It’s the middle of the workday. You log on to Twitter for a mental break, only to be bombarded by a torrent of maddening content. Before you know it, you’ve been “doomscrolling” for an hour, and have even let fly some comments you regret.
Thankfully, there are healthier ways to engage with social media — but they require intentionality.
Social media sites are designed to keep you scrolling as long as possible.
Acknowledge Risks and Set Boundaries
The risks of social media are real. Research suggests social media use correlates with increased rates of loneliness and depression, especially for children and teens. There is even evidence that social media is not just exposing our political division, but exacerbating it. (For helpful insight into these problems and more, I highly recommend the 2020 Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.)
Social media also comes with benefits, but they quickly become overshadowed unless we can mitigate the negative aspects. Here are four boundaries to help do just that:
1. Set time limits. Find the balance that works for you, whether that’s setting a time limit for social media each day (both the iPhone and Android have functions that can help with this), or staying offline on weekends.
2. Mute + Unfollow. I enjoy following a diverse group of people on social media. But some voices make me too upset too frequently, usually because their rhetoric is particularly divisive or offensive. In these cases, removing them from my newsfeed makes for a more peaceful experience — and eliminates the temptation to say something I shouldn’t.
This is where the “mute” function on Twitter works wonders — and the muted party never has to know. (Personally, I won’t block someone unless they’re actually bullying or harassing me.) You can even mute specific words or phrases!
On Facebook, the “unfollow” feature works similarly. Perhaps you’re friends with someone in real life, but can’t stand the content they post on Facebook. You don’t have to take the potentially offensive route of unfriending them. Just go to their profile and select “unfollow.”
3. Delete apps, add extensions. Social media sites are designed to keep you scrolling as long as possible. You can resist the scroll vortex in a couple of ways. Consider deleting the apps from your smartphone, if scrolling on your smartphone is your biggest time-sucker. At least turn off all notifications so you aren’t constantly distracted.
Lately, I’ve struggled with checking social media too frequently while at the computer — when I should be working. Someone told me about the “News Feed Eradicator” extension available (free) for both Chrome and Safari. I’ve used it to eliminate my newsfeeds from Twitter and Facebook. You can still visit these sites from your browser, view your notifications, search for specific content, and post. But you won’t see your newsfeed and risk getting sucked into the infinite scroll. Delete the extension at any time to see your newsfeed again.
4. Take breaks. Every so often I’ll deactivate my social media accounts. These breaks help me maintain perspective and avoid addiction. Twitter lets you deactivate for 30 days at a time. Facebook lets you deactivate indefinitely. Try taking breaks around the holidays, during vacations, or whenever social media causes more stress than it’s worth. You can always come back later.
You can’t effectively counter an argument you don’t understand.
Appreciate the Benefits
I’ve found that when I set boundaries like these, I’m able to enjoy social media’s benefits so much more. Here are three of my favorite benefits:
1. Local connection. When we moved to a new town last year, I joined citywide and neighborhood Facebook groups. Through those groups, I’ve learned about small businesses to support, local events, city elections, and area ministry opportunities.
2. Diverse perspectives. I intentionally follow people on social media that I disagree with. I believe this decision is important for two main reasons. First, you can’t effectively counter an argument you don’t understand. Second, following people from the “other side” humanizes them. You realize they have complicated, nuanced beliefs just like you. It becomes harder to paint them with a broad brush.
3. Encouraging content. I have been blessed and convicted by posts from Christians from all different backgrounds. I’ve been uplifted by great stories, cute videos, and hilarious memes. I’ve also learned about so many things I’d otherwise miss, like new (to me) authors, upcoming books, Christian organizations doing important work, virtual events on issues I care about, and more.
With minefields like partisan hostility and personal drama to wade through, social media can be exhausting. But if we’re intentional in our approach, it can be a positive experience.