In our regular wellbeing and mental health section on the site, a few words on the highs and lows of social media.

Hello, and welcome to our regular spot on the site to natter and put the world to rights. This week, a quick word about social media.

Social media has been in many ways Silicon Valley-sent during the pandemic. It’s given us a way to communicate, to connect, to plan and execute events. It’s allowed us to share photos and videos, moments that may otherwise have been lost to family members. It has a lot of positives.

But there are also negatives. There’s echo chamber syndrome, where complex views are distilled into their bare essence in a sentence. There’s the seeking of likes, of ticks, or retweets leading to constant refreshing. There’s validation through agreement. And then there are the trolls.

I hold my hands up and declare myself a bit of a Twitter addict. I use it to promote my writing, sure. But I also use it to natter and share views and memories with a bunch of brilliant, like-minded people. I’m lucky in that I attract little negativity. That doesn’t mean I don’t see it.

Bile and aggression, strewn throughout the timeline, a malevolent word fungus designed to corrode and mock and denigrate people for their views, their appearance, their politics, their orientation. It can be a veritable cesspit. And it’s easy to find yourself sinking into the mire, up to the armpits in futile retaliation.

How many times have you dashed off a response, posted it, then sat back thirty minutes later thinking oh balls, why did I say that? How often has the fuse been lit when someone gaslights a perfectly innocent post? Does a lead ball of doom settle in your gut when you see yet another post tearing down someone for a perfectly innocent proclamation that they like something?

I’m guilty of the over-reaction response. The occasional drunk posting. Mostly I keep my timeline anodyne. Others don’t, and that’s their choice. But it’s easy to forget that social media posts are just a facet of a whole person. You see a sliver of their persona. Not the whole.

Trolls are a magnification of this, a caricature designed to snare the unwary as they pass over the bridge, yanking them under by the ankles and gnawing on the juicy bones of outrage. I try not to feed them, but sometimes emotion takes over and before I know it, I’ve spewed out words that do nothing to make me feel better, but do signal my profile as one that can be hooked and baited.

It’s easy to say switch it off, walk away. When we are starved of outside communication, swapping film chat and book news with our online pals is a great way to keep in touch with actual humans. But we have to be a bit careful in our interactions.

Yes, call out appalling behaviour, highlight injustice. It can be highly effective weapon in bringing these to public attention. But it’s also in danger of becoming a bit of a blunt tool. Post after post highlighting inequality, outrage can lead to issue fatigue, while also waking those trolls.

This isn’t to say I’m not engaged offline with politics, or that I don’t care how our country is run, it’s more the point that life is a lot more nuanced and complicated than a Twitter soundbite can make it seem. I wrote a 15,000 word dissertation on the impact of devolution on the United Kingdom that referenced over 100 pieces of source material, and that was barely scraping the surface. You are not going to get an in-depth analysis on independence in the UK in 280 characters. Especially when emotions and the blank screen take over.

I guess I’m saying that it’s okay to put the screen down. Interact with friends on a park bench with coffee, if restrictions allow. Have a doorstep conversation, or send each other postcards. Old fashioned, I know. But it reminds you to look at the world through multiple lenses, rather than that of a screen. Cherish those online friendships, but equally cherish those offline too. Nix the trolls.

Most of all, take care of yourselves. It’s spring out there, and it’s gorgeous. Breath in the real world a little.

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