15 August, 2015
Blaugust, Day 15
So, I’ve spent the week bemoaning social media. What can we do?
The reality is that a lot of the problems are problems with the culture that has developed on social media sites. Once a culture is established, it’s really hard to change it without a massive amount of effort. So, most of these suggestions will be steps you can personally do to improve your experience.
Control your experience
The first thing to do is understand the privacy consequences. Facebook in particular seems bad about changing privacy settings to be more advantageous to third parties, although my last few visit to Facebook have had a “privacy checkup” dinosaur prominently displayed. But, realize that even with maximum privacy settings, the data about your activities are the most valuable thing to the social network company.
Second, understand that you might not be seeing everything you want to see. On Google+, the main page seems to have items sorted by some inscrutable algorithm. What I do is put people who I really want to read about in a special circle and mostly surf that circle. If someone bores me, I’ll take them out. If I have more time, I’ll go read my main page or a specific themed circle and find interesting posts and add the authors to my “Interesting” circle. The circle is sorted in chronological order, so I’m pretty sure I’m not missing much. And, as I mentioned, Facebook might only be promoting companies that have paid them.
Practice good mental hygiene
Realize that human psychology has a lot of tricks that can bypass our rational side. It’s not easy to keep them all in mind when you make a decision, but it can help to slow down and really think about things. Given the pace of social media, sometimes you can feel behind the times if you aren’t posting spontaneously.
At the very least, you should understand that something that grabs your emotions may not necessarily be the best thing to share. Something that makes you angry might have been crafted to specifically make you angry and make you repost it. Taking a moment to calm down is a good first step. And, sometimes the stuff that makes you angry might not even be true. Sometimes a quick search or a visit to good old http://snopes.com/ may save you a bit of embarrassment.
Also keep in mind that if you belong to a “tribe”, the things said about other “tribes” are probably not accurate. Since people are much more likely to share information that makes them angry, you’re only going to see that type of information, and not the more reasonable and moderate views from “the enemy”.
Look a little deeper
People don’t always present a full picture, even in what feels like a spontaneous medium like social networking. People will emphasize certain parts, and may be holding back something that they don’t want to share.
Also keep in mind that sites will promote thing that make more money for them. In news, violent stories are more likely to get covered. Online, controversy that gets people fired up will tend to attract more attention and thus more advertising revenue. What gets reported may not really reflect what is actually happening.
Understand signalling and tribalism
This is one of the most important skills. Understand that when someone shares something, they may be more interested in signalling their ideal behavior rather than really supporting something. It’s always easier to reshare a post someone else wrote than to take tangible steps to solve a problem.
People will tend to cluster together into like-minded groups. And, if that group feels strongly about an issue and there is a group that feels strongly about a competing issue, these tribes will tend to come into conflict. Again, what is shared is likely not the reality, as you are only seeing the extremes.
Also understand that labels are broad, and that everyone that claims a label may not agree with everyone else who claims that same label. It’s easy to call yourself a “feminist”, and not every feminist agrees with every other person claiming that label.
Step outside your bubble
Read something you disagree with? The first step is to stop and understand what you disagree with. Address the issue itself, not the person making the argument. But, don’t get drawn into a quagmire. After a few responses, bow out of the discussion gracefully and do not reply after that.
Block people only as a last resort. Rather, read a little bit more of what they’re saying. They probably don’t always post about what made you angry, and they might have really insightful things to say about other topics. Sometimes miscommunication happens, because no medium is perfect for transmitting ideas. And realize that opinions change; everyone’s held some idiotic belief, and if you think that doesn’t include you then it almost certainly applies double to you. :P
And if someone blocks you, just move on with your life. Maybe after saying something snarky about that person, because they probably won’t see it. :)
Treat people like people
I think this is the secret to living a good life. Treat people with kindness and respect by default. When dealing with people online, give them more benefit of the doubt. Sometimes a polite word has much more impact than an angry screed, even if that angry screed feels like it would make you feel better in the short term.
Most people do make an effort to do what they consider the right thing. Perhaps you disagree with them about what the “right thing” is, but that doesn’t necessarily make them evil.
Never forget there’s a (probably) person behind that text on your screen. And that person is probably just as confused as you are about what the meaning of life really is.