Lady Gaga recently described social media as the ‘toilet of the internet’. It seems many lawyers agree. When I ask colleagues for their well -being tips, to share on this site, many suggest ‘deleting social media accounts’ as their top advice. They describe the gradual psychological damage social media did to their emotional equilibrium/sense of the world and how much better they feel having switched off from the incessant chatter and negativity.
One barrister now marvels at how she used to wake up, lean over to the bedside table and pick up her phone. ‘Before I did anything else I’d check Facebook and twitter and it would ruin my mood for the day because there was always an awful or stupid post that would just make me angry. What was I thinking? Social media is not uplifting or educational or inspiring. Very occasionally there’s something funny but mostly it’s angry, unhappy people just ranting.’
Another barrister expressed concern for his student daughter’s wellbeing which, he says, is visibly compromised by her constant use of social media. ‘Her anxiety levels are always high because she’s sucked into worrying and fighting about issues that people in the real world are not bothered about. Social media creates a very small world for users. Its reach may be global but its mentality is very narrow.’ (These echo chambers are well known; users swirling around in bubbles of similar minded people then being shocked that other people think (and vote) differently.
Facebook is seen, by the lawyers I spoke to, as increasingly sinister in the way it obtains information and uses it but also for its censorship. Instagram promotes unreal expectations. But, by far, the most despised social media platform is Twitter.
For the uninitiated, Twitter is said, by social media analysts to have the least number of users but the highest ratio of trolls. It’s the least representative of general public opinion, yet the most quoted by mainstream media. Politically, it is dominated by the Left despite the Saudis being major investors.
It’s a labyrinth of mind-boggling identity politics, segregation and division.
Why it’s an issue
The average time, per day, spent by people on social media has risen steadily recently, despite time being a precious commodity for most people. In 2017 we spent 2 hours, 15 minutes per day on social media. That’s around 16 hours per week. Almost an entire day. How many of us spend that amount of time talking to family and friends, exercising, pursuing a hobby or improving life skills?
And what do we get for all that precious time we spend ? Mostly the 3 H’s ; Hatred, Hypocrisy, Hysteria.
Many users increasingly feel they can’t express even the most banal view without being hounded abused and threatened by self-proclaimed arbiters of what is ‘acceptable’. ‘Orwellian’ is a common description of social media.
One barrister, who tried twitter for a week, says simply ‘I wouldn’t invite these people into my home to lecture me, so why would I offer them my head space to occupy?
It’s a good question. No matter how sane, rational and grounded you are, it’s impossible not to be affected or infected by it all, over time. Slowly but surely, constant exposure to the toxicity erodes your humanity and decency. We can look at horrible posts and see how unhealthy it is to write them. But they’re also unhealthy to read.
Social media platforms are increasingly a marketplace. But it’s not skills people sell or offer but emotion. It doesn’t matter whether a post is factually correct as long as it gives people justification and approval for extreme emotions. This is then exploited for money and power. Take a controversial stance on any topic and you will gain thousands of followers and/or haters ie tons of attention. Attention is lucrative. You can monetise your notoriety. It gets the writer work; writing commissions, speaking gigs, media appearances. I know a woman who, in real life is funny, kind and lives a comfortable middle-class life. Her Twitter persona, however, is that of an angry, downtrodden radical, forever using her ethnicity and religion to get work. The persona is just a job but thousands fall for it.
However, like anything, social media has its benefits. It allows you to communicate with people you can’t easily meet up with or who you might not otherwise get to know. It can promote your business. It has aglobal reach.
Tips for healthy use of social media
- Wait, at least, one hour before checking it in the morning, preferably longer. Use that hour to eat a decent breakfast, exercise, meditate, talk to your loved ones, plan your day ahead, set your emotional state for the day. Checking social media first thing in the morning will depress you. Social media is a downer. It’s never uplifting or inspiring. It may occasionally be mildly amusing but most likely it will not make you feel better. Most likely it will make you angry and start your day off in a bad mood or you’ll discover that your favourite celebrity has died.
- Break the ‘itchy fingers’ habit of mindlessly scrolling through social media during the day as ‘something to do.
- Ask yourself what you gain from it. Is it a need to connect with people? Has this, impersonal, remote connection become your idea of friendship? Are you lonely? Is social media a distraction from acknowledging deeper issues in your life?These are uncomfortable questions but social media can be as much an addiction as anything else and addictions often hide uncomfortable truths about ourselves. It’s easier to write a post on social media than to talk honestly to someone face to face. Once you know what need social media meets for you, you can start looking at healthier ways to satisfy it. If you want more connection with friends/family, make time to meet them, telephone them. If social media relieves boredom for you, for example when you’re travelling, try something else instead. Read a book, take up knitting, do a crossword puzzle, do whatever interests you and keeps you occupied.
- When you feel the urge to check social media, tell yourself you’ll do it in 5 minutes. Then another 5. And so on. The urge will lessen over time.
- Beware the catchy hashtag campaign that sounds as if it was created by a PR company and has big money behind it which wants to sell you a particular political viewpoint. It probably was.
- Switch off your telephone at least one hour before bedtime. Use the time to read a book , make a list all the things you’re grateful for in your life , meditate, listen to music relax or have a warm bath .
- Switch off social media at weekends. I’m not sure why but Saturday seems to be a particular magnet for loops. Instead of scrolling through pointless messages from people you don’t care about, interact with real people. Go for a walk or a run. Meet friends for brunch. Take a day trip with the family.
- Delete the Twitter/ Facebook/Instagram app from your telephone. if it’s not readily available, your itchy, twitchy fingers won’t readily reach for it, ‘just to see what’s happening’. If what’s happening is important, you’ll find out about it in some other way.
- Block/unfriend/unfollow those who harass you. Mute those who tweet obsessively on any subject -don’t take on their unhealthy neurosis. Let them howl into the void.
- Set a time limit on your use each day and stick to it.
- Use social media intelligently and control it to suit your needs. It can promote your business or your blog or your cute kitten. So, post your content, interact with friends whose content you like. Pick and choose the trending topics you check out. Let the rest be background noise you drown out.