My Social Dilemma

Social media has brought so much to our lives

We’re more connected than ever, we have real-time global news updates and insights into how other people live, work and play, and we have the ability to control what we see in the form of preferences and follows. It’s undoubtedly been a force for good with several high profile social campaigns gaining momentum and affecting huge change during the past 10 years. It’s allowed charities and other not-for-profits to go straight to supporters and consumers, bypassing the need for costly marketing and PR support. It’s highlighted social injustice. It even helped to fuel social revolutions.

It’s brought us closer together.

Or has it?

"You're not on Facebook"?!?

Four years ago, neither Andrew or I were on Facebook and although I’d dabbled with Instagram, my account only contained one post. But every time we caught up with friends, we’d experience the same problem; they seemed to know the intricacies of each other’s everyday lives and we felt out of the loop. How was this possible when we only met up every few months? They ended each conversation with the same line - “you guys really need to get yourselves on Facebook”.

We finally succumbed. Now we both have Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts and on the whole, I’d say I’ve generally liked and enjoyed social media.

From a business perspective each individual platform has proved to be invaluable – showing what we stand for, both as individuals and as a business. We get a high level of engagement through DM’s and private messages, and conversation starters with potential clients and clients are now far more personal. People are buying into us and what we do before they pick up the phone for the first time – establishing a level of trust and community we hadn’t initially expected.

Personally, it’s allowed me to reconnect with people I’d lost touch with and to connect with others who interest me. When I became a mum for the first time it allowed me to share in other people’s experiences and I took solace in the fact that I wasn’t the only one bouncing along the hall at 2am singing Baby Shark. If you look at my social media accounts, especially Instagram, you won’t see many perfectly curated tiles. I’m quite self-deprecating and try to make things light hearted and not take myself seriously (there’s only a handful of ‘selfies’, and most are with other people).

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The ugly truth

But it all begs the question – why?

Who am I posting for? I appease myself by saying it’s for me, or for family, catching up with people, checking in and having a timeline to look back at.

But the ugly truth is, I think I do it to be liked. As someone who was bullied pretty relentlessly at school I have this horrible need to be liked. I want people to look at these pictures and think “that’s funny, I like her”. This hasn’t been a conscious thing but the more I keep asking why, then the whole social media charade begins to unravel. If you’re really honest with yourself, why do you post, and who are you really posting it for? I don’t think most of us really know.

When did we start narrating every single aspect of our lives, from what we’re having for breakfast, and the coffee we buy in the morning, to the amazing fun we always appear to be having with our families? Is it more than an unconscious narcissism that’s fuelling us, with our brains seeking out that rush from a like or comment?

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"Feeling a bit meh"...

I was speaking to one of our clients about this last week. She started the call with “I’m really sorry but I’m a right grump today”.

So I asked her why.

The conversation began with her saying “nothing much in particular, just feel a bit meh”, but when we got into it, turns out she popped on to Instagram before she got out of bed and her feed was filled with people (including friends) promoting their own weight loss, accompanied by other posts selling weight loss supplements and diets. She’s been struggling to get her mojo back since she had her daughter three years earlier and although she hadn’t spoken about it, she found herself pulling at her clothes daily as she cursed at herself for failing to “bounce back”. To top all of this, when she clicked onto LinkedIn, she saw that two of her CIPD peers had just been promoted (which she’d been promised for over 12 months). All of this had set her head up for negativity before her feet hit the floor.

Does this sound common?

This is just one example of how social media can impact our mood. To me, that’s scary.

Although I knew my social media consumption was getting out of hand (good old Screen Time alert on a Sunday night was creeping up), I had no real intention of changing my behaviour. After all, it’s been great for our business; many of you reading this will have found us via LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram in the first place.

Turning point

Things changed a few weeks ago when we watched the Netflix docu-film “The Social Dilemma”. There’s no getting away from it, the data is terrifying. It’s focussed on the US, but the parallels between what’s happening in the States, the UK and the wider world are clear to see.

The documentary explains how an extended amount of media consumption can subtly have a plethora of negative impacts on individuals. They then go on to present specific data to support this thesis, such as:

A 62% increase in hospitalisations for American females ages 15-19 and a 189% increase in females ages 10-14 due to self harm, beginning in 2010-2011.

A 70% increase in suicide for females ages 15-19 and a 151% increase in females ages 10-14, beginning when social media was first introduced.

They more or less prove that these spikes are due to the increasing amount of time spent on social media and the psychological effects it has on the brain. If a user is feeling distressed, social media can release dopamine into the brain and they eventually find themselves dependent upon it. It’s referred to as a "digital pacifier" in the film. The reliance on technology in this manner can lead to the inability to properly deal with emotions because it alters the development of one's frontal cortex. The release of dopamine makes technology work similar to addictive drugs, such as alcohol or nicotine, even cocaine.

People are also highly likely to believe false information on the internet such as conspiracy theories, affecting off-screen behaviour and lives. For example, false information on Twitter spreads six times faster than true information according to an MIT study, because people have a greater emotional reaction towards fake news. What we’ve seen in US politics during the past four years is a case in point.

Fillers and fat burners

We are also seeing a huge increase in people wanting plastic surgery from a very young age. Snapchat introduced the first filters in January 2015 and since then there has been a significant increase in body dysmorphic disorders (BDD). This is because individuals may have a constant feeling that they should take on an appearance similar to the one they have on social media, leading to a spike in individuals diagnosed with depression.

The experts explain that increased social media usage can lead children to "compare themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty". As someone who was picked on for the way I looked at school, I personally struggle with this as I know I’d be one of these statistics if I were a teen today; desperately looking for a magic pill or surgery to change the way I looked, hoping it would change the way I feel. I’m ashamed to admit I spent hundreds of pounds on slimming tea’s and fat burners in my late teens and early twenties.

The documentary then goes on to expose the teams of people who are paid to manipulate our human psychology and the levels of profiteering behind this. For me, the most terrifying realisation was illustrated by Dr. Shoshana Zuboff, Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School and the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”. She explained that technology-based businesses sell certainty to their advertisers in a way that has never been harnessed before through their ability to harvest their users’ data.

“It’s a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures—just like there are markets that trade in oil futures. We now have markets that trade in human futures at scale, and those markets have produced the trillions of dollars that have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity.”

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I've started my own experiment

I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent person who can see through B.S. quite easily, and I don’t believe I’m easily manipulated. We all know that these platforms “sell” our data and use algorithms to influence us to buy products. But I honestly had no idea just how far they’d all gone, and how far into the cycle I was.

Although Facebook and the other social media giants claim to be a force for good, if you believe even half of what’s contained in “The Social Dilemma”, it’s clear that they are complicit in getting us hooked and then drawing us in further, purely to line their own pockets and with a total disregard for the societal chaos left in the wake. What started out as a pet project in a dorm room has quickly become a colossal behemoth with an inertia that’s almost unstoppable.

So, for the last month I’ve been experimenting with my social media accounts. I’ve reviewed my feeds and unfollowed and muted anyone who brings me doom on a regular basis, and I’ve started following people, hashtags and business accounts which share my interests and values. Yes, the occasional heavily edited and filtered nonsense still ends up in there somewhere, but in the main it’s more positive and interesting and I’m happy to let into my headspace for a limited period on a daily basis. I generally feel lighter mentally and physically I’ve been feeling better than I have in years. It’s ironic that unfollowing all of the “healthy influencer” accounts were actually tapping into a dark area of my psyche and making me eat donuts rather than exercise.

This has worked for me because it’s allowed me to regain a bit of control and work out why I want to use social media in the first place – Instagram for a bit of entertainment and fun, and LinkedIn as a business tool with the added benefit of interesting content.

What about you?

Before I post on social media now I ask myself why, what and who; why am I posting this, what am I trying to say or achieve and who am I doing it for?

Social media isn’t inherently good or bad, but I think most of us, if we’re really honest, are probably more addicted to it than we’d care to admit.

Happy scrolling…

Becca x

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