Nine guidelines to shape my use of social media

I’ve been rethinking my social media engagement for a while, especially since November 8. I’m not the only one.

For me, it’s not so much the election results that prompted reconsideration. Instead, I’m convinced that social media, on balance, has played a not insignificant role in creating the crisis of alienation we’re currently dealing with. For all the good it can do, I think it has greater potential to intensify division, solipsism, unreason, and incivility. I mean that for years leading up to the election social media has made many people, myself included, on all sides of political and other debates, more susceptible to manipulation, stupidity, and vice.

I’m considering dropping social media altogether, but I don’t want to make that decision hastily. I may take a while to figure out a long-term strategy. In the meantime, I’m thinking these guidelines should shape my use of social media:

  • Limited engagement. I’ll be giving myself a limited amount of time on social media every week.
  • Zero obligation. Social media engagements should be out of freedom, not necessity. There are other sorts of relationships that do involve obligation, but not social media. Practically speaking, this means I may like, retweet, comment, reply, etc., but I will resist the sense that I need to do any of those things.
  • Social media, not news. For lots of people, social media is their main source of news, and that’s problematic for various reasons, not the least of which is susceptibility to fake news and creation of echo chambers. Social media has never been, as far as I can tell, my primary source of news, but I’ll still be taking additional steps to discipline my reading of news, to curate a list of sources, and to limit social media as a channel for news. For some time, I’ve advocated something like cover-to-cover reading of a few sources of news and commentary, and I’ll be deepening that practice.
  • Read before linking. If I haven’t read it, I won’t be tweeting it, posting it, liking it, commenting on it, or retweeting it. 
  • Think it longer than a minute. If I haven’t thought it for more than a minute, I shouldn’t post it. Social media makes it easy to post things that we’ve thought for about five seconds. A lot of times, those things are stupid. We should think longer before we post.
  • No virtue signaling. I won’t be using social media to intentionally express or promote viewpoints that are valued within my communities. Of course, this signaling does happen naturally and inadvertently, as well, and that’s fine. But I’ll be policing any impulse to use social media to manipulate perceptions of my virtues.
  • No attention signaling. Like virtue signaling. I won’t be using social media to signal what’s getting my attention. Recommending things, yes. Posting things so that others can see what I’m paying attention to, no.
  • No using snark as shorthand. Social media – especially Twitter – invites us to use snark as a convenient shorthand. Snark isn’t always inappropriate, but we often resort to it out of laziness or as a convenient way to stay under 140 characters. That can be unnecessarily hurtful to others. Overuse of snark can also flatten our social discourse so that all of our disagreements – and we should have disagreements – are sharply critical, cutting, or snide. Many disagreements should not be so sharp. Moreover, overuse of snark inadvertently reduces the value of sharp words. Overuse makes sharp words worth less, so that their effect is diminished when prudence or necessity does call for them.
  • Prioritize connection and conversation. I’ll be focusing on using social media to connect with people. This means building networks with people I know beyond social media or with people who have, as one friend recently put it, some “skin in the conversational game,” users with a genuine sense of reciprocity. So I won’t be following to find out what “So and so says about X.” If So and So isn’t involved in conversation about X, then I don’t need them in my feed. I’m not here primarily for their commentary – I’ve already decided what sources I’ll look to for commentary, and I’m getting that elsewhere. I’m on social media primarily to have a conversation, learn, and grow, with others who are committed to the same. If that’s possible here, I may stay a while.

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