Ah, social media. The weird and wonderful world of social media. Platforms that we used day in, day out, but that have become essential to us staying connected to loved ones over this crazy time. There are often thoughts banded about around the dangers of being addicted to social media; spending too much time in the virtual, filtered landscape rather than experiencing real life. Yet in these unprecedented waters, social media has become a literal life raft to us all, enabling us to stay connected to our nearest and dearest at a time where otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to. Social media has literally become our social life. I’m sure we’re all feeling incredibly blessed to have access to modern technology at this scary time, but at the same time, social media can feel a contradiction for us in many terms. It’s a place of escapism, yet a place without trigger warnings, meaning we often come across content we’ve been trying to escape from. It’s a place for learning from others and a place where we can educate ourselves with others’ stories, yet a place where the evil of comparison breeds in flux. It’s a place to share your own personal story, yet through grappling with the temptation to only share your highlight reel. And finally, it’s a place to keep in touch with loved ones, yet an always-on space where we feel we have to respond instantly to the ding of a notification, unsure of when and how we just switch off.
Is social media a force for good in these crazy times? What are the pressures with the very fact that our only way of contacting our friends and loved ones is through this social medium? How do we ensure that our social platforms are curated for us positively, so we can find some light in these challenging times? And how do we learn to switch off when one of our only options of activity at this stay inside time = endless, mindless scrolling? All will be attempted to be answered in today’s blog post.
As always with these C Word investigations, I turn to (ironically, with this post) the wonderful world of Instagram, where I host weekly polls and questions to conduct research for these posts. So many of you get in touch to share your stories, and for that, I’m so grateful, because it means writing these posts isn’t just a reflection of my own experience: we can share many approaches to the topics I’m writing about, and hopefully offer all of us some comfort in these weird times. Before we get started on that, though, it’s time for me to have a little chat about how I’ve personally been experiencing social media over this crazy period.
I’ve got to preface this by saying that I am hella grateful for social media at this time. It’s the only way we can all stay connected when we can’t be physically with each other – I can’t imagine how scary this time would be without it. However, it’s interesting to see which platforms I’ve gravitated towards at this crazy time. Twitter overwhelms me with its breaking news trending negativity, and so does Facebook, as everyone seems to only be sharing so-called sources from untrustworthy organisations, meaning fake news is spreading like wildfire. I do, however, use Messenger more, though, to speak to my loved ones. And my favourite platform is Instagram – the visual appeal of feed posts, combined with the honesty on people’s stories, means it’s my favourite virtual place to be.
On the whole, I’ve found social media (and by that I mean Instagram) a positive place to be. I still believe I need to get on the TikTok hype, but as a social media snob, I refuse to get it for as long as I can possibly hold out (because I know as soon as I get it I’m going to be OBsessed and never stop scrolling ever again until I die).
But, there have been some things I’ve struggled with recently on social media – some big questions (in the world of virtual) that I’ve been grappling with. Here are my thoughts on the contradictions I mentioned in the opening of this post:
It’s a place of escapism, yet a place without trigger warnings, meaning we often come across content we’ve been trying to escape from.
I use social media at this time as a form of escape, and also as a place where I can learn from others’ experiences and thoughts. As an aspiring lifestyle journalist, I’m v interested in the personal: others’ real experiences rather than the facts and figures on a news article. It’s been useful to learn from others things I can do to keep myself occupied over this crazy time, that the rollercoaster emotions I’m feeling are normal, and that we’re all just trying to battle our way through and retain some normality as we do it. However, I sometimes come across the content I’ve been trying to avoid, such as a shared news article (I try to limit my news reading to once a day for my own wellbeing’s sake) and these bloody challenges that keep doing the rounds on, particularly, Instagram.
Just a little interval here, whilst I rant about these flipping challenges. I could do a whole entire blog series on how detrimental, downright annoying and pressurising the challenges are that keep cropping up on Instagram. For a start, I cannot run 5k. I was under the impression most of us couldn’t either, which I’m sure is still the large majority, but Instagram can become like tunnel vision, and suddenly it seems that every single person on our stories has ran a bloody 5k in something ridiculous like 25 minutes. At this time where our wellbeing is already incredibly fragile, I think this is hugely insensitive for many vulnerable people, who may have mental health triggers surrounding excessively exercising. And let’s not mention the pocket of Richard Branson who we’re all funding – no thank you, sir. Hence, social media has led me into a bit of a triggering hole in recent weeks, but I still go on there for the positive thangs I have aforementioned.
It’s a place for learning from others and a place where we can educate ourselves with others’ stories, yet a place where the evil of comparison breeds in flux.
Social media is a place for learning from others – and for that, I love it. One thing that’s kept me afloat over the last few weeks is seeing how inspirational people, whether that be pals, family or so-called influencers, are coping over this crazy time. Realising you’re not crazy for feeling positive one minute and crying the next; finding some great book recommendations (follow @abigailbergstrom for fab book content); having a glimpse into others’ lives and seeing how they’re getting through the day – this all makes us feel less alone. However, I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into a state of comparison on social media. Luckily, I think because I mainly use social media in a business sense for this blog, I’ve been able to separate myself slightly from the threats of comparison out there, but I have at times, and I know lots of my pals have too, felt like there’s a pressure to do lockdown ‘right’ at the moment. More on this topic will come your way in the first episode of my podcast, The C Word, soon (hopefully next week), but this pressure is REAL – and it’s completely ridiculous that we’re piling such pressure onto ourselves at an already incredibly pressurising time.
It’s a place to share your own personal story, yet through grappling with the temptation to only share your highlight reel.
Social media is also a place to share your own story – and it’s this honesty of social media that has always made me such a fan of it, especially on Instagram. However, on the very platform that’s always been known for being a little more curated and filtered, it’s felt hugely at odds with our new reality, that is anything but. At first, I felt wrong posting about anything that didn’t acknowledge the difficulty of the current time; I felt wrong admitting I felt positive and had had a more decent day when the world was crumbling around us; I felt wrong admitting I was feeling low when there are awful things happening in the world particularly at this pressurised time. I think as the weeks have gone on, and I’ve utilised my blog to offer a space for people to speak honestly about how they’re feeling right now, I’ve got into more of a groove with posting online again, where I can honestly say how I feel without worrying or filtering my emotions. But this tension has been there since lockdown started, and the world of social does feel a slightly weird place to be.
It’s a place to keep in touch with loved ones, yet an always-on space where we feel we have to respond instantly to the ding of a notification, unsure of when and how we just switch off.
And finally, and I think this personally is the biggest thing I’ve found with being on social media in the last few weeks, is the pressure to keep in touch with everyone, always, 24/7, the always-on nature of social media. Sometimes, I don’t want to sit and stare at my phone all day. I want to read a book, close my eyes and listen to a vinyl record, write a blog post and throw my phone to the other side of the room whilst I’m typing away. However, as soon as you hear the little ding of a notification, you feel you should respond straight away. I’m only at home. I’m not working. What if they’re struggling? I should get back to them. Now. Stop what you’re doing and respond. Now.
I’ve become more sociable than I would usually have been on a normal, busy week! This is good in a sense, as I’ve realised I sometimes neglect important human contact for the sake of that second gym trip, or that lie down after work when you’re tired and cba to pick up your phone. But at the same time, I’ve joined in to virtual quizzes when I’ve been feeling a bit low and not in the mood for being sociable, I’ve called loved ones out of what I felt like was a duty instead of waiting until a day where I’m feeling more myself again and want to be chatty… I’ve become more sociable than I usually would during a busy week of working purely because I feel like I don’t have an excuse not to. And don’t even get me started on the social anxiety we can feel from a packed Zoom video chat – that’s the introvert’s worst nightmare, I tell ya.
In a time where we’re sat on our sofas twiddling our thumbs, trying to do our own little bit to support our loved ones and share our stories, social media can be a difficult space to navigate. These are my thoughts on this. It’s my experience, and my feelings. Yet it’s interesting to see a lot of you feel exactly the same…
The Other Story
So, it’s time for my little interlude featuring the kind people that have reached out on Instagram to me this week. I’m so grateful for every single response I’ve had, and I’ve been overwhelmed with your comments and thoughts this week, which is lovely to see – because it’s showing we’re all wanting an outlet to explore our difficult emotions at this time, and that the world of social media is a space we’re all utilising well over this otherwise isolated period.
Overwhelmingly, and positively, 75% of you believed social media has been a help to you over this crazy period – something I personally identify with, too. With regards to specific platforms, most of you who sent your thoughts to me find Instagram and TikTok to be the most positive platforms for you to ‘escape’ to at this time. 80% of you find Instagram to be your preferred social channel (but then again, I did ask this question on Instagram to Instagram users, so that maybe wasn’t the smartest move on my behalf to avoid biased answers – doh). One user commented that TikTok is great as “I’m on there for hours on end” – another thing I believe I would instantly resonate with if I downloaded the bloody thing – but I’m trying my best to avoid the TikTok bubble for now, as its scrollable energy is something I believe I need to personally steer clear of, otherwise I’ll only TikTok forevermore. Another TikTok-related comment I believe sums up the platform in question was: “[My favourite platform is] TikTok (lol) it started as a joke but here we are” – and I believe that’s exactly how most of us began the TikTok buzz.
But, most interestingly, was your response to other not-so-preferred social media channels. Both Facebook and Twitter were causing quite a Marmite effect; you all seemed tied on whether you loved them or hated them. Case in point: see how two users reacted to the use of Facebook over this time:
“I find that Facebook and news outlets are quite negative in their content”
“Facebook I’d say [is my preferred social platform to use], but it’s actually the groups on there which I enjoy, rather than the newsfeed”
The fake-news aspect of Facebook is never fun to expose yourself to, but now more than ever when scaremongering is something we all want to avoid for well-being’s sake, it seems a lot of us are turning towards the more natural, user-generated aspect of Facebook – which is group pages and forums. The Marmite effect is especially prevalent when I asked if you’ve been using Facebook and Messenger more again recently since lockdown began, with a near-split down the middle of 52% of you saying ‘yes’ and 48% stating ‘no’. Similarly, 52% of you find the constantly-circling Coronavirus trending topics on Twitter enough to put you off the platform, but 48% of you are still a fan.
The evil curse of the endless scroll on social media has been getting the better of a lot of us recently, as 78% of you felt seen when I asked if you’d spent more time scrollin’ on socials recently than you used to before. And when I asked you to get in touch to offer your experiences of social media at this time – whether it’s a helpful place to be, or somewhere that’s perhaps felt more toxic, we got an equally mixed bag of results.
From the positive:
It’s about what you make it. “[Social media] is helpful if you curate it to be a place of positivity”
It’s a chance to feel connected in otherwise very isolated times. “I’m so nosy, so [it’s] lovely seeing what everyone else is up to”
It’s a safe space to spread positivity in uncertain times. “I feel it’s helpful to spread positivity; show people what you’ve been working on”
To the negative:
It’s become a behaviour policing space, where sometimes we’re worried about opening up. “I think the main toxic aspect has been the constant behaviour policing of other people. Half the time people criticising have misunderstood anyway – so much jumping to conclusions”
It’s a toxic space, but one you can control with settings. “It can be toxic, but I’ve muted certain words so I’m only seeing positive content”
To the downright mixed bag of rollercoaster emotions (can 100% identify):
It’s a space where you can’t control what you’re going to find on your daily scroll. “A bit of both – it depends on the platform and the person posting. It can definitely go either way”
But at the same time, you can do certain things to make sure your social experience is a more positive one:
“At first I found it very overwhelming but now [I] limit myself to positive outlets”
“Generally more toxic! Most [of the feeds] create unrealistic comparisons, but I love seeing family/friends. I recommend filtering your feeds back to family and friends! THAT is a joy”
And finally, something that cropped up time and again in your responses to your social media use at this time has been the pressure being piled on us through the virtual social sphere. There were a couple of mixed bag responses here. When asked whether you felt comfortable posting online at this time, 69% of you said yes, but 31% of you commented ‘not really’. And when asked if you’ve been, weirdly enough, more ‘connected’ and ‘sociable’ than you’d usually be during a normal, busy week 47% of you believed you definitely have been, and 53% of you said ‘not really’. But overwhelmingly, what was a resounding ‘yes’ was that there’s a certain pressure to be at every virtual quiz, checking up on every pal and loved one, feeling like you don’t have an ‘excuse’ to not be sociable when all we’re doing is staying at home. 73% of you felt that pressure. One user even got in touch to share that “I feel like a lot of people get so offended when you aren’t texting them 24/7 because we have ‘no excuse’ to not respond now” before lamenting “You can’t chat away 24/7 – so why should texting 24/7 be any more natural?!”. Amen, sister. 64% of you have felt pressured to join a virtual quiz or chat when you haven’t felt up to it, just because you felt like you couldn’t bail. And 61% of you have felt pressure from other accounts on social media to be ‘productive’ over this period.
So, how do we squash this negativity that has suddenly cropped up in the social sphere? How do we ensure that our social platforms are curated for us positively, so we can find some light in these challenging times? And how do we learn to switch off when one of our only options of activity at this stay inside time = endless, mindless scrolling? It’s time to find out.
The Positivity Lens
There are two main ways I believe we can make social media a more positive and safe space for us in these crazy times. Firstly, it’s by ensuring those we follow are positive rays of light, filtering out any negativity we may have come across (hello mute button, you are a Godsend). And secondly, I believe it’s by altering our habits and preferred activities in the real, physical world, to ensure we limit the endless scroll. So, incredibly kindly, lots of you got in touch to offer your Insta follow recs and also to share your tips for getting offline for a good old detox, and with it, I’ll throw in a couple of my own, too – and hopefully this means we can all tune out the negative news and use social media as a force for good in these crazy times!
Insta follow recs:
“Chessie King @chessiekingg is like a ray of light! She’s so funny and carefree”
“Youuu” (that was indeed my boyfriend being hilarious, I will indeed take this and run with it though, thx @sam_lee.97)
“@upworthy and @tanksgoodnews! Always posting positive news from around the world”
“The illustrator @bymariandrew and @goodnews_movement”
“@jessicaolie for yoga and fitness lives 😇”
“You 🤩” (this was actually a very kind user, thank you SO much – made my day)
“@bodyposipanda @scarrednotscared @selfcareisforeveryone @theblurtfoundation”
“Yours 🌼 @wellandgoodeats is another lovely account” (also, another really lovely person who made my day, thank you – well+good is a beaut account)
“@thehappynewspaper and @josielewisart – I just love looking at it 😍❤️🧡💛💚💙💜”
My favourite Insta account, which has always been, has to be @meganellaby. Absolute style queen that radiates style inspo and positive vibes – hit her up on Instagram, pronto.
And here goes some tips for y’all 👇
Tips to make social media a more positive place to be:
“I’ve downloaded the ‘habit’ app so that’s kept me focused on creating good habits!”
“I’ve been reading books a lot to keep my brain occupied and to help to stop endlessly scrolling.”
“Find other things to do to keep your hands busy, like puzzles and paint by numbers!”
“Going on long walks or working on creative projects gives me something to focus on”
“On FB itself (not sure about other apps) and on my phone, you can set time limits for all the different apps”
“Put your phone on airplane mode for small parts of the day. Even if you do pick up your phone, you’ll be less tempted to scroll!”
“The app ‘ReWi’ is a good way of tracking good things that happen/you do in your day”
“Online courses! Strengths analysis – VIA Institute are doing free assessments and you get a free personalised analysis of your strengths”
As for me, I’d suggest the power of music and podcasts. Throw on a good podcast (like The High Low) or pop a vinyl record on or a mood-boosting Spotify playlist, and you can while away the hours. That, or my favourite ever thing at the moment, which is to READ. If you want some good book recs, check out me last C Word blog post here.
So, there you have it. A deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of social media at this time. I hope it’s left you with some thoughts about your own social media use, some good recs on who to follow to brighten your social (media) life, and some tips on how to curate a more positive space online for yourself. I’d love to continue the conversation. You can find me on Instagram @maddiemae_xo and I’d love to have a chat. 😊 I’ll be back on Sunday with another post!