I like social media. I also like alcohol. Obviously, alcohol can cause problems, so I’ve established a few ground rules for myself. Similarly, social media can cause problems, so I’ve established ground rules there too. My social media ground rules have helped social media be a positive joyful force in my life, not the anger- and fear-inducing force that most people experience.
(Currently. I haven’t always done this. I’ve… Learned from past mistakes.)
This post is about “how”, not “how much”
Ground rules fall into two categories:
- “how much” rules, like “don’t drink more than 1-2 drinks more than once a week”
- “how” rules, like “don’t drink to avoid feelings” and “drink only in social situations”
Both are important! I’m going to focus on the “how” rules, because they’re more subtle.
Social media does not want to enrich your life
Companies (facebook, twitter, snapchat, tiktok) don’t care about your mental health and well being. They optimize for users, clicks, and ad views. 1 They are almost required to do so. They don’t want you to feel worse (all things equal, they probably want you to feel better, who wouldn’t?) but their business goals just don’t care one way or the other.
Anger and fear generate lots of clicks and ad views! So the default experience on a social media site quickly becomes anger and fear. You have to actively fight it if you don’t want to leave every session a little more furious, worried, and drained than you started.
Becoming aware of it
If you’re reading this and saying, “that’s not me!”, I challenge you: open your favorite social media and scroll for a minute, and count how many posts make you feel a little more angry or afraid. Some common offenders:
- basically anything political or culture wars (including anything with “republican” or “democrat”, “Biden”, “Trump”, LGBTQ issues, gender issues, racism, “woke”, colonialism, guns, abortion, climate change - I’m not taking any positions on any of these right now, but notice how your heart rate rises even just reading these words)
- fears about some chemical that’s in your house or food
- fears about anything in the future (climate change, the economy, AI)
- Someone Did Something Bad Somewhere posts (“Someone in Kalamazoo said a racist thing!” “There’s a serial killer on the loose in New Hampshire!")2
- anything about “culture” as a whole (“nobody gets married anymore!” “nobody respects their neighbors!")
You might have a lot of this! If you do, congrats, you’re becoming aware of it. If it’s not so bad, then congrats too! Either way, this becomes an ongoing challenge: notice this kind of thing as it comes up and continue to take steps to get rid of it.
But how do I get rid of the rage and fear? (Without losing my whole social circle?) In general, Just Unfollow People. Don’t worry, if they often ragepost and fearpost, it’s not likely that you’re missing nuggets of wisdom in between. (If you do, c’est la vie; there’s plenty of other wisdom nuggets elsewhere.) If they’re real life friends, you’ll keep in touch via other means. Remember: following someone means “I like what you post”, not “I like you.”
There are more detailed solutions per platform, too. I won’t post step by step “click here” info, as that keeps changing, but these principles should be pretty static for a while.
- unfollow people! You don’t even have to unfriend them; just unfollow them, and you won’t get their rage/fear in your news feed
- if your feed is all anger and rage, try News Feed Eradicator or a similar extension to let you maintain access to Facebook for friends' contact info, Groups, Marketplace
- again, unfollow. Especially with Stories, each person you follow will take up a lot of your attention.
- News Feed Eradicator works here too
Twitter has a reputation as a terrible site where people yell at each other all day. But I think it’s actually the best, with a little work:
- always always always use chronological timeline. This is “posts from people you follow, in the order they tweet them.” Never use the algorithmically curated timeline. (The names for these keep changing; right now the chrono timeline is called “Following” and the algorithmic one is called “For You”.) You follow people because you want to get posts from them; why would you also want a bunch of (probably rage/fear) posts from randos?
- unfollow people. (Notice a theme?) Unfollow your friends even, if they make you mad or afraid. I give people two strikes: messing up once is ok, but if you ragepost twice in short succession, you’re unfollowed.
- turn off retweets for some people. Some people are good at tweeting themselves, but keep RTing rage/fear. You can “turn off retweets” while still getting posts they write themselves.
- use Tweetdeck and lists. Lists are nice if you have people you follow in a domain (e.g. I’ve got a list of artists; I don’t want every post from them clogging my timeline, but it’s nice to see some of their posts sometimes.) Tweetdeck lets you make a column for each list. It also helps if you have multiple twitter accounts.
- mute keywords. E.g. “Trump” or “crypto”. You can still follow your friends, but miss their posts about certain topics.
- only visit niche subreddits. When you create an account, leave every subreddit they suggest, then only join a few for small interest areas. Disc golf or cast-iron cookware? Great. “Pics” or “Facepalm” or “IdiotsInCars”? no.
- I don’t actually know! You don’t actually choose who to follow, and you don’t explicitly curate your feed, right? I guess upvote puppies and nice music, downvote anyone yelling.
- Maybe I’m old, but TikTok might be uniquely bad here. Notice your feelings after using it: if you’re more angry or afraid, uninstall it.
please don’t well-actually about how platform x doesn’t count “clicks” exactly; the point is, they all monetize your attention. And I know facebook got some good press for “time well spent”; doesn’t really matter until their core business stops being monetizing your attention. ↩︎
I should probably write a whole post about Someone Did Something Bad Somewhere (SDSBS) posts. Once you start noticing them, it gets way easier to dismiss them with prejudice. ↩︎
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