Social Media Can Be Toxic — But Only If You Let It Be

A handy guide to using social media more intentionally

Katrina Loos
Jul 18, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by Becca Tapert from Unsplash

When I deleted my Instagram, I felt like this force paralyzing me finally disintegrated.

It made me pay more attention to what was going on in the real world, instead of spending four hours watching videos from old Vine stars I’ve seen over and over again.

Deleting Instagram for good also made me see the beauty I’ve always had that I never believed I had before. I stopped hating my body and comparing it to other women’s. I got more writing work done. And I skipped having a monotonous routine of waking up, going to work, coming home to my cats and exploring a virtual world — there already is a big world out there begging for adventurers.

Even though Instagram did more harm than good, there were some things that I did enjoy from it.

I met brilliant writers, poets, and innovative human beings on the platform. I loved the Stories feature and experimenting with its different components. I got to follow stunning content from interesting people and brands. I was able to curate ideas for my personal feed.

A part of me doesn’t regret deleting Instagram from my life. But another part of me wishes I just continued to use it more intentionally.

Instagram was toxic for me because I allowed it to be.

In fact, all social media can be toxic if you’re not careful with your usage.

The Culture Of Toxic Social Media

Toxic social media can lead to the damaging need to always take selfies. This provides an illusion of control. Photo by Tom Sodoge from Unsplash.

Why is social media so toxic?

Research Gate conducted a review comparing the relationship between social media usage and body image. According to the study, psychologists found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness, and self-objectification in adolescents.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that social media was the cause of all of these issues in young people—there is just a powerful correlation between them.

Visual platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have tools that users can control to enhance their features and make them look completely different from what they actually look like. Users can cover up pimples, whiten their teeth, make them skinnier or thicker in select areas of the body, and airbrush anything about themselves they deem fit for improvement. The most vulnerable users, researchers say, are the ones who spend most of their time posting, commenting on, and comparing themselves to photos.

One study found that female college students who did this on Facebook were more likely to link their self-worth to their looks. Interestingly, while girls report more body image disturbance and disordered eating than boys, studies have shown both can be equally damaged by social media.

Impact Of Increased Social Media Usage

Social media usage has gradually grown over the last few years.

Social media use over time. Photo from Pew Research Center.

When Pew Research Center began tracking social media adoption in 2005, just 5% of American adults used at least one social media platforms. By 2011 that share had risen to half of all Americans, and today 72% of the public uses some type of social media.

Photo from Smart Insights

The numbers don’t lie: almost everyone is on social media in this day and age. It’s considered unheard of if you do not have a social media profile anywhere.

That means billions of people are introduced to consumable, impressionable content that can be taken in any way.

Addiction to social media has now become a problem that societies are concerned with. Many studies focusing on social media addiction determine the impacts it has on mindfulness, coping strategies, and emotional exhaustion.

What Can Be Done About This?

That’s where intentional social media usage comes into the picture.

Intentional social media usage is when a social media user mindfully pick the content they wish to see. They create a healthy social experience on platforms like Facebook and Instagram like Rachael Hope did. They don’t follow accounts that don’t bring them joy. They monitor their social media usage with apps such as AppDetox and Moment. They read articles like this one from Orge Castellano on social media addiction.

Users being mindful about their social media do not want to waste time following accounts they don’t like. What’s the point of following something and giving it your attention if you don’t like it?

How To Use Social Media More Intentionally

Build media-free days and/or weekends into your life

Decide once or twice a week to not get on social media at all.

Participating in a social media detox is beneficial. Besides getting more free time to focus on personal projects and reconnecting with the real world, social media breaks do improve mental health.

“A break from social media improves common health issues such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia,” says Lisa Laporte, a CEO working with technology and advertising companies. “Anxiety and depression reduce significantly when there’s no pressure to meet the standards you see on social media; it can be difficult to feel like everyone around you has the perfect life when all you see are curated social media posts. Less time spent on your phone can reduce mental health concerns and also help improve your sleep.”

Delete the apps

Many people who completed got rid of social media, like Corey Simon, have noticed subtle changes in their lives that paid off in the long run. For Corey, he had “a feeling of overwhelming creativity and not caring what people think” and “happy, extremely motivated and in the best shape I have ever been in.”

If you’re one of those people who need social media for whatever reason (like work, for example), consider deleting the social media apps from your phone instead.

Not having social apps on your phone doesn’t distract you. It doesn’t force you to get behind on the things that need to be done so you don’t procrastinate. You don’t stay up hours late in the night consuming content that will be there tomorrow.

Deleting social apps from your smartphone forces you to pay attention to what’s going on around you right now.

Don’t follow accounts that don’t bring you joy

When you have a moment, Marie Kondo your social media.

Are there any accounts you’re following that post content that’s depressing, doesn’t motivate or uplift you, or always has something negative to say? Are you hate-watching certain people, even though it’s a complete waste of time?

If they meet any or all of the above, unfollow them yesterday.

Produce content that is rare and valuable.

John P. Weiss explains that if you want to use social media for something other than mindless entertainment, use it to hone your craft.

“Social media sucks a lot of time out of your day,” says Weiss. “It may be entertaining, and it can be helpful to market your business or art. But it distracts you from achieving greater, personal success.”

If you want to make something bigger out of yourself, stop using social media to waste time or distract yourself. Use social media to promote yourself and get where you want to go in life. Don’t make excuses.

Social media is a reliable tool and resource. It’s great in moderation — and when you use it intentionally.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Katrina Loos

Written by

Writer. Introverted cat lady. Email me for business inquiries: katrinadloos@gmail.com

Better Marketing

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