By Izzy Silver, MEDIAGIRLS Editorial Volunteer
When I learned that part of my summer volunteering for MEDIAGIRLS meant logging back onto Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, I really had to consider it. After all, it’d been over a year since I eliminated social media from my life, and the freedom left me feeling sure that I had gained more than I had lost. I’d quit because I was done taking in content I simply did not care about, that robbed me of my time and mental energy. At its worst, I found it destructive, making me fall into the same trap over and over again: comparing and deciding that I was “less than.” Did I really want to risk going back on and getting sucked into a world I found so draining and even demoralizing?
Ultimately, I said yes to the volunteer experience after realizing that logging back on didn’t have to mean repeating my past habits. One month back on social media, I’ve had some revelations.
Who you follow is everythingIt may seem obvious, but I’ve been reminded that– as MEDIAGIRLS teaches participants regularly– who we follow dictates what messages we consume. Getting back onto Instagram, I realized that the distinct difference in who MEDIAGIRLS follows versus who I had been following changed the experience completely. After spending time on the MEDIAGIRLS feed, my pessimism was slowly fading away: I was learning from an eclectic group of voices, and feeling like I was learning. One amazing person I found, for example, is Sara K, a Youtuber who is unabashedly honest, and has been a real source of guidance.
When scrolling through my old feed, I often came across photos of a friend of a friend posing with friends of friends who I only vaguely knew. And some days it felt like I was just tricking myself into caring, or using it to fill my head with often mind numbing stimuli, rather than facing what was putting me down in the first place. Whereas most people that MEDIAGIRLS follows I do not know, but what sets them apart is that they have something substantial to say. Every time they log on, they do so with a purpose, to inspire followers and/or teach something they may not have known before. I had forgotten social media gives us the distinct ability to filter what we see, and the fact that we have 100% control of who is making up our feed. The ways in which social media can be detrimental are scary, and pervasive, but I hadn’t yet recognized the other side of the story: it has the power to be a tool for understanding ideas and people otherwise inaccessible.
Stepping into our social-media power
It’s time we all take a breath, stop talking about how much we loathe what person X just posted. If someone we follow is consistently posting content we do not like for whatever reason, we need to notice it and unfollow them, instead of trying to come to terms with how each post has a negative underlying message.
Here’s a thought: If everyone was more thoughtful about who they wanted to pay attention to on social media, chances are that some of the most successful social-media leaders would drop to only a small percentage of the followers they actually have. Because in reality, many influencers do not get a follower for the messages they convey, but rather the entertainment value they bring, no matter how shallow that may be.
It’s our one life; who do we want to listen to? The videos that we watch passively are the ones that end up filling our time and thoughts the most.
By establishing a feed with only positive and inspiring voices, (note: not necessarily ones I agree with) I gained more space in my day for other things that were more meaningful to me. Plus, my feeds started to be expanding my interests and added new ideas to what I was doing off of social media. Consuming media in these new ways gives much more purpose when online. I’m now seeing that looking at media thoughtfully can help me consider lines of thought I had never been exposed to. Ideas that I could apply or think about in my daily life. Despite my prevailing enjoyment of living a no-social-media lifestyle, I realized that media in moderation has the potential to spark a new friendship, create intellectual growth, and promote political awareness.
If we all use social media as a place where we pay attention to content that is unhealthy, and also move on from these accounts to ones that empower and encourage us, we are at the height of our power. We are true media girls.
A scroll challenge: Ask your girl(s) to scroll through her Instagram feed for about two minutes. Then have her go back in her memory and share what she remembers from what she just saw. When I did this the other day, I only remembered a handful of posts. The sheer volume of information I was consuming went right over my head. It is a powerful practice to remind ourselves that before we log on, to not to rush through our feeds. We need to consider each post, and take our time. If all users pay each other this respect, it opens up a world of possibility.
Dig deeper: Ask your girl(s) why she liked a particular post she mentioned. How did she feel after reading it? Would she bring it up with a friend? Might she reach out to the person who posted it and tell her/him why it was meaningful? Would share respectfully tell someone who posted that she disagreed with them, maybe asking a question? The content shared online is given its weight by what users do with it. It’s not just about the content we’re taking in; it’s also how we engage with one another.