There's a lot of studies supporting the fact that social media is bad for us. Research from Cornell University suggests that social media is weakening our most important relationships as we focus more time and attention on online acquaintances. Meanwhile, our kids face cyberbulling, a recent phenomenon that takes the mean kids out of the classroom and puts them in every facet of our children's lives. Finally, our Internet addiction is making us less productive in the workplace, a bad habit that undermines our economy.
Research aside, much of our daily in-boxes and news feeds contain doom, gloom, profanity, obscenity, and plain old junk. More and more of us are wondering if all the hassle is really worth the trouble, and an unprecedented number of people are opting out of social media altogether. However, all this naysaying hinges on the belief that we are somehow not in charge of our online lives. It's easy to blame Pinterest for making us jealous or Facebook depression for why we feel so disconnected. But, at the end of the day, we determine the experience we have on the Internet.
Who's in charge
The most powerful people on the internet are not writers, bloggers or even the heads of media conglomerates. Thanks to social media, a post cannot go viral without the support of millions of individual users. It takes each one of us sharing, liking, commenting and forwarding stories on the internet to make a certain site or ideology successful. We, the consumers, decide what content appears on the Internet.
Make no mistake about it, you are the most important person on the Internet, and you have the power to bring about a great online good. Here's how.
Blocking out the bad
Many people voice objections over content on the Internet, but never forget that marketers only push what sells. When we take the time to block, flag, call-out or simply ignore inappropriate content, it dies away — and this concept goes far beyond pornography. If you don't like mommy shaming, kindly comment your disapproval to someone who shares a judgy article. If you dislike the objectification of women in advertising, flag or report content that makes you uncomfortable. Just make sure to express yourself in a respectful, noncondenscending way.
Sometimes we get too complacent with what flashes across our screens, incorrectly assuming there's nothing we can do about it. It takes courage to block someone from your news feed or unlike a page on Facebook. It also takes courage to speak up when a friend posts something you find offensive. It takes the most courage to apologize when you've posted something negative, but you have to do it sometimes. If we all stop tolerating junk posts on social media, we will affect a change.
Being a light on the Internet
Altering the landscape of the Internet takes much more than blocking out bad content, though. We need to elevate our personal statuses, pictures, posts and shares. Before you post or comment, ask yourself, “Is this going to lift others up or tear others down.” We can do so much good on the internet. We have the power to reach a much larger audience than in our day-to-day personal interactions, and with that audience comes great responsibility.
Social media is the perfect place to reach out to a friend in need, encourage another family and inspire others. Don't feel like you have to fake perfection, however. The best way to light up the Internet is by being yourself — imperfections and all. Even when you don't have anything to say, you can always share an article, post, or image that gives you a lift. Chances are great that one of your friends will appreciate the gesture.
Never take for granted the power you have to determine your digital landscape. It's you, not content originators, who decide what becomes popular. Take that responsibility and use it for good. You never know how many lives you'll touch in the process.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to three crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. She writes about passionate parenthood at moderatelycrunchy.com.