Why I took a break from social media after the election

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If you ask most people who know me, they’d probably tell you I’m a social media addict.

I live on Twitter. I “like” my way through my Facebook feed. I heart the eye-candy of Instagram. My daughter repeatedly asks me to make “silly videos” on SnapChat.

But last week, I just couldn’t. I walked out of my building after working about 20 out of 24 hours and decided I needed a break. Not just from actually working, but from the fighting and vitriol that was living in my social media stream and not my real world.

I kept reaching for the phone and staring at the icons on the screen. (That impulse came more often than I’d like to admit.)

“What’s going on in there?” I thought. And then I realized, I didn’t want to know.

“What’s going on in there?” I thought. And then I realized, I didn’t want to know.

The other thing most people would tell you about me is that I like to play “devil’s advocate” in a discussion. I’m just never going to be that friend that’s an echo chamber for your political views, and I like to think that can somehow be helpful. My job is to be able to see and talk my way 360 degrees around an issue, explain it and share it evenhandedly to the public.

I don’t think most people know how seriously I take that responsibility. It boils over into my personal relationships resulting in my hope that those I love can find a place to understand where someone who disagrees with them might be coming from.

And thus, social media has become my personal nightmare. There’s gloating. There’s name-calling. There’s an inability to understand how it could ever be possible in human history that someone could disagree with another. Oh, and a lot of people think “the media” is lying to them and will never change. Great.

So, thus began a short-lived break from most of my social media accounts. Instagram’s photos provided a welcome refuge — thank you, Supermoon! And we still made some “silly videos” because, well, who doesn’t love that dog filter? But Facebook and Twitter? Too much sanctimony. Too much righteousness. I’ll say this — I was only off for four days but it felt like much longer.

Social media has become my personal nightmare. There’s gloating. There’s name-calling. There’s an inability to understand how it could ever be possible in human history that someone could disagree with another.

What did I do instead? I went to a park and pretended to drive a bus around town with my preschooler. I read magazines. I watched Gilmore Girls. I went to yoga and sat and cuddled with my dog. I sat and drank coffee and was alone with my thoughts about all this and how we could fix it.

Did I come to an answer? Other than “be the change you want to see in the world,” not really. I have seen some other good suggestions though. The National Institute for Civil Discourse suggested we identify one person we’ve stopped talking to about politics and reach out — maybe re-friend the person you blocked on Facebook. (The last Marquette Law School Poll showed that a full 34 percent of voters said they’d stopped talking to someone about politics because of the divide — only down a point from just prior to the recall election in 2012.)

UW Health Senior Psychologist Shilagh Mirgain suggests actually taking a break from social media and turning inward to decide what it is that we can contribute moving forward.

I’m back on social accounts now (obviously) but I’ll be honest, I’m doing so with a bit of trepidation. I want so badly for us to all be better — own our votes, say what it is that we’ll stand up for and against, and be respectful of the fact that everyone gets an opinion, stop lumping each other into vast generalizations.

But because I can’t control what everyone else puts on social, here’s what I’ll promise you:

  • I will work hard every day to dig for facts, search for unique viewpoints and help give context and perspective to the news.
  • I will make more of an effort to be more present in-person to my family and friends and not just on social media.
  • I will make my social space respectful and truthful.
  • I will try to find ways to help us heal what’s broken to the best of my ability.

I’m hopeful I won’t get to the point where I want to step away again. I’m hopeful that we can create a space that’s positive on social and isn’t something people want to avoid. And maybe if we all asked this of ourselves, it could help? Or maybe, it just wouldn’t hurt to try.


Originally published at www.channel3000.com.

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