Split Personalities: Why Are We All Mean Girls Online?

24 October 2023 |
Episode 18 |

Episode summary

Ever feel like you get one version of someone offline and a completely different version of them online? In this episode, I explore why our online behaviours are so different from our offline behaviours, why we overshare information about ourselves on social media, and why even the nicest people turn into mean girls online. I explain how social media algorithms amplify your worst human traits, encourage you to compete instead of connect, and create echo chambers that are making you less sociable, less empathetic, and less tolerant of other worldviews. I examine why negativity spreads so quickly and easily within social networks, and offer practical steps for fostering a more positive online experience and ensuring that you present yourself authentically online. I also challenge you to use social media in a more conscious, conversational, and constructive way for 7 days.

Episode notes

In this episode, I talk about:

  • The dramatic difference between how you behave online and how you behave offline
  • How social exchange theory might explain why you are more extroverted online than you are in real life, and how innate reward and survival mechanisms cause you to overshare information about yourself on social media
  • Why the way you use social media is feeding the algorithms and inadvertently creating the negative experiences you have online
  • How social media is encouraging you to compete, instead of connect, with other people by prioritising features that promote ranking behaviours above linking behaviours
  • The creation of echo chambers on social media that reinforce your existing world view and make you less tolerant of other people’s perspectives and opinions
  • Why proper conversations are important for self-reflection and the development of empathy but declining thanks to social media eroding our willingness to socialise and driving us to stick to lighter topics in real life discussions
  • How presenting a highly-curated version of yourself online and not allowing yourself to be vulnerable has made you less forgiving of other people’s mistakes and flaws
  • The reason why negativity and negative emotions spread so quickly across social networks, even when there is no direct contact between users
  • How social media offers you anonymity, invisibility, and asynchronicity that leads to a minimisation of authority online and a belief that there are no real life consequences for your online actions
  • The reason social media algorithms amplify the worst human traits to grab your attention
  • How to be kinder on social media and present the most authentic version of yourself
  • The 7 day conscious, conversational, and constructive social media challenge

Resources and tools mentioned:


Episode transcript

Expand to read a transcript of this episode

[00:00:33] Hey guys, welcome back to The Digital Diet Podcast. I hope you’re doing well. I hope you are having a fabulous day. And if you are new to the podcast, then welcome. Welcome to a space where we discuss all things digital wellness. And if you’ve been here for a little while, if you’re a regular listener, then I’m so glad that you’ve come back. It’s really good to have you here too.

[00:00:58] This episode is sponsored by my #TechTimeout Challenge, the only 30 day digital detox plan designed specifically for busy women. So if you’re fed up of the constant rings and pings from all of the many digital things in your life and you want to switch off, then the #TechTimeout Challenge is for you.

[00:01:19] For 30 consecutive days, you’ll ditch all your devices at least once a day to complete a single and very simple offline activity instead. The activities vary in how long they are. Some of them are five minutes. Some of them are a couple of hours. So it’s really easy to fit them into your existing routine and around any responsibilities or commitments that you might have. And trust me, you will be so focused on all of these really lovely offline activities that you won’t even notice that you’re not online. You will forget all about your devices.

[00:01:54] The activities are proven to boost your physical, mental, or emotional health, and they’ve been designed to help you reconnect to yourself, to revive the most important relationships in your life, and to help you discover old and new passions along the way.

[00:02:10] I have done all of the hard work for you. Everything has been planned out. All you need to do is head to thedigitaldietcoach.com/techtimeout-challenge and sign up for the free guide. It’s got step by step instructions, it has a printable ready-made digital detox plan that’s all ready to go, as well as planning templates if you want to plan out the activities in an order that suits your schedule a little bit better, plus loads and loads of hints and tips and tools and resources, all of which are designed to guarantee your success.

[00:02:49] So, if you need a little digital detox in your life, head over to thedigitaldietcoach.com/techtimeout-challenge, get your free guide, and get going. I will put a link in the show notes for you.

[00:03:05] Now, as you’ll know if you’ve been listening for a while, we are in the middle of our mini series about all things social media.

[00:03:12] So, if you want to make sure that you’ve got all of the pieces of the puzzle, because you’re new here and you have no idea what I’m talking about, then head back to Episode 13 and then go from there onwards to get up to speed. It will give you a better understanding of why social media is so damn hard to cut down on or to quit, how much time you should be spending on social media platforms, and take a look at what the effects of social media could be, both good and bad, on your mental health.

[00:03:41] And of course if you don’t want to miss the rest of the mini series, and you want to keep learning more about digital wellness and how to practically create healthier digital habits in your life, hit the subscribe button wherever you’re listening to this podcast, so that you get notified each week when there’s a new episode and you don’t miss out on anything.

[00:04:00] Now, today we are talking all about Mean Girls. Not the movie, although it is a great movie, a classic if you will, but about being a metaphorical mean girl online, specifically on social media. Something about being online seems to bring out the inner Regina George in people. We get obsessed with ourselves, and our aesthetic, and our popularity, and with making sure that everyone knows and publicly acknowledges how awesome we are.

[00:04:31] We want everyone to look at us and envy us and want to be us, because obviously we’re fabulous. And some of us take this one step further. We involve ourselves in debates and discussions that really have nothing to do with us, and have no bearing on our lives. We voice our opinions about people, when no one has asked for them. And we find ourselves fighting battles with people that we don’t know, that we don’t care about, and we’ll probably never meet.

[00:04:59] And it’s not because we have a particular personality type that likes to, or is predisposed to, doing these things. Even people who you would probably normally describe as being nice, and humble, or introverted in real life seem to have an online alter ego that’s capable of saying and doing things that they would never dream of saying or doing in person.

[00:05:23] Now, sometimes those are obviously nasty things that are clearly below the belt. So, those are comments and posts that are intended to be hurtful, or insulting, or to shame or embarrass another person or a group of people. These things are obvious examples of online harassment and cyberbullying, and just deliberately being rude.

[00:05:46] But more often than not, these things are a little bit more subtle. They are more snide, sometimes they’re even passive aggressive in nature, to the extent that we don’t even realise that we’re behaving badly, or think that we’re doing anything wrong , especially when we see thousands of other people behaving or reacting to content in exactly the same way.

[00:06:08] And of course, all of this contributes to the great big soup that is social media, and it affects not only our own experiences online, but those of all the other people that we are connected with. But we often don’t really stop to think about our own behavior, let alone talk about it. When we think about or complain about the negative or unpleasant experiences that social media brings, we’re usually attributing blame and responsibility to other people or other things.

[00:06:37] It’s the people that we follow who are posting content that makes us feel bad or invokes negative thoughts. It’s our friends sharing stuff that shocks or traumatises us or gives us anxiety. It’s strangers saying offensive or discriminatory things in the comments that make us angry and mad or hurt our feelings. It’s advertisers who are showing us content that we don’t like and we didn’t ask for.

[00:07:03] And all the while in the background, the algorithms are doing whatever they feel like and we’re just totally at their mercy. And while all of those things may be happening, the way that we show up online ourselves, and the way that we choose to behave and interact with other people, actually plays a really significant role in shaping our experiences and our perceptions of social media.

[00:07:24] So, that’s what we’re digging into today. I really want to unpack why we behave the way that we do on social media, and how we can make sure that we behave in a way that contributes towards creating the best possible experience, both for ourselves and for the other people that we’re connected with.

[00:07:42] And I think the place to start with that is to recognise that even for the most authentic people among us, there is a difference between the way that we behave online and the way that we behave offline.

[00:07:55] In some cases it might be a really subtle difference, but it is a difference nonetheless. So what’s going on? Well, our social media profiles and our avatars have given us two things. Number one, they’ve given us a space that we feel like we own, and it’s a space where we can practice self-expression, we can explore and demonstrate our identity, as we see fit. And number two, it’s given us an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.

[00:08:22] Online you get to present yourself the way that you want to be perceived by carefully controlling what you say and how you appear. You’ve got time to think, and prepare, and filter, and curate whatever you share before you share it. But you can’t always do this when you’re presenting yourself and you’re interacting with people in real time, in real life, in an offline capacity.

[00:08:46] It comes out however it comes out, and that comes across however it comes across. And even in those real life situations where you can prepare and you have the best of intentions, sometimes things go awry. And there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about it. You could prepare for a job interview and then have nerves take over in the moment, and not end up presenting yourself in the way that you wanted.

[00:09:09] You can put together a look that has you completely feeling yourself in the mirror and then step out the door only to get a ladder in your tights, or pass a shop window and see that you’ve got lipstick on your teeth. I will tell you that I straighten my hair, and when I do it and I’m at home, I feel like Naomi Campbell – I’m swishing my hair all over the place.

[00:09:28] But as soon as I step outside, it’s less Naomi Campbell and more Scary Spice, because I live in London, and the weather is crap, and my hair never behaves. But the point is, you don’t get a chance to review and refine these things before they happen. or even to delete them and start all over again, if you don’t like how they turned out in real life.

[00:09:50] And it’s not the same online. Online, you can edit and you can filter, and your online presentation might be aligned with exactly who you are in real life, but that’s really only if you’re willing to let your guard down and be vulnerable, and also share all the messy bits that no-one usually gets to see, instead of a curated highlight reel.

[00:10:12] And I would say that there’s not really that many people that are willing to do that. For many people, your presentation is probably aligned with who you are most of the time, and it’s, at the very least, slightly embellished or exaggerated. So, maybe you do go to the gym, or you wear make-up most days, but only posting about these days creates the appearance that this is you all the time.

[00:10:36] We don’t get to hear about the days, or the weeks, or the months, when you were too tired and you couldn’t be bothered to work out, or when you were slobbing about in your PJs completely make-up free. And at the other extreme, if you’re someone who doesn’t like, or isn’t satisfied with, your real life, then social media creates this opportunity for you to portray your life as you wish it was.

[00:10:58] You can express and present what’s essentially an aspirational version of yourself, no matter how far away from that version you may currently be. And this can create an illusion that you’re happy and you’re satisfied with your life, and disguise the fact that offline you might actually be feeling unhappy, or depressed, or anxious.

[00:11:17] And it’s quite hard to quantify this because next to no-one would admit to this if you asked them. And some people might argue that it’s a bit of a “fake it, till you make it” kind of situation, but I actually suspect there are an awful lot of people behaving this way. Even if you don’t think that you’re one of them, I’m willing to bet money that you know, people who are going through a tough time, or who are deeply dissatisfied, or miserable, or downright depressed in their lives. But if you look at their social media presence, you will be out there believing the complete opposite is true.

[00:11:52] And it’s not just typically extroverted people who are documenting their lives online in this way. Even people who would usually be a little bit more introverted or reserved in real life are sharing themselves online in a way that you probably wouldn’t have expected.

[00:12:08] And for comparison, offline, we talk about ourselves about 30–40% of the time. But online it’s basically double this, it’s around 80%, so twice as much. And we’re often oversharing personal information or experiences.

[00:12:25] So, what’s happening here? Well, this tendency to share personal information comes from the intrinsic and highly subjective value that we associate with self-disclosure. And the reward mechanisms in our brains that kick in when we choose to share, that reinforces that same sharing behaviour. And it’s explained by what’s known as social exchange theory, which basically suggests that the reason we overshare personal information online is because we see the other people in our networks doing it, and we feel obligated to reciprocate in order to maintain all of our connections, and keep those relationships balanced.

[00:13:06] And you may remember back in Episode 14 when I talked about persuasive design features that social media platforms use to keep you online, that one of the innate human behaviours that they tap into is social reciprocity; that weird, inherent obligation that we all feel as humans to return someone’s actions or favours.

[00:13:25] So, even though you might not want to overshare personal information, your brain performs this cost-benefit analysis and determines that you would gain more reward from self-disclosure than you’d lose, which is why you end up going ahead and sharing information about yourself on social media.

[00:13:43] Now, that reward comes in the form of social ranking and credibility amongst your peers. You might remember from Episode 15 that there’s a hormone, serotonin, that’s connected with this, it’s connected with social dominance and respect. Because serotonin motivates you to seek respect from others. And that’s also at play here, so I hope you’re starting to see how all of these things come together, and they’re all linked, and they all converge, resulting in the experiences and the time that we spend on social media.

[00:14:15] The more respect and the more dominance you have, the more secure and comfortable you feel about your ability to access and protect the resources that are necessary for your survival in a biological sense. So by sharing your personal information in an act of social reciprocity, you get credibility and respect.

[00:14:33] And this gain in social reputation later becomes a kind of social currency that you can exchange for other valuable resources that we’re all typically competing for to survive. So essentially, although not always directly, those resources are money, work, and sex. But it’s not just serotonin that’s influencing the way that we behave and show up online.

[00:14:55] And again, in previous episodes, I’ve talked about how the different hormones don’t act independently of each other and they can all be linked together and rise and fall and have effects on each other. So, we typically think of social media platforms as places to network and build relationships. In fact, the reason that people most often cite for joining or not being able to leave social media platforms is that connection with other people.

[00:15:22] But there are two contrasting behaviors that define our social relationships as humans and the emotions that we feel as a result of social interactions. And those are linking and ranking. Linking produces oxytocin, one of our other neurohormones, and oxytocin, if you remember, promotes the bonding and attachment to others that’s necessary for our survival.

[00:15:46] By linking to others, we can form alliances that are mutually beneficial. We accept other people as they are, they accept us in turn, and that creates these feelings of belonging and safety. And then when we’re in this alliance, we’re not necessarily competing against one another, we’re not jostling for positions of power within some kind of hierarchy. And this is what most of us think we’re doing within our online social networks. We think that we’re creating these safe, and accepting, and cooperative communities.

[00:16:18] At the other end, ranking produces dopamine, and you may remember from previous episodes that dopamine motivates you to seek rewards. It creates these feelings of joy and a sense of achievement when you obtain rewards or you anticipate that a reward is forthcoming.

[00:16:33] So ranking is therefore much more concerned with your social position relative to the other people in your network or community. And your rank can go up or down depending on the amount of recognition or praise or criticism that you get. So, let’s say being promoted would boost your social ranking, giving you a dopamine hit. But being fired would have the opposite effect. And because of our survival instincts, we have this innate desire to rank highly. And that leads to us competing with other people, and indulging in these dopamine-driven behaviours that are all directed towards trying to either maintain or elevate our ranking.

[00:17:14] Why is this important? Well, offline, in the real world, we alternate between ranking and linking behaviours. But online, ranking behaviours completely dominate, and we end up focusing on presenting ourselves as living our best lives, even if this doesn’t reflect our real life existence or our feelings. When everybody’s doing this and we are jostling for position, and jostling to rank higher and elevate our ranks, this leads to an overestimation of other people’s happiness and, ultimately, a decline in our own wellbeing.

[00:17:47] We’re too busy promoting ourselves to enquire or ask about other people’s lives and wellbeing, and that then creates this situation where we start to feel lonely, or we start to compare ourselves and feel less accomplished, and start questioning our own life choices.

[00:18:03] And because the social platforms tend to prioritise ranking features, so things like likes, comments, and views, all these measures of engagement which suggest that there’s some kind of acknowledgement, recognition, or praise for the content that you’re putting out. That imbalance between linking and ranking behaviours is made even worse, because these short, dopamine-driven feedback loops are driving us to prioritise or focus on ranking behaviours.

[00:18:30] And this behaviour also, at least in part, explains why we feel able to act online in ways that we wouldn’t necessarily dream of acting, in an offline scenario. We’re spending increasing amounts of time online getting these cheap dopamine fixes and engaging in these quite narcissistic behaviours, instead of talking to real people offline. And that’s reducing our individual capacity for emotional empathy and our willingness to socialise.

[00:19:00] Now, these are all ideas that are explored in much greater depth by the American sociologist, Professor Sherry Turkle, but essentially by only interacting on social media as this highly-edited, perfect version of yourself, you’re losing the ability to empathise with other people and becoming much less forgiving of their mistakes and flaws.

[00:19:22] And this is important because conversation as a tool is used for you to have a conversation with yourself. I don’t know if that makes sense, but you use conversations with other people to start to understand yourself. When these conversations that you would ordinarily be having in real life are replaced by just connections online, you don’t learn to understand yourself, you don’t learn to understand other people, and you’re compromising your capacity for self-reflection, and your ability to act with empathy towards other people.

[00:19:57] This is further reinforced because you tend to connect to people who are similar to you, and that creates echo chambers. That creates an environment where you are surrounded by other people that think like you and talk like you, which reinforces your existing world view. And when that happens, your ability to understand and empathise with other perspectives, which clearly do still exist in the world, is reduced.

[00:20:25] This becomes even more problematic when you consider the fact that online, you engage in deeper, more emotionally charged, and more political types of discussion. But if you lack empathy, you lack the ability to understand or try to understand other perspectives, you can see how exchanges could become quite emotionally charged and quite heated very, very quickly.

[00:20:50] And it’s not the same offline because in offline situations, we actually prefer conversations to be more neutral. We have got to a place where in real life interactions, we focus on lighter topics of conversation because we basically expect to be interrupted.

[00:21:07] We expect digital distractions, we no longer expect other people to pay attention to us and give us their full focus in real life. So we choose lighter topics of conversation because we’re not as invested in each other and in the conversation.

[00:21:21] So now we’re not having serious or in depth conversations offline. We’re not really invested in our offline relationships. We’re having quite serious, quite deep conversations online, but we’re less empathetic in those conversations. And we’re also much less inhibited online. We don’t have to follow the same social restrictions as we do in face-to-face communications.

[00:21:41] And that is for a variety of reasons. Number one, social media in many scenarios offers us anonymity. We’ve all seen the faceless profiles, the ones that don’t have a profile picture, going around making comments and joining in debates and discussions and saying whatever they feel like, and there’s a degree of anonymity that they’re able to hide behind.

[00:22:02] We don’t know who they are in real life. It might be your next door neighbour, but you wouldn’t know. There’s this degree of invisibility about it. We can literally just be anybody, and we can say horrible things, and then if we want to, we can just delete ourselves. We delete the profile, open up ten different profiles, and be any one of those profiles at any one time.

[00:22:25] There’s also this asynchronicity in the communication. So because of the global nature of social media networks, I might post something now in the morning, and while I’m sleeping I might completely get attacked overnight, and by the time I’ve seen it the following day, the people that were attacking me are fast asleep. So there is this delay. It’s not even a real time interaction in a literal sense, where we can kind of go back and forth and try to either hash out an argument, or try to argue our points.

[00:22:55] And all of this anonymity, this invisibility, this asynchronicity, and the fact that the social media networks are not really policed, no matter what they say, you know X, which used to be Twitter, has disbanded a lot of its monitoring and mediating services. There is this minimisation of authority.

[00:23:16] We don’t believe that the online space is subject to the same laws and rules and authoritative figures, and the impact that it would have, whether it’s like a legal repercussion that we do in a real life situation. And so that means that we can behave more abusively online without fearing any repercussions.

[00:23:36] In particular, when we see other people do it, which is often what happens if you see people pile on in the comments, it gives us this kind of moral permission to do the same. It’s almost like a mob mentality.

[00:23:48] “I can’t be a mean girl. I can’t be a bad person. What I’m saying is actually not that controversial, or that rude, or that insulting, because there’s about 5,000 other people who’ve also said the same thing ,or liked my comment, or liked similar comments.”

[00:24:03] So, what happens is all of these things come together to create a negative environment and a negative experience on social media. What’s more is that this constant exposure to these emotionally charged conversations and emotionally charged content instinctively causes us to shut down, in order to protect ourselves because it can be really overwhelming.

[00:24:27] And when we shut down, we end up suppressing emotions like compassion and empathy even further, making us much less forgiving of other people’s comments, and behaviours, and actions, not just online but even in real life.

[00:24:42] So, yes, the algorithms are to blame for the scale of the problem. But what they’re doing is amplifying our existing, innate, human behaviours. The algorithm didn’t create the meanness per se, it just boosted it and spread it once we started doing it. And it’s because social media algorithms really just have one purpose.

[00:25:06] Their purpose is to capture people’s attention and, unfortunately, negative human traits like narcissism, and vanity, and gullibility, and anger, envy, lust, greed, all of these base human traits are the easiest hooks to grab the attention of groups of people. Because evolution has tuned your brain to respond to these indicators of threats to your survival when they’re communicated by your society and your environment.

[00:25:37] So these lower emotions have become the currency of the attention economy. And when we see negative posts, we respond to them with more negativity. It satisfies this innate psychological desire to do something. So, we ourselves can’t just see a negative post and then go, “okay, that was interesting,” and scroll by.

[00:25:59] We feel this desire to do something. To respond in some kind of way. And that means that we all then become vectors for spreading negativity even further by our own actions. And the machine learning algorithms that power social media have therefore become really, really adept at discovering and exploiting these negative human traits. Because they’re analysing our digital behaviours and then adapting themselves in real time in response, much faster than any human would ever be able to do. Which just amplifies those negative traits over and over again, until we start to become addicted to this negative cycle of use of social media.

[00:26:41] So, that’s why I say that your own online behaviour is part of creating your social media experience. Every post, every like, every comment, every view, every share, every click. It all feeds the collaborative filtering algorithm on a societal level, as well as an individual level, shaping what you see in your feeds, shaping the notifications that you receive, the group suggestions that you’re sent, and creating a feedback loop that affects your own wellbeing.

[00:27:13] Because the algorithms are only designed to be more efficient at their one task, which is getting you to spend more time on social media, they will keep using these negative traits. They don’t have a moral or an ethical compass. They can’t understand that these traits might actually be detrimental to you or detrimental to society as a whole.

[00:27:33] And this is made worse by the fact that emotional states can actually be transferred from one person to another via what we call an emotional contagion. So, people can experience the same emotions, whether those are positive or negative in nature, that are shared by someone else, without any awareness.

[00:27:55] There was a study that was done that concluded that emotions that other people express on Facebook influence our own emotions. So that provided experimental evidence for this idea of the massive scale of emotional contagion passed through social media networks, without the need for any real direct interaction between people, and also without any non-verbal cues.

[00:28:23] When we read posts or comments that are charged with emotion, we ourselves become emotionally charged, almost involuntarily. And then we feel compelled to respond, or to add our two pence worth, because of the joys of social reciprocity, and the reward mechanisms linked to our neurohormones, and the lack of inhibition that we feel in sharing.

[00:28:44] There’s an account that I follow and it’s always sharing sensational stories. Let’s say it’s the kind of thing which is, “so and so has been caught cheating or is getting a divorce,” or something like that. These are people that are not always that well known. Certainly the people that are following this account don’t know those people. And everyone’s debating. The captions that they put with these posts are designed to say, “what do you think about cheating?”

[00:29:12] If you read the thousands and thousands of comments, you see people attacking the people that this post is talking about, these people that have cheated or not cheated, whatever’s going on. And then people are attacking each other based on the comments that they make. They are making inferences about each other’s own lives, about their values, about their belief systems. And they don’t know each other, the celebrities, they don’t know, they don’t care. But everyone else is just piling on into the comments. There is no real reason why any of us should spend any time doing this.

[00:29:45] I think a lot of people end up just leaving the comments, or unfollowing the account, or blocking users that they feel are being nasty and making comments very personal instead of focused on whatever the story was about. But there are examples of this that can have real world consequences.

[00:30:00] During the pandemic, we saw that people were panicking about the toilet paper availability. This transfers the emotion of panic to other people, irrespective of whether you’re conscious of this transfer, or you engaged directly with people who were panicking about the availability of toilet paper.

[00:30:18] And suddenly, we’ve got this mass panic, and then mass toilet paper buying, as a way to try and get rid of this uncomfortable emotion. If I go and I stockpile toilet paper, then I don’t have to be anxious because I’ve got enough toilet paper.

[00:30:32] There was enough toilet paper to go around the whole time. If we hadn’t had this run on the shops, it would have been fine. But that feeling of panic, often from people that we don’t know, creates a feeling of panic in ourselves and then we start behaving in ways that are maybe a little bit chaotic, a little bit erratic.

[00:30:49] The same thing has happened in the UK with petrol crises. So, there was a run on the gas stations, and it’s because people thought that they weren’t going to be able to get petrol. It’s not because people were going to get petrol, and then finding that their local petrol station had run out of the gas that they needed, or that a few petrol stations near to them had a run out, or were running low or whatever.

[00:31:11] It was just this mass hysteria on social media, and a bit on the news, but a lot of it on social media. And more and more people going, “oh look at the queues at this petrol station,” and, “I’ve gone to five petrol stations today and none of them have had petrol.”

[00:31:25] More people just kept going to the petrol station and stockpiling petrol. People that don’t even need to drive their cars that much, but there was still going to be enough to go around if people just carried on with their normal consumption.

[00:31:37] So, how do we break this cycle? How do we make social media as positive an experience as it can be? How do we try to stop being mean girls online? How do we stop this mass emotional contagion that spreads negative emotions?

[00:31:55] Well, it really just starts by being more conscious and more intentional about our actions on social media. Think about what you’re choosing to personally share about yourself and how you’re choosing to share it. Is it authentic or is it aspirational? Is it a partial truth or is it the whole truth? Be honest and be vulnerable.

[00:32:18] It will actually help more people relate to you and connect with you, if that’s what you want. It’s why the no make-up selfie challenge was so popular. We don’t all wake up like this. We don’t all wake up looking filtered to perfection all the time.

[00:32:33] And when you do post things, in the captions, give context. And I can start with this. There’s a really lovely picture of me, or I think it’s a lovely picture anyway, on my podcast album art. But I’m recording this in my pyjamas at 3pm in the afternoon. I don’t currently look like that. If you look really closely at the picture, you’ll probably also notice a few grey hairs that I didn’t edit out. Things are not always as they seem.

[00:32:59] The second thing is to check in on your people. Don’t assume that all is well by their social media posts. Send them a message. Better still, pick up the phone or arrange to meet them in person. There are so many things that come out in actual conversations that don’t, and won’t, come out on social media, in those short interactions that we have that often don’t even consist of words, they just consist of an exchange of emojis, or taps and likes.

[00:33:26] Thirdly, think about how the things you say may affect the human or humans that are reading them on the other end. It’s really, really easy to forget that there is a real live person with real life feelings on the other end of whatever you post.

[00:33:43] Would you say what you’re about to say in real life, to someone’s face, when they’re a complete stranger? How would you feel if someone said it to your face? How would you feel if someone made a comment or passed judgment without knowing you or having the full picture?

[00:34:03] And I think this one is also really critical: would you be comfortable if something that you’ve said in private was made public? And I specifically mean when you’re talking about other people or commenting about other people’s lives, looks, whatever it might be. It really simply comes down to this: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. As my mum always used to say, “if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

[00:34:30] It really might not impact your day that much; maybe you can drop a comment that’s slightly tinged with passive aggression or is slightly nasty, and go about your business for the day. But it could really deeply affect someone else.

[00:34:43] Think about who you’re following, because you are just gonna get more of the same. Are you following mostly negative accounts or people that post negative stuff? They’re not negative people, but they just post a lot of content that doesn’t tend to be that positive. Because if you keep interacting with those posts or interacting with those people, the algorithm is going to decide that that’s what you like and you need, and that’s what keeps you on the platform, and give you more of it. So you’re just creating this very negative spiral.

[00:35:13] And then when you do have much more of a conscious awareness of the type of content that you’re seeing, think twice before you react to it. Think twice before you react to the things that other people are sharing. Whether it’s shared publicly or privately, or it’s just you smashing the like button, you need to think about whether you are encouraging the spread of negativity.

[00:35:36] Are you simply feeding the monster that is the algorithm? Can you add context by sharing or reposting with a bit of commentary, instead of just sharing something as it is? Have you actually read what you’re about to share, or are you skim reading? You would be surprised at the number of people that do this.

[00:35:54] In particular, there are traumatic videos that are being shared because the headlines are sensationalised. In that particular instance, I would say there’s certain things that not everyone needs to see. There are certain things that it’s okay, I feel anyway, for me to know have happened in the world, but I don’t need to see the video evidence of it. That’s, too traumatising.

[00:36:15] And the thing is, these things take time, and they take conscious effort. I try to practice all of these things, and after two years or so, I still don’t get it right all of the time – I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’m tired, and lazy, and I’m bored, and I send things without reading them properly. Sometimes, I go down a rabbit hole filled with trashy celebrity content. As I’ve said, I follow some of those accounts.

[00:36:37] I end up exchanging memes with my friends that are maybe a bit negative or passive aggressive in the way that they’re worded. I rarely post myself, but when I do, I take aaaages because I’m trying to perfect what I put out. But ironically, I’ve had the best reactions to the posts where I’ve been the most vulnerable, and open, and honest, and uncurated chaotic version of myself.

[00:37:03] The goal of thinking about all of these things and taking them into consideration isn’t perfection. It’s just being a little bit more conscious, because if we all were a bit more conscious, our experiences on social media would feed the algorithms in a very different way, which would move our collective experiences into a more positive space.

[00:37:23] Before we wrap up, it is time for this week’s challenge. I challenge you to pay close attention to your own behaviour on social media and see if you can try to react and engage in a more intentional, considered, conversational, and constructive way.

[00:37:39] So #1, I want you to notice the content that you’re being shown and the content that you’re sharing, whether it’s your own original content or content that’s been shared by other people. And I want you to observe whether it is mostly negative or positive in nature. Is it authentic? How does it make you feel?

[00:37:59] And secondly, for a week I want you to only engage with comments or commentary, or don’t engage at all. So that means no smashing the like button, or responding with emojis, or sharing content in your DMs without any context or commentary.

[00:38:16] Every reaction that you have to a piece of content has to contain actual words, and they have to be constructive, and positive. It’s much harder than you might think. Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t share things that are negative. This is going to sound like a contradiction. It’s not. Hear me out.

[00:38:37] Doesn’t mean that you can’t share things that are negative, like negative news stories, for example. But try to share something constructive in terms of the context or the commentary that you offer up with it, so we’re not just sharing these negative stories and negative content, negative experiences.

[00:38:56] As always, I am curious to hear about how you get on with this and if this makes social media a more positive experience for you. So, the place to let me know how you get on and to connect with other listeners that are taking part in the challenge is in The Digital Diet Lounge, my dedicated community space for all things digital wellness. I will put a link in the show notes. And you can find the show notes over on my website at thedigitaldietcoach.com/018.

[00:39:28] That’s it for this week’s episode and, as always, I hope that you’ve enjoyed it, and that I’ve given you some food for thought about how you show up on social media and how that’s shaping the experience that you and the other people around you have there.

[00:39:44] Next week, I will be digging into something that we touched briefly on today, which is loneliness. How is it that we’re more connected than we’ve ever been before, thanks to social media, but more of us feel alone and like we’ve got no-one to turn to? You don’t want to miss it, so make sure that you subscribe or follow or whatever the button says on the platform that you’re listening on.

[00:40:07] I know you’re busy and your time is incredibly valuable. So as always, I thank you for choosing to spend a little of your day with me, and I’ll see you next time.

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Marisha Pink

Meet Marisha

Marisha Pink is a Certified Digital Wellness Coach who is on a mission to empower women everywhere to live life more intentionally in an age of digital distractions. She helps women create healthier digital habits that better balance the technology in their lives, so that they can take back control of their time, reclaim their happiness, and live their best lives offline.

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