A few weeks ago, I was sitting behind a young woman on the bus. My seat was positioned higher than the seat where she sat, giving me a perfect view of her phone as she scrolled through Instagram. I don’t actively try to read other people’s screens, but the way this lady was interacting with the photo app caught my attention. She was scrolling through her feed with a speed and fervor I’d never personally witnessed. Each photo was glanced at for a mere second (at most), before being liked. And she was liking every single photo in her feed. Pets, food, fashion… The actual content of the image didn’t seem to matter. Everything was getting a double-click. It was mesmerizing.
I was astonished. How could she be processing all the images she was viewing, let alone appreciating any of them enough to determine that they deserved her likes? My husband later pointed out that the teens and young adults we know probably have the same habits. They like almost everything we post, even when it makes little sense for them to have done so. (I’m at a live podcast you’ve never heard of and I’m not in the photo– why would you like this?)
I have a pretty tight Instagram feed, and I routinely cull accounts I’ve followed that no longer capture my interest. And I definitely don’t like every photo that appears on my feed. I don’t even like every image posted by people I know in real life. I’m hyper selective about which Instagram accounts I follow and which photos I like. I’m so much better than these silly late Millennials and Gen Z kids, right? Well, I used to think so.
I was a fairly early Facebook adopter, back when you had to have a university email address to join the network. Even though the site is now open to everyone and their grandma (literally), I still feel very protective of “my” social network. I’ve spent over a decade cultivating my online presence there. I’ve stayed in touch and reconnected with friends there. My husband and I wooed each other via Messenger. I’ve stuck by them, adapting to all the updates, changes, and brand refreshes. If anyone is using Facebook the “right” way, it’s me.
One evening I had a pretty startling realization: I was liking and sharing things on Facebook that I really shouldn’t be liking. I’m not talking about silly memes or overtly political posts– I strongly believe both have a place on this particular social network. No, I’m talking about liking content with the same speed and negligence as that young woman on the bus. I’d been looking through my feed for about 10-15 minutes, and had liked several articles that I hadn’t even read. Not even a quick skim. Based solely on a headline, no click through. The very thing I hate as a social media manager. (The irony, I know.) What the hell was I doing? What had I become?
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information now available to us. It’s impossible to keep up, yet you also don’t want to seem uninformed. There’s also some major FOMO going into our obsessive need to like, like, like everything that appears in our feeds. I feel behind when I wake up in Australia to breaking news from the U.S. that is already three hours old. So I feel driven to react, share, and comment to show that I didn’t miss anything. I’m still here guys! I know what’s happening! Australia isn’t quite the ends of the earth!
After some major introspection, I made myself a promise. And really, it’s a promise to anyone who is connected to me on social media, as well. I won’t like, share, or comment on a post with a link unless I’ve actually read the story that’s being linked to. The same goes for images quoting public figures, statistics, or other “facts.” I’ll do my best to substantiate the content, otherwise it doesn’t get my stamp of approval. Because that’s really what all those thumbs up, hearts, and emotive faces really are– an endorsement of the content to our family, friends, and followers.
Anyone who knows me personally may notice a decrease in my Facebook activity. It’s not that I’m taking a break from social media, or that I’m backing off of activism, or I that I don’t care about certain issues. It’s actually that I care very, very deeply. I want to stem the spread of misinformation. I want to get this right.