This past year many of us have been living more virtually than we did before. While I am grateful that is an option, there are many perils to being Very Online. Helping others strategize their social media use has helped me learn to unhook from the intoxicating meme churn and I’m hoping sharing some of my insights will help others do that, too. Seems like now is a good time to try.
Why should I bother thinking about this? Can’t I just wing it?
This post is for people who want to feel better about their personal social media use. You can do whatever you want, but I find a little forethought helps people have a more fulfilling life. I personally have never cared much about monetizing my social media presence or gaining followers, so if that is what you want out of social media this probably is not going to be a useful thing to read. If you find yourself frustrated that online social interactions bring out qualities you don’t like in yourself or you are not getting out of it what you put in, I hope reading this helps you forgive yourself and change that.
Remember: social media sites are not designed to bring out the best in us. Services like Twitter make it easy to scroll infinitely and many of us become addicted to the stimulation and inadvertently undermine our own mental health. This is especially true for people who have disorders that make self-regulation difficult, such as ADHD.
As you probably know, I am not a very private person, but there is still a whole lot I keep away from the public sphere. I’ve had alarming experiences that threatened my physical safety, traumatic personal interactions, panic-inducing revelations, accidentally viral complaints… and now I know I need to pause and evaluate my motivation before I get myself into trouble. My boundaries are roughly:
- No photos or references to where I am in the moment. I insist people not tag me in things if they don’t share this boundary.
- No photo or text clues to archaeological site locations that may be looted including when I am teaching at publicly-accessible sites. I post things later, when I’m not there and can check for identifying features like skyline, landforms, mailboxes, writing on papers (outdoors it’s harder to see small details).
- No revealing photos of my body/nudity because it makes me feel uneasy and nauseated.
- Only occasional/cautious acknowledgement of who my support system is made up of because I feel safer if my most important relationships are mostly-offline, especially in an emergency.
- Very limited acknowledgement of my intimate life so I can still access these social supports when things change or don’t work out.
- Block people if my body reacts physically/emotionally to encountering them, no matter how effectively I can talk myself out of it. “Fuck politeness”; save yourself the suffering.
- No passive-aggression or subtweeting. If I am feeling uneasy about saying something, usually it’s because I am feeling emotional and I want a particular person to hear me. I ask myself “am I writing this because I am hoping someone in particular will read it?” and if I can answer yes then I don’t post it. I’ve never resolved any conflicts by subtweeting or being passive-aggressive but I have definitely made them worse. Not worth it. Reframe or delete.
- Check in with people you want in your life more; spend less time on people you dislike. I have to train myself to train the algorithm to show me things that enrich my life. I try to only reply to trolls/aggressive posts if I can envision an outcome that I am proud of, and otherwise I yeet them into the sea, as the internet youth say.
You may notice that I don’t have a boundary around how often I post, when I post, who I talk to, whether I swear, and certainly not a limit on posting cute animal photos. I’m not willing to limit how silly or serious I am, or restrict my posts to professional matters only, or conceal the fact that I have a full life outside my work. The boundaries above help me do that without making myself unhappy. What are yours?
Questions to Ask Yourself:
How do I stay safe?
- What information is online about where I live, how to contact me, and how who makes up my support system in case of an emergency?
- What sorts of information that I share would make it easier for people to find out those things?
- Have I experienced things online that activated my past traumas?
- How can I protect myself from those? (E.g. blocking someone, muting words, communicating to friends how to make you feel safer or more welcome)
- What do I want to get out of my time on social media?
- What do I need to keep private to keep myself physically safe?
- What do I need to keep private to keep myself emotionally safe? (e.g. arguments, aggression, trolls)
- Do I want to have one account for everything or separate/anon accounts for certain things? (e.g. certain political activism, sex work, anonymized identities for online gaming)
What do I need to get out of this for it to be positive for my life?
Emotional & Mental Health
- Can I trust myself to not use this tool in a way that damages my mental health?
- What signs will I notice if this tool is negatively impacting my life? (e.g. body sensations, rumination you cannot get out of, anxiety, more difficult to contain impulses you don’t want to give in to)
- How much of my inner life am I willing to share in public?
- How confrontational am I comfortable being with people?
- How will I feel if I post passive-aggressively or in order to provoke a reaction?
- Am I comfortable using these public spaces to ask for help? What kinds?
What community(ies) do I want to participate in?
- What communities (professional, hobby, issue-focused) do I want to engage with regularly? What do I care about and want more of?
- Do communities already exist for people who share my interests?
- What do the community norms appear to be? Are they acceptable to me?
- Can I meaningfully participate? (i.e. practical concern like keeping up with pace of discussions, time zones, stuff to contribute)
What are my core ethical principles? Is it important to me for my social media accounts to reflect them?
- What are my core ethical principles as a person?
- How can I use this tool to help me be the person I want to be?
- Who do I want to hear from?
- Where can I find those people?
- Who do I want to be heard by?
- How do I want to participate in online communities so I am living my values? (e.g. balance what sorts of accounts you are following or engage with to keep up with certain topics, make a point to encourage friends regularly, when you want to block/mute)