I’ve spent a lot of time gazing into the abyss of social media fatigue over the past year. And I guess the abyss is finally gazing back, because we’ve gotten a few questions on this subject recently!
Patreon donor (and effulgent selkie maiden) Georgie puts it this way:
Hello eminent and awe-inspiring Bitches! I have a question that I hope you might have some insight on.
How can I kick ass in today’s activism, corporate, and social world without using social media?
I am autistic, and have found through painful experience that usage of any media that is endlessly scrollable (think Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc) negatively impacts my mental health to the point of being actively dangerous. Most importantly, I have been active in social justice activism for a few years now and find it nigh on impossible to work well within the current BLM movement in my city without Facebook.
Along with this, I know that potential employers, dates, and roommates are searching for me online and finding someone who effectively disappeared last year. Any advice would be appreciated.
May your crackers be cheesy & your wallets be fat,– Georgie
First, we must pause to admire Georgie’s sign off, which is a 10/10. Now, let’s see what we can do about her problem, which sounds like social media fatigue. Maybe with a splash of activism fatigue. And boy am I familiar with that!
The epidemic of loneliness
Chronic stress is the biggest health crisis facing mankind. That was true before the coronavirus pandemic, and has only become truer in the face of such strong competition. The recent devastating losses to life, community, stability, and hope have only worsened an extant, endemic problem in modern life.
The causes of chronic stress are incredibly complex. For any one person, they could be a blend of behavioral, cultural, social, economic, physical, and genetic factors. But one of those factors is loneliness.
Three in five Americans are lonely. And social isolation—whether perceived or real—equates to terrible mental and physical health outcomes.
“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. Loneliness heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarette a day or having an alcohol use disorder. Fucking yikes!
Why social media makes us feel so damn lonely
In theory, social media is supposed to help us feel more connected to others. And it can! But in practice, social media can also sharpen feelings of profound loneliness.
Loneliness doesn’t really mean “interacting with no one.” Rather, it’s a sense that the social interactions you do have are not meaningful. People who are lonely…
- Don’t feel connected with others on a deep level.
- Feel unheard or misunderstood, like no one really “gets” them.
- Have no best friends or truly close intimates.
- Get exhausted when trying to build connections with others.
As such, lots of people feel loneliest not when they’re alone, but when they’re lost in a crowd of people they aren’t authentically connecting with.
And isn’t that the very essence of social media?
Nobody trusts a ghost
This brings us to Georgie’s problem. She’s identified social media fatigue as a major source of stress in her life. But at the same time, she’s struggled with a strategy to cut it out. Going cold turkey and closing all of her accounts fixes some problems—but it also introduces new ones.
Without social media, Georgie’s struggling to stay involved with causes that are important to her. She’s also found that being a “ghost” may hinder social, romantic, and career opportunities.
Social media is only about twenty years old. But in that time, it’s become more and more tightly integrated into our daily lives. Opting out completely comes with its own challenges. That adds layers of complexity to its use.
“I wish I knew how to quit you!”
I share Georgie’s struggles. The past year has really brought out my social media fatigue.
I can’t walk away from it entirely, for three reasons:
- It’s how I connect with BGR readers.
- It’s the easiest way to stay in touch with far-flung friends.
- I foster dogs, and social media is my #1 tool for finding their forever homes.
But the reasons I’ve wanted to use it less keep piling on.
- It’s a massive waste of time and energy.
- I’m aware of the ways it’s engineered to be addictive, unhealthy, and consumption-driving.
- Doomscrolling has kept me awake half the night.
- Endless, involuntary consumption of awful news stories and nasty comments left me feeling cynical and detached from my fellow man.
- Browsing woke up a bunch of negative emotions I don’t normally feel, like jealousy, envy, and inadequacy.
- Privacy breaches piss me off and creep me out.
When I finished each day both emotionally exhausted AND with many unfinished tasks, I realized I needed to be more efficient with my idle time. I was doing something compulsively that felt like work, but beating myself up for it like it was play. That needed to change.
Social media fatigue and autism
Georgie included the detail that she is autistic. I thought about omitting this detail, because hey—doesn’t everyone struggle with the problem of social media fatigue, regardless of neurological status? Obviously I do! But after research and reflection, I realized Georgie’s ASD added an important dimension.
An interesting recent study showed that adults with ASD who use social media in moderation were happier than non-users. But heavy use triggered social media fatigue, and a corresponding drop in happiness.
That actually makes a ton of sense to me, if you think of social media as a dual-use tool. You can use it to build genuine connections and feel lost in an uncaring crowd.
The war machine of outrage
People with ASD are a classic example of an out-group. They face unique social and communication challenges every day that in-group neurotypical people won’t understand unless they make an effort.
Hanging out in dedicated out-group spaces is invigorating! It’s validating! (Shout out to the fine personal finance hoes of Twitter, r/ADHDwomen, and Queer Tumblr… which is all of Tumblr.) But social media also puts you in sustained contact with in-groups who may be indifferent, uninformed, or hostile. It’s uniquely mentally exhausting to constantly switch between being intimately understood and not even being heard.
Even worse, sometimes those two spaces get braided together. I’ve seen a lot of quality out-group spaces transformed into outrage factories by algorithms that demand a constant flow of emotional reactivity. Happiness-boosting communities can become happiness-destroying sources of tribalism.
So there’s more food for thought! If you’re part of any kind of out-group, I think that adds a unique dimension of difficulty to this situation. Regardless, I bet a lot of people share mine and Georgie’s dilemma. So here’s what helped me!
My suggestions for fighting social media fatigue
Keep a LinkedIn profile open
The easiest problem to fix is the unnerving lack of social media presence. Because frankly, I think it’s fair to be a little spooked by a potential date/hire/roomie who’s a total ghost. Even though I intimately understand that there are great reasons to not be on social media! Zero presence feels like a yellow flag from a safety perspective.
That’s why I think keeping a LinkedIn profile open would be a great compromise.
LinkedIn is a solid public-facing social media profile. It’s probably the most “legitimate” of all social media accounts. Georgie mentions being especially negatively impacted by platforms that incentivize constant scrolling. And LinkedIn does technically have a “feed” much like Facebook’s. But the type of content people post is suuuuuper boring! Our big bad brains build compulsive behavior around rewards—not snores.
Add a picture and enough details so that people know it’s you. Then turn off all notifications except for friend requests and direct messages.
Create boundaries, with or without social media
I don’t follow any activism-related stuff on social media unless it fits a VERY specific set of parameters.
That’s new. Like Georgie, those topics used to be MOST of my feeds. And like her, I realized it was all making me miserable. I have a very strong impulse to swoop in and save others when they’re in trouble. And exposing myself to a bottomless well of urgent “cries for help” made it hard to turn myself off, go to sleep, and enjoy life.
I didn’t realize what a problem it was until the pandemic. Piggy and I got dozens of messages every day from readers in full panic-mode over terrible situations made worse by Covid. When people needed me, my batteries were drained.
It was only by the power of teamwork (and Adderall) that we were able to push ahead with our legendary Covid Lightning Round. But that was my “never again” moment. If I want to be a source of strength for others, I cannot let my strength deplete so carelessly.
Streamline what you choose to support with direct action
There are five hundred ways to be anti-racist.
You’ll be happier and more effective if you choose one or two to specialize in.
Do so based on your skills/interests. Or limit yourself to only things that impact your immediate local area. Then give yourself permission to filter out the rest. Trust that they are someone else’s whole focus.
I have only two that I devote significant time and effort to championing. For the record, they are…
- Personal finance as a tool for justice and equality
- Finding homes for homeless animals (mainly dogs but also there was that one racing pigeon)
That is literally it! Obviously there are many, many more that I care deeply about. But those are the areas where I have worked hard to develop comprehensive skill and working knowledge, so that’s where I can contribute the most. And there is enough good work to be done under those two umbrellas to keep me busy for… (checks notes) …ever.
Align with organizations that communicate in a way that works for you
A lot of well-organized groups send out calls to action in more than one format. I may not follow them on my personal social media accounts anymore—but I still get their email newsletters or text blasts about upcoming events. That way, I still know what’s going on in my area without marinating myself in the endless stress of doomscrolling.
Be a joiner
Don’t put pressure on yourself to make the most of your potential impact. That way lies analysis paralysis. Instead, outsource that decision-making to someone who has a good plan and needs help.
I’ve heard it said by a lot of prominent activists that they wish people would show more willingness to join existing organizations instead of bolting out the door to start net-new ones. In general, it seems that activism has many great leaders, but doers are in short supply. As with investing, sometimes the “lazier” option is thankfully often the better one.
Empower your own allies to call upon you
Explain your situation to a friend who’s super plugged-in and happy about it. Ask them to forward interesting opportunities to you directly.
I have a very diverse array of friends with a very diverse array of interests: women in STEM, animal rescue, labor organization, Black Lives Matter, local sustainable agriculture, trans representation in the media, zoning reform… TONS and TONS of great stuff that no single individual could possible keep up with alone.
The thing is, I don’t have to! I know my friends will reach out to me if there’s an interesting opportunity for me to help them with what’s nearest and dearest to their hearts. And they know I’ll do the same for my pet interests. If I’m always running my own batteries down, I won’t make the most of those moments.
Build a box of time and shove your activism into it
If you find that it just doesn’t work to not be on Facebook, reopen your account, but outsource the enforcement of time boundaries to a plugin.
Whether you use a desktop or a phone, there are ways to stop yourself from endlessly scrolling without resorting to deleting accounts. I personally use StayFocusd for Chrome and my iPhone’s Screen Time limiter.
Additionally, I don’t install the FB app, or allow my phone to save my FB login. Every single time I want to go to Facebook, I have to type in my username and password. If I’m logging in mindlessly, it’s just annoying enough to stop me.
You can also set alarms, or block off times of the week for it. Whatever you choose to do, try not to make it the last thing you do. Tons of studies link it to poor sleep.
Live your values—don’t perform them
Remind yourself that keyboard warriors are a dime a dozen. You don’t need to be another one of them.
I find that social media participation is loud and visible to the people who matter most to me. But it rarely leaves me with the feel-good sense that I’ve done something meaningful. The best solution to that niggling FOMO feeling is the big dopamine/serotonin boost you get from actually doing something.
Honor your limitations
BLM activism, by its nature, is built on cycles of reacting quickly to news events. So it may be hard to be tightly involved without ANY social media access. If you find that’s so, it’s totally okay.
Any work that builds trust and relationships between neighbors, or improves the lives of others in your community is worthy and necessary work that may have bankshot positive impacts on racial injustice. You wouldn’t be a traitor to the cause if you spent your time helping a food bank in a socioeconomically or racially diverse neighborhood, for example. That kind of work may be steadier and more accessible to someone with Georgie’s particular limitations.
And speaking of limitations! They are valid! For everyone! Georgie is very wise to know and respect hers. I hope that other readers can follow suit.
We over-commit because we don’t want to disappoint anyone. But then we disappoint everyone because we over-committed.
Remind yourself that social media ≠ real life
I think most people are pretty aware of the effect social media can have on them for shallow things. Looking at photos of beautiful people eating perfect meals in exotic destinations is a great way to feel bad when you’re an old witch squatting on the floor of her bathroom, hunched over a bowl of Trader Joe’s Shells and White Cheddar. (Yes, I’m the witch. Why the bathroom? Wrong question: why NOT the bathroom?!)
But the same principle works for distinctly non-shallow things. Some people are doing really cool things for good causes, and they seem to be doing it tirelessly, perfectly, all the time. They might seem like they’re living your values better than you ever could. But that is the great lie of social media. And it’s a lie that can really hurt. Georgie is wise to weigh its potential to do good in society against its potential to do harm in you.
Got a question for the Bitches?
If you’re feeling social media fatigue, listen to yourself and your body. And remind yourself that it’s normal and okay to go through cycles of over- and under-committing. We’re a chorus; sing when you can, and rest your voice when you need to.
Thanks to Georgie for asking this interesting question, and allowing me to share my answer with all of you!
We answered Georgie’s question because she’s a Patreon donor. Donors help us keep this site free from ads, sponsored content, and other tuff you can’t necessarily trust. To thank them for their support, we let Patrons vote on topics, ask us questions directly, and get access to awesome bonus content. So if YOU have a burning question you want us to answer, please consider joining us on Patreon! You’ll help keep our work light on ads and heavy on the swears for generations of bitchlings still to come.