22 Feb, 2020 Social Media: A Platform that Enables Hate Through Anonymity
by Suzanne Badger
Social media enables hate and new research, as highlighted in this CBS News broadcast, shows how harmful social media can be. The harm not only hurts kids and teens, but also adults because it changes the way we think about ourselves and talk to each other.
The band Sidewalk Prophets has a song called The Comment Section. The poignant lyrics gave me chills and made me pause.
“We all wanna know we matter
We all wanna know we’re loved
More the same than we are different
Desperate just to be enoughBut it’s like we’ve all forgotten
How much we’re all connected
When I read the comment section”
I realize the biggest problem in social media isn’t necessarily the platform such as FaceBook, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, or TikTok. The biggest problem is the lack of face to face contact which gives license to incivility and disrespect. We talk to each other in ways that we would not if that person was with us in person. The disrespect is not just towards others but ourselves as well. Yes; you can disrespect yourself!
And you know this problem isn’t just in teens. In fact, there’s a huge problem among adults who say whatever they want while they hide behind their social media accounts. Have you ever experienced this?
Social media enables hate and bullying
A few years ago a classmate of mine who is a Christian made a Facebook status update about a topic in which she was adamantly defending her position. One thing led to another and another classmate who is of a different background and opinion commented. Before you knew it these two were going at each other on this thread. They called each other ugly names, accused each other of racism, and ended in an unfriended status. And for what? Because they could hide behind a screen that enables hate and say whatever they wanted without fear of punitive damages.
But what happens when they run into each other at a reunion or a classmate’s funeral? What kind of attitude will they have toward each other after years ago of a hurtful comment thread? They might ignore each other, or exchange bad looks.
I was unfriended by a family member over a silly argument over a sports discussion between that person and my husband. Family gatherings with this person are rather awkward now.
A higher standard on all platforms
Christians are held to a higher standard. Yes, we are all sinners. But there is supposed to be civility in our language and love in our hearts. In front of people physically and on social media.
“Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:35
“Wise thinking leads to right living; Stupid thinking leads to wrong living.” Ecclesiastes 10:2 MSG
And these are adults, not kids. We are being watched by our peers and our kids. So what kind of example are we setting? Why do we do this? What is the payoff? We must get something out of it to be doing it!!
We do. According to a recent article in Buffer.com there was a study done that established a strong connection between Facebook and the brain’s reward center, called the nucleus accumbens.
The reward center in your brain.
Medical jargon has often intimidated me. But recently I have been fascinated with the way our brains are formed and the strong connections our neuro-pathways form under certain circumstances and influences. So if you were to define the nucleus accumbens you would define it as the area of the brain that processes all of the good feelings having to do with food, sex, money, and social acceptance. Isn’t it interesting to note these are the things most of us argue over? Therefore, many relationships end because we argue about the things that reward our brains.
Admit it, that 157 likes you got for the funny picture of your kids or your dog gave you a warm feeling. It validated something in you. It instantly lit up that part of your brain. The more you use Facebook and get people loving your content, the greater the reward.
And this is where we can get stuck. We comment on other people’s status and pictures, and it feeds their nucleus accumbens and so on. To the point where you start feeling guilty for not liking someone’s content.
Social media preys on reward-seeking behavior
The algorithms of social media exacerbate our social media addiction. Add to this the fact the algorithm of Facebook changes often. So much so that a “like” isn’t good enough anymore. If you want to have that person in your feeds and see their material, don’t like their post. That’s too normal and too easy. You have to “Love,” “Wow” or be sad or angry about it. Commenting just one or two words isn’t enough anymore. You need more words than 3. Two sentences are better. Add emojis, but not too many. Try to get people to converse in the thread for an organic trending reach. It’s exhausting!
People end up spending so much more time on social media than they really need to. It may be a necessary tool in businesses but it is also a major time suck.
I don’t profess to be an expert on social media or brain science, but I am fascinated by people who are dedicated and passionate about mental health and healing. One of my favorite authors and podcasters is Dr. Caroline Leaf. She talks about ways to retrain your brain and guide your thinking.
The biggest impact Dr. Leaf has made on me came in her podcast on social media and the mind. In this podcast, she talks about the fact that we as human beings are designed to think deeply. The whole series is worth your time.
Our biggest issue these days is we don’t allow ourselves time to be unplugged and think deeply about a specific topic or read more in-depth. We will spend 30 minutes to an hour on social media and scroll through things that are very surface oriented. But when is the last time you read a book that was non-fiction or an article that was thought-provoking? The truth is this kind of thinking is imperative for the cells in your brain to grow. Every day you wake up with new brain cells, according to Dr. Leaf, and if you don’t learn something new to feed them, by about 3 o’clock you have starved them and they die off. They become toxic to your system.
Can you feed your brain by being alone with your thoughts?
So we try to make an effort to get up early and learn something new for ourselves and our mental well being. But after 10 minutes we reach for the phone. Why? We can’t stand to be alone with our thoughts. It feels foreign.
This is my biggest realization, which Dr. Leaf also talks about in that podcast: I don’t like silence. The truth is, I avoid it at all costs. Why?
Fear of silence
January 2nd & 3rd this year I sat in front of a fire at a friend’s cabin in the beautiful hills and woods of Tennessee. There was no cell data, no internet, no running water, no TV. It was just me and the fire, the rain, and later the blanket of stars that came out in the late evening. My brain had a hard time turning off! I could not rest. My anxiety was so bad. Why?
I didn’t have a big pressing schedule. I had the time to unplug. But getting my mind primed to unplug took longer than I anticipated. I was so anxious because I didn’t have anything to be anxious about. That sounds crazy but it turns out I am not alone. As I polled my friends a week or so ago, I realized many suffer in this way. Fifteen minutes of pure nothing can be so healing but it will take you several hours to get there. My friend who owns the cabin says it also takes her a while to settle down, but once she does, she feels recharged and renewed.
How to find the fire mentality and get back to your soul
Now I realize I need that fire mentality. It is really healing for me. Maybe for you, it’s a river or a lake, or a walk along a beach or a park. Whatever you can do, try to unplug and let your brain think deeply. Journal, read a book or poem, be creative.
I came to a realization about the time that my brain settled. I don’t like the thoughts I have about myself.
You know that all too well. The loop that plays over in your mind about yourself, “You aren’t good enough, you could be so much prettier, better, you have wasted your life, you can’t do that…” All the monster voices that come out to play because you are still. This is why Lauren Diagle’s song “You Say” is so popular. As a society, we listen to the wrong voices, the static, and not what God says about who we are.
The addiction that is behind social media is not what you think!
I have to confess I have been a busy-ness addict. This leads me to crave social media, taking on the phone, shopping, surfing the internet, eating when I am not hungry, craving sweets, and sleeping in. All of it because I don’t want to face the mental mess in my head. This is where Dr. Leaf says we need to cognitively embrace change.
Choose to not listen to the mess.
Talk back to it with the antidote, the opposite voice!
For example, my thinking, “I’m a failure because I have not done anything with my talent,” can be changed to, “I am talented and God’s timing is perfect. He will bring success my way in due time. I will continue to be creative with my talents because He placed them there.”
These affirmations work. If you can’t say them aloud, write them 5-7 times in a journal and give yourself permission to write them in different colored ink with different fonts or switch from print to cursive. Whatever works.
“But I can’t just go off the grid…my business is online!!”
The fact is, we have to use social media for business. I’m often on it for this reason. But we don’t have to make it our crutch for real, authentic relationships or to hide our imperfections from others. We need each other, and we need to unplug from each other. We need a healthy balance.
That doesn’t mean you don’t unfriend toxic people. You are in charge of the gate around your house. Who you let in is your decision.
It’s not mean to keep the wrong people out! What I’m saying is this: be wise, mindful an kind. Not just to others but to yourself too. Because we are all connected. You matter to God. You are LOVED.
Take my “Unplug for 1-2 days” challenge
Schedule a time where you can unplug by yourself for 24-48 hours. Don’t invite a friend, just find a place you can get respite alone. Trade houses with a friend from out of town, stay at an Airbnb. I’d love to hear about what you discover about yourself when you do this!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
Suzanne Badger is a native Texan and has worked in radio, television, and the music business.
She is a Christ-follower, autism advocate, songwriter, skincare consultant, and a classic radio enthusiast. Suzanne is happily married (for 27 years) with two children and two dogs (Brittanys).
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