Have you seen the recent Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma“? I don’t want to spoil it for you, but one concept from the film really stuck with me. Yes, social media sites are free because we are the product, but it’s a bit more nuanced than that: “it’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product. It’s the only possible product”.
I can see the ramifications of this in both my professional and my personal life. A shocking number of people who come into my office with anxiety and depression issues mention having to take breaks from social media and from reading the news because it aggravates their anxiety issues to a point where they don’t feel that they can function. They talk about the dread that they feel every time they get a push notification, and how this barrage of bad news is having an impact on the way that they perceive themselves and the world they live in. They mention seeing themselves sliding into hopelessness because they are constantly surrounded by negativity, violence, and despair. The marginalized folks who come in mention the same thing, although their experiences are aggravated further by having to see yet another person like them be the victims of structural or interpersonal forms of violence and oppression.
I also see the ways that social media has had an impact on peoples’ self-esteem: people rapidly refreshing their social media feeds after posting a new photo to get the dopamine hit that comes from every new like and comment. We are seeking emotional validation and sharing our innermost thoughts and feelings on these platforms that do not have any interest in ensuring that we receive it. Rather, they exploit that extreme vulnerability to push an advertisement for a product or service under our noses. Worse still, they analyze every facet of our behaviour in order to do so, preying on our intrinsic needs for love, validation, and community in order to turn a profit. Finally, as we are seeing more and more in the lead up to the US presidential elections, these platforms are being used as tools of right-wing radicalization; encouraging tribalism over solidarity and contributing to cycles of political violence that are leaving us more divided than ever.
I am only human, and I am not exempted from the influences of these systems. I feel their influence when I pick up my phone first thing in the morning and immediately start scrolling through my social media feeds for who knows how long. I feel it when I post a selfie on my personal Instagram account and I find myself refreshing it to see how many likes and comments I get. I feel it when I think about not having posted in a while, or when I think that it might be time for me to update my profile photo. I feel it when my abandonment issues are triggered by how long it takes for someone to respond to my message. I feel it when I cave and end up tapping or clicking on a targeted ad.
Seeing the ways that these platforms influence me and the people around me has been extremely disconcerting, so I’ve decided to stop feeding the beast. I’ve taken the decision to deactivate my professional and personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as my Twitter account. I am going to go for as long as possible without using them, and will be deleting them permanently if they are inactive for at least a year. Instead, I hope to cultivate meaningful personal and professional connections through networks that I control, not advertisers. In addition to giving me a lot more free time, I hope that this choice will allow me to cultivate meaningful friendships and relationships with those close to me, as well as to develop my professional networks with the goal of creating lasting social change.
I am mulling over different strategies that I can use to share my thoughts in impactful ways, one of which is this new blog. On it, I plan on sharing my thoughts on current events, trends that I am noticing in my social work practice, and political ideas. If that is something that you are interested in, I would encourage you to subscribe to this blog via email using the box at the end of this post. I’d also love to hear and engage with your thoughts and ideas via the comments below.
This period of huge social, economic and political upheaval has encouraged me to radically re-envision the way that I interact with the world. This decision is something that is both deeply personal and political for me, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as preachy or judgemental to the folks who continue to use these platforms. We are all just doing what we can to get through these tough times, and we often need to connect with one another. I just hope that we can band together to create tools that work for us instead of exploiting us.
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