Pros must outweigh the Cons
For me today, the pros of being active on social media still outweigh the cons.
From a personal perspective, it gives me a way to keep in touch friends I still have in the UK and Italy that I don’t see often. I could call or write but the reality is that time is limited, and as much as you care about people it is hard to share details or your everyday life over email or even a call.
From a professional standpoint, social media does make things easier. Think about changing job before social media and how much harder it was for people who had a public profile to keep their contacts. Sure people could find you, but it was certainly not as easy. Now people can find me on Facebook, Messenger, Twitter even on LinkedIn. If they cannot find you, it really causes they don’t want to!
Fasting is Good for the Soul
I am always surprised how much time I can spend scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. Twitter, in particular, is a window to a ton of information if you follow the right people.
When I am less present on social, I do feel I am less aware of the latest news but at the same time, there is less anxiety. I might get the news at the end of the day or the following day, but those stories are more developed without having been through that fast pace that only increases my apprehension. This has been especially true since the American Election and Brexit as pretty much everybody in my feed started talking more openly about politics.
As you read this article, I will be enjoying a few days of exploring Washington DC with my daughter. I will have my Apple Watch set up to show breaking news, and I will check in probably at the start and the end of my day. For the rest of the time, though, I will try my best to be in the moment, to make memories with my kid knowing that I will not be missed much on social media and that everybody and everything will still be there when I get back.