I can tell you right now that parts of this post will most likely piss you off. After all, it is a critique of society. Just remember that society includes me and I said ‘we are’ the problem. I am not immune from the irresponsible use of social media in our world today.
Now that that’s over— I have always been a HUGE advocate of social media. You probably think that’s because social media is my career, but it’s actually because five years ago it absolutely rescued me from an abusive marriage and a messy divorce. While I felt totally isolated, surrounded by friends who had no idea what I was going through and felt betrayed that I wasn’t honest with them about the abuse…and another set of friends who saw my divorce as a huge sin, no matter what the circumstances. And then there were the family members who told me to keep it on the DL and not ever talk about the abuse. Just brush it under the carpet. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lovely group of friends who did surround me with positive, accepting love, but the negativity in my community was overbearing. So I had a f*ck it moment the day my divorce went through and I wrote a blog, open to the public, about precisely what I had been going through. And then the most incredible thing happened >> women starting writing me, CONGRATULATING me for being strong and brave. What?? Other women shared their own stories of abuse openly with me which made me feel a thousand times less alone. A few women reached out, and still do, claiming that one simple blog post was what they needed to finally get out of their own abusive relationship. So, while my heart was broken in a million pieces and put on display for the whole world to see, I felt the strength in the women around the world who surrounded me. Oddly enough, that blog only received two negative comments to date, and they were both by my ex-husband.
So, for me, social media has been a beautiful way to come to terms with the truths in my life and find a whole community out there ready to support me. And as I have healed, I have found a way to give back to that community and support women currently the position I was in.
However, a lot of people don’t find that kind of solace and positivity on social media. I just read today about Modern Family’s Reid Ewing’s backlash after he came clean that he suffers from body dysmorphia. Also, apparently I am a bit slow to the game. Reid wrote this life-changing article in 2015, but it has continued to affect his life. So much so that I was devastated to see when I went to congratulate him on his brave honesty, that his Twitter account has been closed. He’s not the first celebrity, or human, that’s had to close a social media account due to backlash and/or consuming negativity. I dated someone with body dysmorphia and it is one the most heartbreaking mental illnesses to witness. I didn’t know until towards the end of our relationship, but he had multiple plastic surgeries as a child and into adulthood to achieve a certain ‘look’ that he just never could achieve. It literally consumed his entire life. I wish he could have read Reid’s article because I think it would have completely opened his eyes— or at least let him know that he wasn’t alone.
But Reid didn’t close his social media account because ‘social media sucks.’ He had to close it because human beings took a brave moment and attacked it with everything they had. That’s US, not social media. Society would love to blame so many tragic things on social media — suicides, lost jobs, job retaliation. Social media did not write the words that horrifically impacted those victims— we, as human beings, did. Social media doesn’t have a conscious; it doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t have passion or a POV. It’s the furthest thing from human as a type of medium and technology to communicate.
And don’t think that I haven’t witnessed that horrific side of social media. I spent many sleepless nights as social media manager for the Anti-Defamation League responding to crises of the Alt-Right completely attacking us with the most disgusting anti-Semitic cartoons. I mean, I can’t even repeat what they said here because I feel bad for even seeing that level of evil. If you want to see a group using social media in the most disturbing, inappropriate way, check out members of the Alt-Right. You will never see social the same.
But would you honestly say it is social media’s fault that the Alt-Right is spreading their heinous message? Would you blame social media for the Jewish boy going to bed crying because he saw cartoons on Twitter that showed his ancestors being burned? NO. Social media may provide a vehicle, but the Alt-Right would find a different way to share their views if social media wasn’t around. Social media didn’t create their vile beliefs. Social media didn’t retweet all of their idiotic ideas. Social media didn’t show up at their events to be photographed. A very sick part of our society did.
Not to take the spotlight away from the Alt-Right….but I’m currently going through literally the worst moment so far of my life. I was told I cannot have children, ever, and have to get a hysterectomy next week…in the middle of a holiday season all about families and love. Coming from a small town in Wyoming, a family has always been at the top of my list of priorities. In fact, I think the colossal worth put on having a family in my life is what forced me to marry before I was ready.
I have been painfully honest about my journey through six months of chemotherapy that has ended with the devastating news that the chemo did not work and I have to have three different surgeries next week. I fell in the ‘everything is social media’s fault’ just this past weekend when I was chatting with my mom about the responses to my fight. Currently, on A LOT of hormone therapy to prep for surgery, I bawled to my mom that I could not believe what some people were saying to me. Like, I could ‘just’ adopt. It’s not that easy. Or I could ‘just’ freeze my eggs. Do you have an extra $60K? She let me finish my rant, but then told me that I was the one who chose to put it out there, and they were responding to what I was saying. Ever since I started being more open on social my mom has emphasized that if I am going to be brave enough to be vulnerable, I need to grow a thicker skin and not pay any attention to the trolls. Social media didn’t hurt my feelings with insensitive responses, the people in the conversation did, and I started the conversation.
One of the most powerful moments for me on social media is when I started to write about my sister’s suicide. It took me years and years to finally write about what has been an endlessly painful experience. And when I did, a lot of businessmen did not take kindly to it. For more on that, read An Open Letter To The Men Who Are Offended I Write About Suicide. I mean, talk about blindsided. I had no idea people could be so cruel as to attack someone for speaking their truth. I was angry humans like them existed, angry at their ignorance, angry that a suicidal person could read their petty comments.
But then the most magical thing happened. A suffering man read my posts on suicide, found my contact info, and wrote me a letter that one of my posts in particular was life-changing for him. He had attempted suicide several times and was ready to attempt again when he found the post. He said that when he read about how my sister’s death completely wrecked my mother’s entire life, he realized that he could never, ever do that to his family. He had to stay alive for them, if not for himself.
I reread the email a thousand times, tears streaming down my face. Ladies and gentlemen, I would face all of the nasty trolls of the internet for that one reaction— to save one life.
Social media is not the problem. It is the life-saver OR the murderer depending on whose hands it ends up in. It is a TOOL, not a human being. We are the ones behind the control center, navigating each and every conversation. So here’s what I recommend to take control of your own social media and to stop the blame game:
I recommend this a lot as a tip in general. In this case, you have to know your values and beliefs before you can start cleaning up your social media game. Don’t just randomly decide on a day that you like something, and then hate something the next day because someone tweets something negative about it. Know who you are, and be true to that person on social media.
This one can be challenging, especially for those that are on social media to gain popularity. You have to be picky in who you follow and who you friend. If a Facebook friend is out there taking photos at an Alt-Right rally, or someone you are following on Twitter is insensitive to someone sharing that they have body dysmorphia— unfollow/unfriend that sh*t.
Be Intentionally Positive
The key word here is ‘intentionally.’ This word has become a staple in my lifestyle this year. I realized I had good intentions for so many things, but I was not being intentional and making sure they happened. One of the easiest ways to intentionally ‘posit-ify’ your social media is to follow brands that are doing positive work in this world and then retweeting their impactful articles about their hard work.
Get The Big Boys On Your Side
There are so many human rights organizations out there ready to slam any racist, politically incorrect, anti-Semitic social media post out there. Instead of responding yourself to the negativity on social media, which will most likely win you a slew of angry trolls slamming you, send it to an organization which has much more clout than you. For example, send a screenshot of an inflammatory social media post to the Anti-Defamation League and let them get it in the New York Times with their statement. This kind of work can change the narrative on the world’s stage.
Sleep On It
I didn’t use to do this much and would wake up the next morning wondering why the hell I decided to engage with a troll on Twitter. Especially as my Twitter account was just getting popular, I just wanted to slam each and every one of the trolls who devalued authenticity. But then I learned that by sleeping on it, I had a much fresher way of dealing with things in the morning. I would send the troll a DM, or just ignore the negativity all the way around. I can tell you now, that I rarely engage with negativity on my social media accounts. Most of the time, I will only respond to fact check someone. I tell my clients to do the same thing. The only time you should be responding to a troll is if they are spreading incorrect facts that you can factually prove are incorrect.
Be Randomly Kind
I know, this is beginning to sound like an episode of Mr. Rogers…but I have seen simple random acts of kindness change someone’s entire outlook. I intentionally seek out people on Twitter that need a pick me upper and find a quote tailored for their situation and send it to them with some good vibes. I randomly highlight friends that have been super supportive of me on my Facebook page. In an instant, this changes the entire atmosphere. Just try it, and you will see.
It’s time to change the narrative and switch who we are blaming in the blame game. We need to look inwards and question our own behavior on social media. Then we (or human rights orgs) need to call out the evil-doers of social media. Social media platforms also need to be stricter on banning content and discontinuing accounts, which many are already doing. We haven’t lost the fight on creating a more positive narrative unless we believe that social media is to blame…then we have lost everything. If we just stay in the fight a little bit longer, though, and use our positive ammunition, we can see a whole new world on social media. As Khalil Gibran so eloquently said, it starts with us changing ourselves as individuals in order to change the world.
What are you going to do to make social media a more positive place? Leave your answer in the comments!
– Marji J. Sherman