I struggle mightily with social media. It is the most fraught and challenging part of my job as a content creator. On the one hand, I truly enjoy connecting with readers and like-minded individuals. On the other hand, that one upside feels like a tiny oasis in a desert of desolation and destruction. I recently had yet another realization about why social media is hard for me, and why it makes me worried for the future of humanity.
Earlier this week, I saw a tweet that was so laughably over the top I couldn’t help but screenshot it and dote on how absurd it was. I have a rule that I never, ever publically subtweet or pile-on, so I texted the tweet to a friend instead with the intention of having a good laugh. I won’t reveal who made the tweet, but it was in response to some toxic drama in the YA fiction world. As is so often the case on social media, a reasonable and interesting conversation (racism and bigotry in classic literature) turned into a comic display of vitriol. The tweet thread read, in part,
You disgusting worms, I can read in TWELVE DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. I have a MA in English and a doctorate in education. … and EVEN I think that the “classics” are shit for modern kids. You’re not on my level, trust me. So take a MOTHERFUCKING SEAT & leave my people alone.
This tweet is objectively funny to me, but my friend responded by inquiring why I would spend any time and energy to mock it when that energy could be better spent elsewhere.
And that’s when I realized: it doesn’t take energy at all for me to mock someone on social media. There is no loss of social capitol, no friction in the act of mockery, and no motivation to listen to a conscientious soul who might object to my wording. On social media, mockery is easy. Mocking someone on twitter has never ruined my day; it has only ever been an amusement.
In fact, the interactions that take the most time and emotional work on social media are earnest, thoughtful conversations, especially good-faith criticism. If I write something and someone has a robust and reasonable critique of it, or a sincere disagreement with something I said, the amount of emotional and mental energy to engage is extraordinary in a way that isn’t true for similar in-person engagement. Online, I sometimes feel bludgeoned to death, not because someone said something cruel, but because someone said something reasonable and critical in a kind way. I had the realization that I’m so fatigued with social media because I don’t want to be cruel and the medium is constantly tugging at me to indulge that impulse.
It’s hard to take criticism and engage in thoughtful dialogue IRL on the best of days, but that difficulty is exaggerated on social media. After I realized this, I started to suspect that this phenomenon isn’t unique to me; it’s a feature of the software. Social media makes mockery and dismissal easy and rewarded while it makes good faith and thoughtful interaction brutally challenging.
When I consider that a large percentage of humanity is engaging with each other on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and a much smaller percentage on Twitter, I’m filled with sadness. What happens to us when we all interact in a medium where mockery is encouraged and kindness is hard, even more so than in face to face interactions?
I’m not opposed to social media in principle. I still celebrate the idea of people connecting on the internet. My life was saved by online LGBT communities when I first came out of the closet. The only thing I know to do is to encourage people to spend less time on Facebook and Twitter, and more time on others that are less toxic. Blogging communities, Discord communities, and chat groups are still supported by big tech, but somehow lack the ugliness of Big Social Media.
If you are interested in spending more time in alternative social media platforms, you are welcome to join my Discord community, which you can find here. I’m generally not in the business of telling people what to do, but I think one of the best things we can do is vote with our time and focus, and reject Big Social Media for more positive options.
But that’s just me. What do you think? Leave your thoughts below, or write me an email.
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