I know they get clicks – that they are, in fact, the quintessential click-bait – but I am so fucking tired of those articles about what you should or should not do on social media.
“Five things you do on Facebook that you should stop doing!” could also be translated as, “Are you insecure about whether your online ‘friends’ are actually friends or whether they are judging you for oversharing or bragging? Click here and give us money and we’ll probably make you feel worse!”
So here’s my take on it, click-bait or otherwise (aside: were I to write anything that could even remotely be described as “click-bait” I would be delighted).
One of the things that is listed as an internet no-no is usually “having a whinge”.
Having a whinge
I think that having a whinge is one of the most important things we can do, socially and psychologically, and I suspect I may be in the minority on that. I have limits on what I think is appropriate, and I’ll express those when asked, but for the vast majority of the time I only apply those limits to myself.
If you read my Facebook, you might be very surprised that I apply any limits to myself, since my Facebook feed runs the gamut from the political (rare), the scientific (moderate), the cute (frequent) and the intensely banal (embarrassingly frequent), but we’ll get back to this.
People like to complain about complainers (the irony of this is often lost on them; I often find that sort of complaining far, far more irritating than the original sook), and they often like to say it is for the following reason:
“People should do something about their problems instead of just complaining about it.”
Now, this might genuinely be their motivation – I can’t read minds – but, cynical beast that I am, jaded by my day to day internet addiction and experiencing the death of a thousand cuts ill-considered internet comments, I honestly think that it’s more that they are made uncomfortable, or personally annoyed.
“I hate reading about someone’s [crappy day/experiences with bigotry/deaths in the family/personal suffering] because it interrupts my preferred flow of [political discussion/musical discoveries/cute cat pictures] and sometimes it makes me bummed.”
There’s nothing invalid about that response. It’s pretty normal.
So back to that first rationalisation: if it’s genuine – if this dichotomy of talkers vs. doers is why an anti-whinger is having trouble with their sulky Facebook or Twitter feed – I have a piece of very exciting news.
It’s a bombshell. Stand back.
These two categories are not mutually exclusive.
You can both whinge about a problem while contributing to solving it. I like to think I do this from time to time. I’m an expressive sort of person (I like to say that I am nothing if not verbose, and honestly perhaps that should be the subtitle of this blog…). I think in narratives, and arguments, and conversations and rants. I do not, alas, think in pithy one-liners. These posts would be much shorter if I did.
This applies to everything from intensely banal personal problems (i.e., my frustration with the current state of our carport and the paved areas in our yard) to much more significant political stances (i.e., my frustration with the current Australian government, my frustration with the endemic sexism, racism and other assorted bigotries in our society, my frustration with the wanton destruction of fragile marine ecosystems…).
I don’t fool myself that expressing my frustration with any of these things will solve the problem, but I am not so busy expressing my frustration that it will stop me from trying to do anything about it (although admittedly my political activism is largely about online conversation and discussion, and I have only changed one or two minds to date, but I count those as successes; also donations. Not as good as volunteering time, but still something).
To return to the banal: I can complain about the state of my carport and also clean it up. I can complain about endemic sexism and also call people on it when it occurs and have that conversation. I can complain about some ill health problems and also address them medically.
Now, sometimes it’s not the case. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do about a situation, or nothing I am willing to do for various reasons ranging from laziness to fear to lack of resources; and I may whinge anyway.
Good Lord, Kate, says the anti-whinger, why are you doing that? That’s self indulgent and only pisses people off.
I do it for a few reasons, and in no particular order, they are as follows:
- I am, as stated above, expressive by nature. I find nothing so satisfying as accurately and precisely delineating my thoughts and feelings on an issue, no matter how insignificant. It’s as though it ticks a little box in my brain. I have successfully described and outlined a problem. Dopamine reward!
- This is more an extension of (1), but venting feels good. It’s not entirely supported as a positive act; psychologically it is better to vent productively (i.e., outlining a problem, why you feel that way, possible solutions if any), but sometimes it’s good to just let it rip (I would argue, though, that you should always choose your audience with care when you do this. Never forget that the internet is forever).
- Sometimes it makes a good story. When shit happens, and especially when it gets ridiculous, there’s a part of my brain that says, “This will make a great anecdote later.” I am happy to whinge and try, if I can find the energy and the narrative, to make it as entertaining as I possibly can. I see it as a challenge, and it also helps me deal with the problem.
- Because I bloody well can.
Now that we’ve dealt with whingeing, and how I think that it’s perfectly appropriate 99.9% of the time for someone to have a sook in their own feed, everything else falls into the category of miscellaneous.
You can’t please everyone; don’t try
If you’ve consulted one or many of those “what you shouldn’t post on Facebook of Twitter” articles, you will have spotted a pattern – or rather, you will have spotted a lack of a pattern.
Variously, apparently, you should not:
- post about fitness (this includes everything from “I ran a marathon” to “gym killed me today”)
- post about nutrition (self-explanatory)
- post about medical stuff (oh noes! Oversharing! How dare you mention that you are in overwhelming pain all the time and you’re feeling a bit bummed and would like a little emotional support!)
- post about politics (that just makes people angry!)
- post about religion (I can channel myself here. People posting about their religion makes me want to stab myself in the eye, but since that would be unproductive, I take the radical step of minding my own business)
- post about their relationship (because who cares how much you love your snoogy woogums?)
- post about their children (because who cares about your sprogs?)
- post about their pets (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I’m sorry I can’t comment on this one even a little)
- post about their failures (this comes under “whingeing”, I believe)
- post about their successes (because you’re showing off – or humble-bragging – or rubbing it in)
And one might reasonably wonder – after reading all this – what one can post about without upsetting the Buzzfeed authorship. Relatively few people seem to complain about people posting science or music or art, but then those can push political buttons.
And this self-righteous superior malarkey basically ends up in one place:
“I have things that I prefer to see in my feed, and these are obviously universal because everyone reacts the same way to these things that I do. I am the quintessential Internet Human and there is no variation around this mean.”
I’m sorry (spoiler: I’m not sorry), but hell, it’s not hard to step back and think that maybe what you want to see and what I want to see and what other people want to see might vary just a tad.
I like to see posts about my friends’ kids, not just for the cute factor, but for the reality factor (these posts are not always overwhelmingly positive), and because I’m quite genuinely interested in what’s happening in my friends’ lives. Also, I like the kids.
I like to see posts about pets, for very similar reasons.
I like to see posts about medical things, about fitness, about nutrition. I like to see posts about politics.
I’m ambivalent about relationship posts. It’s not my thing – in many cases, unless carefully worded, such posts can come back to bite you very hard in the backside, and maybe you’re into that, but they make me squirm a little. Still, it’s absolutely your call. I do occasionally post about my relationship, but only when I find it very entertaining (given the nature of my relationship with Husband, it is usually pretty entertaining, at least for me).
I really hate religion posts (with the exception of very thoughtful pro-atheism posts, because I agree with many of those, and who doesn’t like a nice echo chamber?), but if you want to post about religion, go nuts. It’s your call, your feed; they’re your thoughts and your feelings, and if you want to use social media to share them, if you find that empowering or even just fun, then please do it. Don’t worry about people like me who are driven nuts by it. We’ll get over ourselves and move on. You can’t please everyone and it’s not worth trying.
What I really love to see? I love to see posts about friends’ successes. I want to hear about your promotion, your new job, your grant, your new best time in a 5K run, your new sculpture, your market stall, your paper, your novel. The idea that posting about good things in your life is “bragging” is just about one of those most vile things I can think of. Are some people having a brag and being a bit superior? Well, probably. Whatever. That’s not my problem. If you really don’t want to see good things happening to your friends, I think you might have some other problems you want to deal with, and I’m not being passive-aggressive: I mean there’s some insecurity and some anxiety happening, and it’s worth having a think about it. Sometimes it is hard to see someone succeed where we have failed, even if we love them; sometimes it can be stupendously hard; but most of us see that we can’t make it their problem. It’s our problem, and we deal with it. There’s no need to take off their shine.
Social media is a place where a bunch of different people raised in different ways – in different countries, towns, religions, and under different social rules and regimes – come together. When they do come together, they bring their baggage with them – their personal rules and preferences on what is, and is not, appropriate – and they often presume that their rules are universal.
People post about what they care about. They post about their passions. Sometimes they admittedly just post about what they had for dinner (I can take or leave that one; it’s similar to my banal “Oh God I’m in the lab and I haven’t had coffee, which end of the pipette goes where?” sort of posts). They post about what’s on their mind, and the thing about social media is that you can use it how you like. You can use it to promote things you are passionate about; you can use it to stay in touch with friends; you can use it to tell anecdotes about your day; and none of these things are mutually exclusive.
Here is how it works: social media is about things going outward from the writer, not inward towards the reader; or, to put it another way, the focus is on expression, not consumption, of material.
Do you have a responsibility to entertain people? Of course not. A social media feed is not a journalism feed. It’s not a magazine, or a novel, or a newspaper. People who write in those contexts, who write professionally, are subject to a wide swathe of ethical responsibilities. Social media is not a professional context: it’s just a bunch of people spewing whatever comes into their head at odd moments, and that has turned out to be enormously popular and enormously effective and incredibly annoying in a variety of ways.
But – my own opinion – you also do have an implied responsibility not to ruin it for everybody else, by which I mean: don’t show up self-righteously to tell people how boring their posts are, or how they’re using social media “wrong”, and while I won’t generally tell people what to post or what not to post, I have very little patience with meta-whingeing: whingeing about other people whingeing (although if you’re of a recursive mindset, my own stance is meta-meta-whingeing; DUDE, MIND BLOWN).
And in my own, excessively verbose way, I’ll get to the point:
Be your own filter. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. I scroll past “God is good!” You can scroll past “Look at my adorable children,” or “i hate my ex [sic]”. If you want to argue about the merits of a political position, that’s your call (I do and have done so, depending on the issue and how much I feel like I can be bothered getting stuck into it). If someone consistently posts a bunch of tripe that drives you mad, you can filter or unfriend them. That’s a power that you have.
I mean, you could just show up on posts you don’t like and tell people that their thoughts, interests and feelings are of no interest to you or anyone else and they should shut up, but that’s kind of an arse move, and it makes you the problem.