While pressure grows for social media industry leaders to improve their products, there are steps you can take — right now — to improve your own internet experience.
Make apps harder to access
Before you try to make your social media interactions “time well spent,” you first need to know how much time you’re actually spending there, says Priya Kumar, a postdoctoral research fellow at Ryerson University’s Social Media Lab. For example, the iOS 12 on Apple products has a feature called Screen Time, which offers analytics on your usage. Third-party apps are also available to track your phone usage. If you’re shocked by the results or already find your phone too distracting, make it harder to go online. Delete the app versions of social media platforms — without the ease of an app, you’ll likely spend less time mindlessly scrolling.
Remember there is no virtual
The disinhibition and anonymity the internet grants can go two ways — it can lead to trolls who disregard the people they harass, or it can lead to meaningful support for people who might not be comfortable discussing their anxieties in person. “We have to stop thinking about social media as virtual — it’s part of our real-life interactions,” says Kumar. So, before you post, imagine saying the same thing to someone in person.
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Choose the right platform
Social media is great tool for connecting with friends, finding information or killing time, but don’t stress yourself trying to keep up with multiple accounts if you don’t need them. If you want an open conversation with friends, Facebook is probably the right place to go. If you’re hoping to spread information with a wider community, Twitter is the better medium
Be a force for good
The “internet honeymoon” is over — the utopian hope of an open public sphere for everyone has gone pear-shaped. And just as groups in the physical world face marginalization, there are also “pockets of society that are disenfranchised and might not necessarily have a strong presence” online as well, says Kumar, noting that in Canada, Indigenous users face a digital divide on social media, and female politicians face more harassment and online trolls than their male counterparts. “These experiences can sometimes make online public spheres less attractive or more intimidating for certain groups,” says Kumar. Sending positive notes out into that sea of negativity or sharing posts in support of someone are small actions, but they have the potential to make others feel more welcome.