For many of us, social media is an innocuous platform. For some, however, it can become a place to spill secrets or rant about personal ordeals and politics, occasionally offending others. Sometimes that offense slips from the screen and into real life.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that eight in 10 Americans are on Facebook. Of those users, 32 percent have an Instagram account and 24 percent are on Twitter. These numbers—a 5 percent increase over last year—show no signs of slowing.
Despite the seeming intimacy of these online relationships, many are really only surface level. “Our interactions on social media tend to be weak ties—that is, we don’t feel personally connected to the people on the other end of our communication as we do when face-to-face,” says Paul Booth, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago.
Paying attention to the ways we interact online, what we share, and the quality of our virtual relationships is more important than you might expect. They can have a real impact on our overall mental health. Consider these guidelines for navigating social media.
- Don’t post when you’re feeling emotional. We’ve all said or done things in anger that we later regretted. Words are harder to take back when they’re published online. When we’re in the heat of the moment, going rogue on social media isn’t the best idea.
- Use private messaging for resolving conflicts. If you feel the need to respond to a friends’ post, opt for a private message, phone call or real-life conversation.
- Prepare for negative responses. Before engaging in a public discourse, ask yourself, “Am I prepared to receive a barrage of negative responses?” If you think such feedback will make you upset or angry, hold off.
- Protect your privacy. The comments we make on social media are easy to find. As a result, professional relationships can suffer. Only share private and sensitive information face-to-face or by phone.
- Avoid overload and Internet addiction. Compulsive Internet use can lead to difficulty maintaining daily responsibilities or normal daily functions. Its effects on our emotional wellbeing include poor concentration, emotional detachment and shutdown, and withdrawal symptoms similar to that of substance abuse.