Is Social Media Bad for Us? Maybe It Depends on Why We Use It

using Twitter on a cell phone

With Facebook seeming to be in the news every few days for demonstrating what I can only characterize as utter contempt for those who continue to use its service, it comes as no surprise that many people are beginning to question their use of Facebook and even social media more broadly. Could it be that our use of social media is actually harming us? For some of us, I think it is clear that it is; for others, this is much less clear. I have heard some people starting to ask why those of us who use any social media platforms do so. While I deleted my Facebook account in January of 2021 and have not missed it one bit, but I do continue to use Twitter on a regular basis. Why? I can think of three reasons. There may be others, but these are the ones that immediately spring to mind when I consider the question:

  1. Information
  2. Connection
  3. Amplification

Using Twitter for Information

I find Twitter helpful for information because I can easily follow several news outlets, including a decent mixture of local, national, and international sources. I can create my own mix of general news sources and those that are focused on particular topics of interest (e.g., my local weather). Beyond more traditional news media, I also find it useful to stay informed about various hobbies and interests. It is kind of like having access to a cable subscription that includes nothing but the channels I am interested in.

Using Twitter for Connection

Sadly, the number of people who openly identify themselves as atheists I interact with on a semi-regular basis offline is approximately 0. I expect this is largely a function of living in one of the most religious states in a fairly religious country. If I want to feel normal for a few minutes, Twitter helps by making it possible for me to interact with other atheists. While online interaction is no substitute for in-person interactions, it is much better than nothing. And while some will complain that many atheists they encounter online are jerks, that hasn't been my experience. Or at least, it hasn't since I decided to be a bit more selective about who I follow. The jerks are out there but fairly easy to avoid once one has learned to identify them.

Using Twitter for Amplification

I am a firm believer in using whatever platform I may have to amplify good ideas. If there's someone out there doing cool stuff and I can give them a boost somehow, why wouldn't I do so? Amplifying good ideas benefits all of us, and is something so easy we can all do it. This is one of the things I most enjoy about Twitter. Amplifying good ideas can be done in the interest of activism, but it isn't limited to that. I might share an action alert issued by a national secular group one day and a cool example of horror-themed art the next. It works for all good ideas, and it is one small thing I can do to support those with the courage to spread their good ideas. After all, I think it is important that they know their efforts are appreciated.

Is Social Media Bad For Us?

I have no doubt that it can be, but I think this depends greatly on who we are and how we approach it. I don't take it very seriously, have next to none of my self-worth wrapped up in it, and have little difficulty taking breaks from it whenever I feel like I need them. I have no desire to interact with trolls or to get the last word in. That makes me hard to troll, and those seeking to do so usually move on quickly to find more willing prey. The insults I encounter on social media roll off my back like drops of rain on a freshly waxed car. They mean nothing to me. Why would I care what a stranger I'll never meet thinks about something I said?

I suspect that one of the reason some people do struggle on social media is that they are using it as a bit of a crusade, aiming to change the world. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think it may lead to some problems for some people. I do not typically interact with others on social media with the goal of educating them about the world or reducing their bigotry. I do more than enough of that in my job and have little interest in doing it during the limited free time I allocate to social media. As a result, I can't say that I invest much energy ruminating about negative reactions to something I've said.