Back in November I finally got around to watching the documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. In the documentary, leaders of social media companies like Facebook and Instagram talk about how they have seen the negative impacts of their products on people’s lives. The film explores how software designers use algorithms to gain and keep people’s attention, and how the companies mine people’s data to show them targeted advertisements. It explains how social media contributes to people finding and embracing extremist views. It explores how social media can be harmful to people’s self-esteem, especially children and youth.
One of the most interesting aspects for me was learning how companies pay to show me advertisements on social media. When I engage on social media, I am the product. Facebook is selling my time and attention to advertisers. This was a big “aha” moment for me. Another thing that stood out to me is that social media companies work very hard to get people’s attention and keep their attention with features like infinite scrolling and push notifications.
I want to pause here, before I go further, to acknowledge and affirm that Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites are sources of great joy, connection and beauty for many people. Social media has helped people connect with each other during this pandemic where we need to be physically apart from one another. I have been on Facebook for the past 12 or so years and I have gotten a lot of joy out of seeing photos of friends and family, sharing our family photos, reading interesting articles, getting and receiving support from friends, and more. I have also been on Instagram for a few years and I love seeing and sharing photos of beauty in nature. For those of you who find positive benefits to social media, I fully support and encourage you in your engagement with these sites.
After I watched The Social Dilemma, I felt a sense of relief, like a weight had been lifted. I think I had known for some time that my engagement with Facebook was harmful to my mental health, but it seemed like a necessary evil. It seemed like something I needed to engage with in order to function as a citizen, parent and minister. Limiting my engagement with Facebook didn’t feel like a valid choice. After seeing The Social Dilemma, setting strong limits on my use of social media felt valid and important to do in order to care for my mental health and well-being.
The main reason why limiting my use of social media has been a positive experience is that I am able to escape the Comparison Trap. When we post on social media, we are curating our lives, and oftentimes we share the successes and high points, and don’t share the challenges and struggles. Seeing a constant feed of friends having wonderful family outings and achieving professional accomplishments led me to compare myself to others and harmed my self-esteem. In addition, many of my Facebook friends post articulately and beautifully about both their personal struggles and important social justice issues. Reading their posts made me feel like I also should be constantly writing beautiful posts about my own life and the important justice issues of our time, and I constantly felt like I wasn’t measuring up. Simply choosing not to read the posts on my feed released me from the weight I felt comparing myself to others.
The approach that is working well for me right now is to limit my engagement with Facebook to specific groups, and to not engage in my newsfeed. This allows me to participate in Facebook in the ways that are connecting, joyful and informative, and limit the negative impacts of the site on my mental health. I am a part of many UU minister colleague groups where we share support and advice with one another. One of my favorites is “Pastor Parents with Special Needs Kiddos” where I am able to connect with other ministers with children with disabilities. Our struggles are unique and it is helpful to connect with others who “get it.” Our BBUUC Community Page on Facebook is an important source of connection and care for many people, and it is important for me as your minister to be a part of that circle of care. It is very helpful to me to have a specific location on Facebook where I can go to offer support and learn about what is happening in the BBUUC community.
This is a big topic, and this is only the very beginning of a long conversation about social media, mental health, community connection and more. I hope that as a community we can talk about our engagement with social media in a way that affirms every person’s free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and honors diverse opinions. I hope you are able to engage with social media in a way that is good for your heart and soul. If you have thoughts about the topic I would love to hear from you. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Reverend Amy Moses-Lagos
Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church, Jacksonville, FL
Based in Seattle, WA
Pronouns: she/ her/ hers