Is anyone else out there discouraged or annoyed with how polarized social media and the news have become? Political attacks, inaccurate news articles, name calling, and straight up bullying seem to crowd my news feed and occupy my TV screen. The constant stream of negativity is enough to frustrate anyone!
During lent this past year, I gave up Facebook. Forty days and forty nights without accessing Facebook. The first few days were difficult. I felt the need to see what others were posting or saying about something I had posted, my phone constantly notified me that something new was on Facebook, and it was easy to access instant information whenever I wanted. However, after two or three days of being strict with myself (I turned off my notifications and hid the app on my phone), I realized that I didn’t need it. I slept better at night and was more productive during the day. I could focus more on my tasks, conversations, and think for myself again. I felt more confident in myself and had less stress. It was a great feeling to not be tied to an app on my phone! I am guessing that this is what smokers feel like once they get rid of their smoking habit! After Lent ended, I started to check Facebook again, but on a much more limited basis. It is easy to slip back into the routine of constantly checking to see what is there, but fight the urge and refuse to let social media affect me again like it had before.
While there are some benefits of social media, like advertising and staying in touch with friends, there are many devastating negative effects. Lainie Petersen writes in an article on Chron.com, “Some [mental health professionals] believe that the constant distraction of social media contributes to shortened attention spans. In addition, many people who regularly use platforms like Facebook or Twitter report high levels of stress.” Social media is just a tap away and so quick to access that the temptation to check a post or make a comment is too strong to resist sometimes. With this easy access comes the freedom for people to post whatever they want no matter how hurtful, politically charged, or false it is. Yet, in face-to-face conversation, no one wants to bring up the topics that they are not afraid to comment on in a news feed. Honor Whiteman reports in Medical News Today that Enough is Enough, an organization fighting to make internet use safer, found that “95% of teenagers who use social media have witnessed forms of cyber-bullying on social networking sites and 33% have been victims of cyber bullying.” Why is that? When did we become a society that we could post a hateful rant that damages a person or business, but in reality we are quiet and keep those comments to ourselves? Maybe it’s time we remember the cliché “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”
The possibility of incorrect news reports, or “fake news”, have corroded the integrity of regular news. Different news shows will report the same exact story in two very different ways, usually slanted politically left or right. Why can I just get the facts of the story? I’ll make up my own mind on how I feel about it; I don’t need Fox, CBS, CNN, or even Disney or Nickelodeon (that’s right, it’s even in cartoons) telling me how to feel about an issue. It goes beyond just the slant each network seems to have; it affects business and customers. Just think of that online review posted about shops or restaurants. It just takes one or two bad reviews to get consumers to move onto a different business. And it is ssoooo easy to post a review online that anyone can access. Petersen writes in her article, “Fake reviews that heap either praise or derision on a business are commonplace.” And let’s not forget the rumor-mill. “Online rumors can get started about the safety of certain foods, products, ingredients or treatments that have little basis in fact.”, writes Petersen.
In Medical News Today, Honor Whiteman writes that humans are social and have a need to be connected to other humans. A social psychiatrist, Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan, recently found that using Facebook may even make us miserable. “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” says Kross. “But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.” People tend to post idealistic images and statements about their lives, which can cause others to feel inadequate and insecure in their own lives, and then post something idealistic about their lives, feeding into the never-ending cycle of these posts. This would keep me up at night! Questions and inadequacy run through my head, like How does that mom get her daughter’s hair perfect each morning and I can’t even get my son to comb his , or How do they get such perfect looking dinners each night, or How can they afford such vacations, or Why do they always look so happy? It’s no wonder why our kids are growing up with such anxiety, insecurities, and attention issue.
So, if social media is being used to spread negativity and personal attacks, can it be used to spread happiness instead? James Fowler of the School of Medicine at University of California San Diego suggests positive status updates will encourage others to post positive things. “We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative.”, says Fowler. “If an emotional change in one person spreads and causes a change in many, then we may be dramatically underestimating the effectiveness of efforts to improve mental and physical health.” What if we trigger an “epidemic of well-being” through social media instead of spreading negativity?
Until we are flooding social media with positivity and encouraging posts, perhaps I will observe Lent all year-long!
Otten, Kendall. “Time to Disconnect: Social Media is Stressing Me Out!” The Merry Go Round, December 8, 2017. Web. http://themerrygoround.com.au/time-to-disconnect-social-media-is-stressing-me-out/
Petersen, Lainie. “The Negative Effect of Social Media on Society and Individuals.” Small Business – Chron.com, http://smallbusiness.chron.com/negative-effect-social-media-society-individuals-27617.html. 29 June 2018.
Whiteman, Honor. “Social media: how does it affect our mental health and well-being?.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 10 Jun. 2015. Web.
17 Oct. 2018. <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275361.php>