A Personal Essay

Remember when social media was just a fun little tool used to check in with friends and family from afar, to perhaps share a birthday photo with those loved ones, a recipe or a song, and that was basically the jest of these online platforms? I do, and the nostalgia is very real, folks. 

Twitter came along and changed the internet and social visibility forever. All of a sudden, mere mortals no longer had to check in with celebrity gossip bloggers to spy on their most beloved or hated stars. With Twitter, one could actually connect directly with celebs through the internet. Consumers were suddenly able to call on major companies and corporations to spout praise or complaints for speedy responses while triggering brand awareness. Facebook went from being a live college yearbook to an international chatroom for the hungry public to engage with anyone and anything with a pulse, a purpose, and an ego. Brands today depend greatly on social media networks in order to survive. Having more online followers means more visibility, which then translates to greater success for whatever platform or product being sold. Companies need to steadily promote their offerings to continuously gain popularity in order to prosper, just as individual persons feel they need to gain personal popularity in order to feel important. Social media and its ever-growing, expanding existence has officially become a simultaneous blessing and curse. Creating brand and cause awareness has never been easier nor more attainable thanks to the Twittersphere. However, the ease of public outrage, social conflict, spewing hate and bullying mere strangers has now also never been simpler. The necessary evils of social networking are real, and we've barely begun to scratch the surface of its capabilities. 

I've been a Facebook member since 2008. I joined only because the few childhood and college friends I intended on keeping had migrated from Myspace to the sleeker new network. Fast forward to the present and I'm still connected to those friends, along with others I've met from city to state as well as close family members scattered about the nation. I primarily use Facebook to feel closer to the people I love most and are so far away. Working within the fashion industry as a blogger and writer, I also use the network to stay up to date on the latest headlines and trends, my job depends on it in a sense, as it does for so many others out there. Lately however, I've felt the weight of the negativities that eventually surface from engaging in social media more than ever. With our nation becoming increasingly divided on more serious stances of late, comes many diverse and biased opinions (mine included), making it more difficult to benefit from the pros of social networking while disengaging the cons. It takes some serious willpower to refrain from commenting on posts that are built on stances that differ so wholly from your own. If you find yourself regularly logging on to shared opinions that ignite internal rage or make your stomach turn, it's probably time to closely dissect your inventory of "friends" and cleanup shop. This was the social dilemma I recently faced, after allowing my temper to overtake my fingers and keys in a tireless rant on a post that greatly disturbed me. I offered my firm stance, then immediately took a cold, hard look at my "friends" list before depleting nearly half of them. Don't get me wrong, I more than respect and value the opinions of others. I also am readily skeptical of my own views and beliefs and am always openly challenging them with greater knowledge. Opinions that are misinformed and dangerous however, those I just can't get behind. 

People grow, convert or revert constantly. It's perfectly okay and acceptable to shed your former self, leaving behind those feelings and beliefs you once shared with those of equal minds to embrace a new and different 'you'. With the wealth of knowledge at our disposal and our right to freedom of speech, it's no wonder we use social media as a breeding ground for hateful and angry discourse and disagreements. It's far too easy nowadays to say whatever you feel while hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. Mindlessly scrolling through a social newsfeed can be more depressing and disheartening than watching the nightly news. It truly doesn't have to be however, it is possible to break free of the damage and get back to having fun with these engagements. 

I vow to only remain connected to those I've spoken to in person or by phone (yes, texting counts) in the last year, considering it was a pleasurable exchange of course. Exes that are simply just that; former friends I'll honestly never see again; that person I met that night at a bar after multiple whiskeys that I swore was my new best bud but haven't seen nor heard from since; old pals or distant family members that have replaced love in their hearts with bitterness and hate, or some terrifying cult--I have exorcised them all from my social playground. Quality over quantity is a safer bet. 

Running a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page for a business is obviously a little different than maintaining a personal account. Unfortunately, quantity beats quality here, but the experience doesn't have to completely suffer. It's better and wiser to never, ever engage, but if you must, try doing so with kindness and move on. That takes all of the pleasure away from the instigator. As with any situation, focus on the good, and don't perseverate on the bad. Social media isn't going anywhere, and as long as we have to remain an active player in order to stay connected and/or relevant in our industries, we might as well use it to our best advantages and do so for fun, and with pleasantries. Just remember to put down the handhelds and logout from time to time. Instagram has many pretty pictures, but the world around us offers the very best view.