Anti-Social Social Media


     The apps and websites are endless: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, Grindr. It’s all called social media, but what happens when it no longer feels social? How about when it starts to feel overwhelming, anxiety provoking or even hostile? Throw in an additional near-endless source of news to our phones and computers, and for more than a few of us, the situation can begin affecting one’s mental health.

     I have had clients, friends and even colleagues tell me that their presence on social media such as Instagram has begun to feel more like a burden than a pleasure. Phone apps that started out as opportunities to share moments and photographs with friends and family become an endless rush to collect more “likes” and more “followers” from strangers. On sites such as Facebook, even postings of pet and vacation photos can degenerate into political shouting matches and name-calling. Sound familiar?  More and more, individuals are reporting that social media is feeling decidedly anti-social.

     Many of us have heard through news outlets about the worst the Internet and social media have to offer: individuals lured into unsafe encounters via Craigslist or Tinder, adolescents bullied through Facebook and Instagram or politicians forced to resign after sending personal photographs via Twitter. While all horrible, these situations are fairly uncommon. What about the more common emotional reactions and situations that many of us report experiencing while using these apps and platforms on a daily basis? Amongst my own circle of friends, family, colleagues and clients, the experiences are rather similar: feelings of inadequacy, resentment or jealousy when seeing photos posted on social media that appear to make others lives look more exciting than our own; feeling ignored or inadequate when we do not receive as many “likes” or new followers as hoped for after posting on social media; feeling angry, frustrated and afraid to engage family and friends who do not share our political views as expressed in social media. For many of us, this leads to feeling incredibly burdened by much of what comes through our phones and computers.

     Quite frequently I hear clients and acquaintances complain that they feel overwhelmed by the amount of news and information that comes across their phone, at the same time feeling compelled to check in on social media apps more and more frequently, sometimes several times per hour. In situations like this, I will often work with individuals to start setting limits on how much time they spend on social media and news websites. Stopping the behavior completely and all at once (“cold turkey”) is difficult for most people, and the truth is, social media and news sources do have value, in moderation. The goal becomes finding a new balance of pleasure and news value.

     Avoiding news sites and apps first thing in the morning and before going to bed has helped reduced stress and anxiety in several clients with whom I have worked. Additionally, disabling “breaking news,” “news alerts” and notifications from phone apps popping up on your phone can also reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by social media and information overload. Do any of us really need to know all the news, all the time?

     We need to discover that it’s okay to not be the first person in your social group to post the latest celebrity news on Facebook or Twitter. Many of us have bought into the “if you’re not first, you’re last” mentality that social media can instill. When we become comfortable with not having to be the first with such things, then it becomes easier to go hours without checking in and exposing ourselves to stuff we’d rather not see or read.

     As a lover of travel and a frequent visitor to museums, I’m often surprised at the level of picture taking at tourist sights and in front of artistic masterpieces. However, it often mystifies me that individuals will stop in their tracks to post the photos instantly to social media, seemingly preferring to stare at their phone instead of the artwork or scenic beauty right in front of them. People have shared with me that they often feel compelled to post to sites such as Instagram because they “don’t want to miss the moment,” but what about the moment they miss in real life (IRL) while on social media? In situations like these, I suggest that you take all the photographs you want – click away to your hearts desire! However, wait until the end of the day to post to social media. This allows you to stay in the moment while limiting your time on social sites. 

     Designating times of the day that you allow yourself to use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and similar apps will be sure to return the social to social media. Who knows? If you find the right amount of usage, you might re-connect with your old friend – you!

Joseph Scrivani