With all of the recent Facebook controversies, now seems like the perfect time to address something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year and a half — good versus evil when it comes to the internet and social media.
I’ll start by stating the obvious — social media can be a bad thing. It can become an addiction, a host for cyber bullies, and a treasure trove of personal information, and, um, fake news.
But while droves of people are swearing off Facebook, Twitter, and the like because of constant political arguments, controversial topics, endless bad news, and alleged violations of privacy, I’ve recently discovered that social media, like many aspects of life, is what you make of it. There are endless ways to use it for good, and I think that if more people concentrated on its positives instead of its negatives, the internet would be a much happier place.
At the beginning of 2017, I was “this close” to deleting my Facebook page. I was being attacked for my personal views and emotions and was getting into arguments almost daily with people who bullied me for my beliefs and compassionate nature. I was also quite literally sick seeing how callous and crude some “friends” and even family were. I took a long hiatus to concentrate on myself, and decided that instead of deleting the damn account, I could use said account to combat the negativity and cruelty that was seemingly everywhere by doing some good in my own corner of the world.
First I unfriended and unfollowed people who brought negativity to my newsfeed. It didn’t matter if they were blood relatives or friends I’d laughed with and shared food with. If their online presence was a threat to my state of mind, they had to go. This was not about being thin-skinned or too sensitive. This was about taking control over certain aspects of my life. Negativity is everywhere every day. If I could eliminate some of that negativity by weeding out my Facebook feed, why the hell wouldn’t I?
Next I unfollowed any page that was not a reliable news source. I also forced myself to scroll by controversial memes or pictures without looking at the comments. Arguing with a stranger on social media was not going to make me any happier, and it wasn’t going to solve any problems in the world. The energy I used to expel replying to ignorant comments with facts was now concentrated on my writing, my quest to find an organization to volunteer with, and my personal wellbeing.
I also sought out sites to help with my new goals – I “liked” and became a member of several writer-themed Facebook pages. I discovered several fan pages devoted to cute dogs and inspiring stories, and also began to gravitate towards Facebook pages for organizations that help spread love and equality to all human beings.
After taking these steps, it didn’t take long for me to realize that there actually is a TON of positive, uplifting, and helpful information on social media!
Which leads me to my next point . . .
Personally . . .
My own best example of the potential “goodness” of the internet is from way back in 2008, when the short-lived predecessor to Facebook, MySpace, was all the rage. A friend messaged me one day to ask if I was interested in meeting one of her guy friends for a blind date. The guy ended up becoming my husband. If it weren’t for MySpace, I might still be single!
A few years later, while planning a wedding on a budget, I was having trouble finding a non-denominational officiant who wasn’t going to charge us $400 for a fifteen minute ceremony. Then an acquaintance commented that the mayor of a neighboring town had married her and her husband a few years previous, and all she asked for in return was a donation to the animal shelter she founded. Done!
My most recent debt of gratitude towards social media is, of course, on the subject of writing. I started a “writer” page after self-publishing two novels in 2016, and through dozens of online Facebook groups that support writers, I’ve accumulated over 500 followers. Though most of these people are strangers who live in other states and other countries, I can easily share with them my blog posts, promotional prices for my novels, and helpful writing tips. Since I’ve been networking, I’ve “met” other writers from as far away as Australia. It was through Facebook that I found a few very important beta-readers and made a connection with a woman who became the first stranger to buy my book and give it a review that brought tears of happiness to my eyes. If I’d let the negative aspects of Facebook limit me, I may never have “met” any of these other writers or taken advantage of the many contests and submissions posted on a daily basis.
Help, Not Hurt
Social media also has ways of helping and connecting people on a more personal level.
When Hurricane Irma pounded our coastline last fall, destroying phone lines and making roads impassable, many people let friends and family know they were safe by marking themselves so on Facebook. And when yet another school shooting erupted in February, students and teachers used Twitter to keep each other updated and feel united even though walls may have been separating them.
These outlets are also fabulous ways of bringing people together for fundraisers, surprise parties, even jobs. It’s also been incredibly helpful to those who have lost a pet or a precious piece of jewelry. It’s even helped law enforcement catch criminals and reunite long lost family members. By sharing posts and tagging relevant people, we are uniting our communities far and wide and bridging gaps that desperately need to be closed.
These days, both good and bad news spread faster than wildfire. Tweets, pictures, and posts go viral in a matter of hours, and many times the subject matter is focused on something negative. And even though Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram aren’t “the real world,” we all know that the stories and pictures shared this way find a way of effecting our actual lives. Whether their impact is big or small, temporary or permanent, there is no denying that social media has changed the way we live and interact with one another.
So the next time you feel like spending your lunch hour gossiping about how some woman who lives two thousand miles away from you disciplines her kid, try talking about the funny video of the dog who keeps submerging himself in a mud puddle or the kid who received an organ transplant after posting a plea online.
Isn’t it worth the extra effort to spread love as quickly as we spread hate?