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Taking care of yourself (and others) on social media

In his article “A guide to joining twitter now it’s an unremittingly bleak document of how awful everything is”, Ned Potter offers eight pieces of advice for someone just joining that platform. It’s advice that is pertinent to social media and online engagement more broadly, so we’ve reframed it with his permission:

  1. Lay down some ground-rules and stick to them - Social media works when you are in control of it rather than it being in control of you. It needs to be something you decide to engage with, rather than getting into a cycle of dependence, checking it listlessly until all hours even though you don’t even want to, getting ever more scared or depressed. So, don’t check it after 9pm or before 8am for starters. No one needs to start their day with that… Think about whether you really need it on your phone at all – and if you do, consider deleting it (the app, not your account) during holidays and over Christmas.

  2. Curate. Find the good people - Search for people talking about stuff you care about. Follow the ones talking sense. Find the community you want to be part of and join in. You need to curate your environment, proactively following and unfollowing to make it work for you. That said…

  3. Get out of the echo chamber - If you follow 1000 people who all think the same you’ll be in an echo chamber and that’s no good to anyone. Everyone will reinforce your view of the world… But if you follow a bunch of people who really wind you up, you’ll be wound-up all the time. So a middle ground must be found. Make sure your online social circle doesn’t consist entirely of People Like You - follow and interact with people from different professions, socio-economic demographics, locations, nationalities and ethnicities. This at least builds a more rounded picture of the way the world thinks. I’ve learned so much from people on Twitter. Not just about my profession, but about society; about behaviour. That’s why I still love it… Look to be challenged as well as supported, but if someone is hateful or obnoxious, mute, block, lock your account - do what you need to feel comfortable.

  4. Trust that the right people will find you, rather than changing to please the wrong people. - Better to give of yourself, be yourself, present an unvarnished version of yourself, and take your time to find a network who is happy with you as you, than to try and adapt to be like everyone else. I know this sounds like a self-help book. But honestly, the internet is huge. Your people will be there. Wait for them rather than watering yourself down. Everything is fragmented now. Find your fragment.

  5. Don’t slow down to look at the car crash - Of course it’s compelling. Of course you want to know what’s going on. But you don’t need to see it. You don’t need images that are going to haunt you and still be there when you close your eyes to go to sleep tonight. If certain world leaders are tweeting horrifying things, block them… Add a load of words to your mute list – use the advanced mute options. You need to take care of yourself to get the most out of social media. Self-care is vital.

  6. For celebs and politicians, social media is a broadcast medium. For the rest of us it’s still a conversation - Talk about your work. Talk about your life if you’re comfortable doing so. But talk about other people’s work too. Share stuff. Reply. Get involved in chats. Back and forth.

  7. Make the internet the best place it can possibly be - While the world falls apart around you, make your part of it a place where good things happen. Be positive but realistic. Be supportive. Don’t propagate nonsense or propaganda or lies. Go to the source. Don’t be unquestioning. Think about your role in other people’s echo chambers too. Help people out. Be approximately 30% nicer online than you are in real life to allow for the potential misinterpretations of un-nuanced written text. Don’t make people’s days worse…

  8. Don’t be afraid to quit - No one ever regrets shutting down a social media account. If it’s not having a positive impact on your life, get rid.

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Wellbeing

University of York