A friend of mine recently dropped out of the social media scene. Recently, as in, like this winter… and she’s popped back up in my text messages today, which is lovely. She mentioned that her social media experiences had become very toxic and that she had to make some changes in her life. I can support this, because, I, too, struggle day by day with the social media experience.
On one hand, I’ve made some wonderful lifelong friends through this miracle medium, largely from the pre-Trump days when we still shared pictures of our lunches and pets. Because of what I do, it’s not exactly easy to just go out and meet people. Sitting in a dark room with a keyboard isn’t as conducive to having an active social life as you might imagine.
On the other hand, though, there are some fucking awful things on social media if you’re not choosy about how you curate it. You have to really have solid, healthy boundaries or else you’ll get pulled into the ocean of miscreants who live out there in the ether. They’re not forgiving and they’re not kind to people who are different from them. Best to avoid, really.
Studies have shown both that social media is good for our social well-being and that it’s horrific on our psychies. It really depends on the study, how it’s designed, and the elements it’s examining. Social media, even to science, is a mixed bag.
How Social Media is Like a Septic Tank
If you live in a city and have all your life, you probably have no idea what a septic tank is. You can think of them as your own personal, private sewer. That’s a lovely thought, isn’t it? A sewer for you-er. Your own underground poo palace.
But a septic tank serves a vital purpose in areas where access to municipal sewer is either impossible or impractical: it contains and digests the waste you can’t otherwise get rid of. Simple. It’s an underground poo pond, if you will.
However, unlike a municipal sewer, a septic tank takes special care. It matters what you put into it, because you’re relying solely on the bacterial life inside to handle the hard work your city sewer department has machine assistance to complete. So, for example, with a septic you can’t be pouring lots of heavy cleaners into the stool, because you’ll kill your bacterial friends. What you put in affects what …er…. comes out.
And although I’ve often likened Twitter to a cesspool (which I continue to stand behind), some of the more docile social media platforms are far more like septic tanks. They serve a vital purpose, but they also need special handling to operate at their best.
Care and Feeding of Your Social Media Septic Tank
If you’re here because you follow my feeds on Facebook, you know that I do fairly regular testing and experimenting to see what the algorithms are doing this week. Sometimes they’re not being too fancy, sometimes they’re being quite fancy, indeed. Right now, they’re trying to do better than they have in a while, by bubbling up content they think you want to see, and not even showing you content they think you won’t like.
But what you do see is determined by you and your input, believe it or not. Beyond simply unfollowing super awful humans and feeds and blocking those people who you never want to hear from again, you can take additional steps to tell your algorithmic bacteria what it is that would make you happy and keep your septic tank bubbling along.
Seriously, try this stuff before you give up on social media entirely. Social media can be good for you for many reasons, including being a great source for breaking news and dank memes. It can take a little time to tame an out of control social media feed, but I promise if you do this stuff regularly, you’ll be back to seeing photos of other people’s dogs and lunches in no time.
- Don’t just “like” stuff, LOVE IT. Facebook seems to be giving more weight to stronger reactions these days. If you “like” something, it’s kind of interpreted as a “meh” reaction now that there are so many emotional options to choose from. It’s fine to be meh about something, but if you’re habitually meh, you’re going to give the algorithm certain ideas about the content you simply “like.”
So, rather than “liking” your neighbor’s dog photos, “love” ‘em with all you’ve got. Or “angry” them when you’ve discovered your dog is cheating on you with the neighbor doggos. Whatever you do, don’t substitute actual emotions with “likes.”
- Share things you actually care about. When the algorithms see you sharing lots of photos of your pet plants, they’re going to assume you like plants and try to show you more of them. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the one we’ve got, so let’s work with it. I want to see more memes, so I show more memes. It’s that easy!
This also works against you if you tend to share a lot of things you don’t like in an attempt to discuss or disparage them. For example, let’s say you are not a fan of a particular political party or sports team. Even if you spend a lot of time being super negative about that and sharing posts related to that kind material, the algorithms only know you’re sharing the original material and assume you want to see it, so you’re going to start getting to see more and more of the awful stuff you hate. It goes back to that whole thing your momma used to tell you about saying nothing if you can’t say anything nice.
- Your comments carry a lot of weight, but not in the way you probably think. Absolutely, comment on things that matter to you. Participate in healthy discussions (don’t be a twat), talk to people, that’s what social media is all about. What you say is being monitored, don’t you doubt it for a minute, but the content isn’t as important to what you get fed later as the fact that you commented at all.
This works the same as with what you’re sharing. If you’re commenting “you suck” a whole lot on the rival high school ball team’s page, well, you’re going to see more and more of their posts because you’re actively interacting with them. The best way to kill anything or anyone on social media is to ignore them. It worked wonders for a certain orange Hell beast I won’t mention.
- Actively use the “Favorites” feature. So, there’s this cool feature that’s been part of Facebook for some time, but pretty much everybody has forgotten about. It’s called “Favorites.” You can access it by clicking here and reading about it. I’m not your mom, you can do this on your own.
The advantage of using “Favorites” is that you get to tell FB just who you actually want to follow and who or what you’re prioritizing. You’ll not only tend to get better coverage of these “favorite” feeds, but FB will try to feed you more like them, if it can figure out what they’re all about. That can be trickier than you might imagine.
And don’t worry, they’ll never know you favorited them, so feel free to give your crush a great big “Favorite” to help calm the embers of your burning affection.
- Last, but not least, report offensive content. If you stubbed your emotional toe, that’s probably not reason enough to report content, but there are often times that real content really needs to be escalated to someone who can remove it and the person who created the dumpster fire.
The more we report hateful, awful content, the more of that ish that’s taken down. Watch groups for rules about “reporting content,” because some will threaten to remove you for it. Hot tip: if you report content to Facebook directly, instead of using the “report to group admins” option, the group admins are never going to know. Burn their shitty group to the ground if their rules are simply there to protect people who are full of the bad kinds of emotional parasites.
You got a lot of words this week. And no pep talks. You’re welcome.
And now, you also know what a septic tank is, so I feel kind of like I’ve done a pretty important public service here.
Have a lovely week, Plebs.