I am the first to admit I’ve spent too much time on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. My kids won’t allow me to be on Snapchat or TikTok because “you’re over 30 Dad!” For the past couple of years I found I am using these sites less. I don’t want to attribute this to the pandemic, but it is partly related.
Social media is an occupational hazard. I have to be on it, in part because many others are. Other media outlets, politicians, decision makers, and even my favourite sports teams are all on social media. There is a convenience factor to being able to subscribe to posts and content from my favourite teams and the people I have to keep an eye out for.
The flip side of it is the trading of my personal information for “free” use of the platforms, and a narrowing world view. It’s easy to only subscribe to a few things and ignore the rest. Anyone who uses social media – or more broadly the internet – can fall into that trap.
I narrowed my use of social media to different platforms for different things. Facebook is limited to just friends and people I’ve physically met or have talked to. My account is connected to 90 people, most to whom I am related or live within 30 kilometres. It’s interesting to see people I know with five, six, or seven hundred “friends”. That’s a lot of friends. Years ago, US late-night host Jimmy Kimmel coined November 17 as “National Un-Friend Day” and even had Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, record a public service announcement to that effect. If William Shatner endorses something, there must be some truth to it.
Being a visual person, I use Instagram to look at things. Photography, food, travel, and my hobbies. I don’t follow a lot of people though. I follow topics. That way my sources of visual information don’t come from the same echo-chamber sources. There is variety and if I don’t like something, I can always put the device down.
Twitter is a guilty pleasure. Like some people watching Coronation Street or slowing down to see why all the police cars are stopped on the site of the road. Part real time news feed, part Comedy Central Roast Battle, Twitter is akin to every random thought any person can come up with, posted for others to see. The recent agreement by the world’s richest person, privatizing this soap opera in type, has prompted me to reconsider using it. Forget about the richest person in the world, one who built a rocket to take people and things into space and built the most successful electric vehicle, spending $44 billion on something he probably could have developed on his own. And forget what good that $44 billion could have done when he claimed that it would only take $6 billion to end world hunger (spare change). My concern is that the platform which already has few rules, will have none. Banned individuals will return, minority groups will face more vitriol or worse, and what will the wild west of the internet turn to… chaos. And users still won’t get an edit button.
It may be, given the echo chamber “qualities” of social media, that the use of some of these platforms has peaked. Recently some local politicians and political candidates have deleted their personal accounts. Other government officials resort to using text messages and picking up a phone to talk and/or vent, rather than using social media. A novel concept indeed. If they are doing this, it can’t be bad for the rest of us.
There is a place for some social media use, but like everything else, moderation is best. Give it a try.