We live in what a lot of experts call “the post-truth era”: everything is up for questioning, and even the most fundamental truths play second fiddle to clever spins and scandalous story angles. In the global agora that is the internet, the rule of the game is devilishly straightforward: whoever spurs the stronger reaction gets to weave the definitive narrative.
Most of the time, people confuse a good argument with facts, and while that in itself isn’t malicious per se, it often causes more problems than it solves. Sometimes, I scroll through my social media and I see a post that I think should have a disclaimer that reads, “I actually have no idea what the facts are, but here are my opinions anyway.”
It’s no wonder that social media is linked to stress and anxiety among users.
Social Media and Human Intention
I consider myself lucky since the majority of the people I’m connected to on Facebook and LinkedIn are people who are looking for the same things that I’m looking for: truth, peace, and growth. More often than not, I see facts and well-researched information on my feed instead of statements fueled by rage or paranoia.
According to this study, the only criteria that affect whether we will share a news article is how often we’ve already seen it, and how aligned it is with our own agenda. Truth has nothing to do with it. Worse, no one is immune. A lot of people on social media are not malicious, not stupid, just humans who fall victim to their own cognitive biases.
While I do believe that most people on social media are simply misinformed, I do believe that there is a darker side to sharing certain articles on social media.
Toxicity: Evil Lurking in Social Media
I have worked for people who claimed to have the desire to help others but wouldn’t actually hesitate to cheat, lie, and steal their way towards profit. Thanks to these people, I was able to understand the actual meaning of evil. Encountering people like this has taken off my rose-coloured glasses.
Based on my personal experience, the scariest thing about evil is that it usually hides under the guise of unquestioning belief. A lot of evil people are 100% convinced that they are doing the right thing.
Circling back to the context of social media, toxicity (and by extension, evil) is when people go up in arms and defend ideas like it’s the very thing that defines their entire identity. Toxicity is when people get so riled up over something that they forget to listen and ask questions. Toxicity is when people don’t pause and think before they share posts. Evil is when people, without thinking twice about it, get on bullying bandwagons and spew vitriol and hatred towards someone they feel “deserves” it.
That is toxicity. To reiterate: sometimes, people do these things due to ignorance, but other times, it’s actually due to an open and unabashed desire to cause pain and harm to another human being. Either way, this type of behavior is toxic and should be avoided.
How to Avoid Social Media Toxicity
- Prune your social media contacts. If someone’s constantly out to spread fake news, negativity, and animosity, don’t hesitate to unfriend or unfollow them. If you prefer to keep it discreet, you can “mute” them, and adjust your privacy settings to hide your posts from them.
- Choose your battles. When everyone in social media is ready to engage in heated debates and discussions, choose your battles. Always choose understanding and empathy, especially to those who don’t share your views. Keep in mind that it’s always better to be kind than be right.
- Don’t hesitate to report. It’s our collective responsibility to make social media an open and welcoming space for everyone. Make it a point to report users who use their social media platform to insult, harass, and threaten other people.
- Share positivity. While venting is ok from time to time, make sure that the majority of your posts are uplifting ad/or entertaining. If you have to share your thoughts, share them from a positive angle. Focus on solutions, not fear-mongering. The world is dismal enough. There’s no point in making everyone feel helpless.
My Personal Approach
It’s important to be careful with who you surround yourself with. While it’s important to not live in a mental echo chamber, i.e., exclusively associating with people with similar points of view and opinions, it’s equally crucial to discern who we’re spending the most time with. While we might be more conscious about who we spend the most time with in real life, we also need to make sure that our social media feeds are not inundated by toxic posts and contacts.
I also find value in examining myself — ensuring that no thought or idea becomes so pervasive that I start to become a toxic presence to people around me. The goal is to do everything with passion and heart, but also be open to learning and questioning given “truths”. I cherish the input of people around me, and try to be as generous with my material resources, my ideas, my effort, and my time (as much as possible). That’s how I avoid being a toxic person.
On the other hand, if someone asks me “am I a toxic person?” I advise them to ask themselves the following questions:
- Do you have lifelong friends? (Note: if you have been betrayed by people that you have trusted for a long time, then they are at fault, not you. Ignore this question.)
- In the last 12 months, have you done something positive for someone without thinking about yourself first?
- Do you have any problems with the law, or is anyone suing you?
f you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, I invite you to reflect on your choices and the kind of impact you have on the people around you. Is it positive or negative? If it is mostly negative, what can you do to change?
We only have one life to live. More than wishing for other people to be better, it’s imperative to always be the good that we wish to see in the world.
How do you avoid toxicity in social media and in real life? Share your answers in the comments.