I’ve been thinking about social media a lot this week. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal, in which it was revealed that our Facebook data has been used for everything from targeting advertising to swinging elections, I’ve been questioning how best to respond. Should I brush it off? Restrict my use of social media? Delete all my accounts and go off the grid altogether? In fact, many of us have been asking ourselves these questions this week. And you know how I know that? I saw it on Facebook.
And therein lies the rub: how do we escape social media when it has us so firmly in its clutches? How do we remember our friends’ birthdays without that little reminder? How do we find out we’ve been invited to events without Facebook to let us know the details? I have friends and family all over the country, all over the world, and Facebook enables me to at least catch a glimpse of what’s going on in their lives, however rose-tinted that glimpse may be. And when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, most of what I read about it was from articles shared by people I know on Facebook – perfectly encapsulating all that is good and evil about this social media world in which we live.
Even before the data mining thing became public knowledge, I’d been thinking about deleting Facebook account. Scrolling through my feed was taking hours out of my day, nipping away at my soul as I compared my life to everyone else’s. I would check Facebook, then check Instagram, and then go right back to Facebook in case anything new had happened in the last few minutes. Slowly but surely, social media has been taking up more of my time, more of my attention, more of my life, and something needs to change. My friend Cleo deleted her Facebook account a few weeks ago and my first thought was, “Man, I wish I could do that.” But I can’t.
I keep weighing up the good and the bad of social media, and I can’t work out which comes out on top. Because on the flipside of all that negative stuff, social media is a powerful and useful tool. I share these blogs on Facebook. I work for a charity, and social media is a great way of getting the word out about the work we’re doing. My friend Hope is legitimately Insta-famous, and that’s given her a way to connect with a whole bunch of people and maybe use that platform to build her own little Etsy business.
And on the face of it, targeted advertising isn’t such an awful idea. We do live in a world full of advertisements, and in principle it makes more sense for a post to show you something you might need rather than something that isn’t relevant to you at all, but you buy anyway. I actively follow certain actors and comedians on Instagram because if Zach Braff has a new TV show coming out, I’d like to know about it. If you’re trying to buy ethical clothes but struggle with the non-Primark price tag, following those brands on social media enables you to find out about great offers and discounts.
But, clearly, Facebook has gone too far. And this data mining scandal is just one of many torches shining a light on what social media is doing to us. We’re pursuing followers and not connecting with anyone offline. We only share the good things about our lives to perpetuate the myth that we’re all doing just fine. We spend our time scrolling instead of really living. There has to be a better way to do this social media thing; we need to tame the beast.
I’ve been rolling this around and around in my head and I’m not sure I know what the answer is, but I wonder: maybe it’s not a case of, “Should I have Facebook or not?” but rather “How can I use social media with integrity and self-control?” How can we look after ourselves and the people who follow us online? By no means have I got a solid answer to that question, but here are a few ideas:
- Take back your time: Regulate how much you let your eyes wander to your screen. My Mum only let’s herself check social media on Saturdays. James has an app that monitors how often he looks at his phone, which is a scary amount when you add it all up. It might mean you need to delete the apps off your phone and only check your accounts when you’re at a computer. Do whatever you can to be more mindful of your social media usage.
- Delete your data: The Cambridge Analytica scandal may have made it more obvious, but we all knew on some level that social media was using our data for some kind of purpose. That goes for WhatsApp, Instagram, the lot, but it is possible to minimise your digital footprint. Go to your Facebook settings, click “Apps”, and disable third-party apps you’ve given access to, and think long and hard about the permissions and access you give to your data moving forward.
- Think before you click: According to Jim Killock of Open Rights Group, an organisation that works to protect the right to privacy online, your posts, shares and likes “are a major way [Facebook tries] to profile you”. Before you post, share or like something, ask yourself, “Is it really worth it?” You might find it helps you distance your brain from the Facebook bubble too.
- Refine your Feed: If you are going to be profiled and targeted for what you do share and like, make sure your social media reflects the things you’d like to be profiled for. We can’t escape advertising, but maybe we can at least twist it around for our benefit. I know someone who tries to follow only good accounts or organisations, so that when he does catch himself scrolling through Facebook, his feed is filled with bible verses or encouraging articles or news about what’s happening with various charities.
I keep coming back to Philippians 4 v 8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Maybe this should be our blueprint for how we act on social media. Maybe we should be a force for good online, promoting only what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. We might not be able to escape the social media bubble, but we still have the power to make that bubble a brilliant place to be.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti