FB and Twitter, she just can’t quit you

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a post in which I wondered whether social media were developing a personality disorder.  Now I’m wondering whether social media are causing people to develop personality disorders.

Over the years, the content of my Facebook feed has become progressively darker. It’s reliably clogged with distressing missives–political rants, plus tales of woe about suffering animals and the environment. (I suspect this content appears because Facebook’s algorithm, like Google’s, does an excellent job of micro tracking everything I “Like”, share, or search for.) Yes, I care about these issues, but I don’t want to be slapped in the face with how dreadful everything is, first thing in the morning when I turn on the computer. 

The more I read these distressing posts, the more upset I get about the state of the world. I do try to tune much of it out. For example, I skip over my friends’ political rants online–they’re tiresome, no matter what the point of view. (I don’t block these friends, because some of these people are dear to me in real life.)  But I worry about my friends who are struggling with depression or some other personal issue in real life, who do nothing but mutter darkly online about the nefarious activities of Evil Government, or Evil Corporations. Is it a sign that they’re slipping over the edge?

I tell you, it’s enough to make me long for the boring old days when people shared what they ate for breakfast.

And it’s not just Facebook. Whenever there’s a breaking news, I find that I stay ahead of the headlines on cable news by monitoring Twitter updates. Twitter has become our new wire service, and anyone can use it. I’ve developed an unhealthy fixation with the #Breaking hashtag. 

I know there’s a simple solution to my situation. “Turn it off! Unplug!” Easier said than done. I’ve been a news junkie all my life. Now apparently I’m a social media junkie, as well.

We’ve become a nation of social media junkies, it seems. I remember an incident from years ago. I was at a cocktail party, and feeling uncomfortable for some reason. I withdrew to a dark corner and began checking my cell phone. My husband came over to see what was wrong. Nowadays, I don’t think he’d bother. Everywhere  one goes, everyone is checking their devices. 

In the context of this discussion, I have to mention the Marysville shooting. I was stunned to see excerpts of the conversations that some of children involved had been posting online. I’m wondering why minors are even allowed to post profanity, plus violent and sexual content. Unfortunately, that kind of language seems to be the rule among adolescents in the Twitter-verse, rather than the exception. And that’s scary.

When one of my daughters was young, she was an early adopter of computer technology. She had taught herself to create a web site, and she posted a .gif of an animated dancing devil, complete with pitchfork. The image caused a big kerfuffle among the mothers of her friends, I recall, and I made her shut the site down. (I actually thought the dancing devil was kind of cute and creative, which tells you something about me. But I did want her to learn to respect “community standards”, such as they were back then).

Fast forward to current time. Where are the mothers and fathers who should be monitoring their kids’ online activities today? Perhaps we’ve all become  used to a level of discourse that’s unhealthy. Perhaps it’s unhealthy for us, as well as for our children. 

Here I was complaining about Facebook rants, but I seem to have written one of my own today. As writers, I know we all tend to be heavy users of social media. (For example, the #amwriting hashtag is a frequent trend on Twitter.) Do you think that social media is causing people to develop personality disorders, or does it merely reflect a pre-existing condition?

30 thoughts on “FB and Twitter, she just can’t quit you

  1. I’m pretty sure we’re seeing the puking of pre-existing conditions by way of social media.

    Children should (still) be guided, directed and monitored. That hasn’t changed. Great post!

  2. This needed to be said, Kathryn. Sad to say, some adults are even worse. To name but a few of the posts that make me cringe:

    1) Posts complaining about the poster’s marital difficulties: Please. Work it out quietly. We don’t want to know.

    2) Posts regarding employers, jobs, etc.: See you on the bread line.

    3) Posts about your headaches, etc. making you so sick that you called in sick because you can’t do anything (other than post to Facebook): see #2.

    And don’t get me started about photos. Anyway, thank you, Kathryn, for another excellent post. If it changes one person’s behavior your job is done.

    • Thanks, Joe. Sometimes I feel like I should be called “Miss Manners.” But there’s a good reason for using manners, darn it! It keeps us from being at each other’s throats, virtually, and in reality.

  3. Indeed there is cause for alarm, Kathryn. The way social media allows anonymity, bullying, trolling, and hating does indeed have an effect on persons, especially children who are being shaped in ways that can last a lifetime. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out, “The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become — and so on in a vicious circle for ever.”

    • That’s exactly what I’m worried about, Jim–that echo chamber online, where fears and resentments get magnified into something potentially toxic. It can actually be dangerous for people with fragile states of mental health to engage that way, I think.

  4. Kathryn, thanks for this post. I agree with Jim. There is cause for alarm. I agree with Joe. This needed to be said.

    I don’t know if social media is causing a personality disorder. If it’s reflecting a pre-existing condition, that pre-existing condition would be a predisposition to an addiction, an addiction to social media.

    We all long for connection, relationship, belonging to a family or group – identity. I worry that an electronic connection is displacing our ability to connect naturally to the world and people who physically surround us. We all walk past people who don’t look up, don’t acknowledge our existence. I sometimes struggle to carry on a conversation with people who are distracted by the interrupting social media alert. Young people are finding it difficult to work, unless they can keep one hand on their “smart” phone, i.e. work with one hand. I’ll stop. I’m ranting. But I believe it is changing society, and not for the better.

    So, I agree. We’ve become a nation of social media junkies. Let’s disconnect (electronically), and reconnect (real time, real life). One exception, of course, would be our continuing discourse here on TKZ. After all, I would have withdrawal without it.

    • Of course, please make an exception for us here, Steve! πŸ™‚ That’s one reason I love having carved out our own tiny corner of the cybersphere, and one where we can have genuine conversations.

  5. About three months ago, I stopped posting on Facebook. About two months ago, I stopped reading FB posts altogether. It was, at first, part of my attempt to discipline my work schedule but it was, I realize, more a need to get away from the constant emptiness of it. I’ve gone back to writing letters and emails to friends and family or picking up the phone and calling them.

    I also have been weaning myself off cable news shows and 99% of television. I watch the 6:30 nightly news and that’s about it because at least there, I don’t have to listen to three supposedly smart people talking over each other and saying nothing to help me understand anything. I still read two newspapers every morning and will, as long as they last.

    I don’t say this to be sound self-righteous. It was for mental health. And I am far from an ostrich in the sand. How can you be with the world the way it is? But this constant noise in our lives is making us deaf and increasingly dumber.

    Speaking of newspapers, there’s an article in today’s biz section about Twitter usage and sign-ups in decline. Maybe there’s hope.

    You’re not alone, Kathryn! Unhook, turn it off, unsubscribe!

  6. I try to guide my kids, to teach them. But I don’t try to censor them. It’d be impossible anyway, but they need to learn to live in their world and express themselves as they see fit – understanding that Dad doesn’t always approve of how they express themselves.
    The anonymity is a much bigger issue, leading to incivility and bullying. There’s not much you can do. Either withdraw from the world (because online is where so much of the world is today) or develop a tough skin. When I run into it, usually on the comments section of sports sites, I just remind the troll that his mother really should have taught him better. Doubt it works, but it makes ME feel better.

    • Sigh. I’m such a Miss PrissyPants online, I seldom encounter the bullies. When I do, maybe I’ll drag out the phrase I used like a mantra when I was teaching my kids to be polite, “I will not be spoken to in that tone of voice.” Or tweak it for an online application! Not that they’ll pay any attention, but like you said, it’ll make me feel better! πŸ™‚

  7. I have nothing brilliant to add, but I wanted to say hello as a new reader. I heard about TKZ from James Scott Bell’s book, Fiction Attack!

    I look forward to all I can learn here. And while social media may have its abusers and addicts, I am glad to find places like this; places of learning and thoughtful sharing.

    • Welcome, Wren! I’m so glad you found us through Jim. We try to be a little virtual water cooler in the cybersphere, where we can all hang out for a few minutes each day and talk about what’s new. Keep coming back!

    • Welcome to our little corner of the blogosphere, Wren. You’ll find a very supportive writer community here. Glad to have you, and pitch in whenever you like!

  8. On Facebook, at least, I think it all depends on how well you curate your friends and your feed. I’ve been able, both by design and circumstance, to cultivate a largely lighthearted following of in-person and cyber-only friends who bond over books, music, community, occasional personal loss and the even more occasional fart joke.

    For the most part, we have an unspoken agreement to check politics, religion and hot-button political issues at our doors. We want Facebook, especially, to be a fun retreat from full-on reality. And it mostly plays out that way.

    And when people want help processing the demise of relationships, the death of a loved one, or some other painful personal upheaval, we all seem to rise to the challenge without any spoken exhortation.

    Once in a while, somebody blasts off the rails and into the deep end, but they tend to eventually dial back or self-exclude.

  9. Mrs. K. what you describe is what has become an addiction starting in the last century. It is a way of life now, no stopping it. I have friends just like you describe. You don’t want my advice and haven’t ask for it, so let me just say that you can only sail one boat at a time. Let it be your boat. A boat clutter free and free from distressing information. What was the old people use to say, “Sleep with dogs, wake up with fleas.”

    • Thank you, R.G.! I once heard a guided imagery similar to that, which advised me to keep the circle of water around my own boat calm and serene, no matter how the rest of the ocean was getting stirred. Thank you for reminding me!

  10. A note about online civility from the perspective of a Leprechaun,

    Or rather, four Leprechauns, who live in a nicely appointed, just our size flat in Basil’s crawlspace.

    Leprechauns and Trolls have never historically gotten along. While one may think that Trolls are big and scary, they also typically have the mind and emotional stability of a two year old and can be easily subdued by logic and real authority. And if they refuse, tell their mums and they will usually slink away and hide.

    Anyway, from our perspective people should be nice to each other online because one day you might meet that person you insulted on Facebook.

    You may think they won’t recognize you because your profile picture is of a cartoon version of your favourite vegetable, but the fact is that your face might actually carry the same expression as said cartoon vegetable because that is how you subconsciously recognize yourself and therefore have an involuntary tendency to squish up your face into an image that closely resembles said vegetable when thinking of something snarky to say, whether you say it out loud or not. Once recognized as the rude internet personality you are by the other person whom you so belligerently insulted things may go very wrong very fast.

    “Hey, wait a minute! You’re Rhubarb Face!”

    And then the fists start flying and you wish you diet these several years had consisted of more than Pop-Tarts, Fritos and Rock Star drinks and that you had actually taken martial arts training at some point in your life, instead of merely imagining yourself as a hyper-stealthy ninja like the ones you use as an avatar in the video games you think are more real than they are. Next thing you know the coppers are called in and you have a hard time explaining why you’re wearing your underpants with the dark side racing stripe on top of your head.

    And on the case of Twitter. From the time we were wee baerns we Leprechauns have been taught that no respectable person would ever show their Twitter in public, it is just obscene and pronofragic and has no place in civilized culture.

    Fillii, Gnillii, Boffin and Berthold

  11. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Kathryn. I have about 4,300 Facebook friends, so I’m pretty liberal with the “unfriend” button when posts turn me off. That seems to help. If I stopped using Facebook, I’d miss my online friends, so checking in daily does enrich my life – most days!

  12. Kathryn, what you wrote was not a rant, but a series of observations steeped in your worry for others.

    My worry about FB and Twitter, in addition to the negativity (I agree with Jim Thomsen above – I’ve been ruthless about getting rid of nasty, negative posters), there is the issue that the most narcissistic generation the world has ever seen is entering adulthood.

    These children have been relentlessly photographed, video’d, and commented on since they were eleven. I got an idea of how the big ol’ world is going to treat them and the school of hard knocks brings as big a hammer as necessary.

    Personally, I have to unplug periodically or I go into news-junkie overload. Election season is especially bad.

    • True words, Paul. If what I ‘m reading is this bad in an “off-year” electoral season, I hate to think how inflamed the discourse will become in 2016! Thanks for visiting!

  13. Kathryn–
    Putting aside the cruelty/obscenity issue, and the dangers to children, I also see your excellent post in terms of being an indie writer.
    It leads me to remember something called Manichaeism, a system in which good and evil, positive and negative forces in the cosmos are equally weighted. Neither side can ever defeat the other. For me as an indie writer, this is what confronts me. I have decided to become my own publisher. But now I face a set of demands and limitations that more or less equal those facing anyone who is still knocking on trad publishing’s big steel-strapped and riveted door. Yes, you get to see your book in print, but now you face drudgery, and more drudgery. And much of it takes the form of social media.

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