Social media has taken quite a beating recently. Facebook is selling your data, Instagram has you addicted to scrolling through pictures of memes, Twitter is where people argue about politics, Snapchat is slowly dying, and TikTok is ruining the minds of our youth.
We’ve all seen the article titles: “I deleted social media and became a perfect human and you can too,” or “How I fulfilled all my dreams after deleting Facebook.”
So, should you delete social media? Nope.
I’m not convinced that deleting social media is a better option than using it responsibly. But to use social media to your advantage, we first need to be brutally honest about its negative consequences and side effects.
Social media companies employ thousands of the brightest engineers and psychologists to find ways to hold your attention and keep you scrolling. And it’s working. Globally, social media users spend 2 hours and 23 minutes every day on social media. Instagram daily users average 53 minutes per day, a figure that has risen each year since its release.
When we frequently check these platforms, we harm our ability to do what Georgetown professor and author Cal Newport calls “deep work” where we intensely focus on one activity. To become great in any aspect of life, we need to retain the ability to avoid distractions and give our full attention to the people and tasks around us.
Additionally, social media often inspires unhealthy comparison. You didn’t get invited to that party, you’re not as pretty as that celebrity, your friend is eating pasta in Italy—all while you are lying in bed alone.
But used correctly, social media can be a springboard for in-person events, a source of creative inspiration, a way to connect to people we admire, an educational tool and a fun place to stay in touch with old friends.
I have three tips to harness social media for good.
First, take control over how much you use social media. Outsmarting the attention engineer-wizards isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Move your social media apps into a folder instead of your home screen (preferably deep within a folder). Instagram has a “your activity” feature that allows you to set limits on how much time you spend on it per day.
Put your phone on airplane mode if you’re doing homework. Check social media in a few short chunks throughout the day, but be careful not to get stuck scrolling. Be self-aware about how your social media use impacts your mood.
You should also banish most notifications from your lock and home screens. No pop-ups, no red bubbles and no emails. You likely check Instagram enough already; you don’t need to get notified for each of the 200 people liking your photo. There are just a few types of notifications that I believe are worthwhile: messages, events and reminders.
Another way to cut down on the quantity of content being pushed at you is to limit who you follow. If a celebrity makes you jealous, unfollow them. If a high school friend posts three times a week about irrelevant parts of their life, unfollow them. Apply the rule of Japanese cleaning expert Marie Kondo: if a person’s social media presence doesn’t bring you joy, throw their account out. Anyone that you don’t personally know (like a celebrity) deserves an even higher standard than a past acquaintance.
Second, you should do less liking and more commenting on posts. Let’s imagine two scenarios for your Instagram post. Either you get 200 likes with no comments or you get 100 likes with 10 comments.
I’d bet that despite your post being half as popular in the second scenario, you would feel happier because you exchanged friendly or funny words with 10 of your pals. Even just commenting a few words or an emoji is more meaningful than giving an anonymous thumbs-up.
Anytime someone shares a personal project, blog or piece of art, I try to comment and support their endeavor. What better way to use social media than to inspire others to create?
Third, be generous and honest with your posts. Share a funny photo of yourself. Share about a challenge you’re facing. Share your favorite music on your Instagram story. Share your poetry, photography or art. Share an article that made you think or a video that taught you something new about the world. Create an event that will bring people together in the real world. And respond when other people do the same.
We need to put the “social” back in “social media.” By using the platforms to message, comment, share and connect in the real world, we can make social media a positive force in our lives. Message that old friend, comment on someone’s post, don’t take yourself too seriously and clean through your list of friends. Use social media to connect, not to compare. You won’t miss the likes, I promise.