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How to Manage Personal Social Media Interaction for Health During Stressful Times



There’s a lot of stressful information to process right now, with various, significant events taking up a significant portion of our mind space at different times.

At a broad level, we’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the response to that pandemic, the politicization of that response, and key decisions that have to be made about school and work. In addition to this, we’re also facing tough questions about the inequalities, and disparities between groups in this country, then the subsequent protests caused by those inequalities and disparities. And then, adding another layer top of that, there’s an election coming up which looks set to be divisive and contentious.

And this is before you consider more personal, day-to-day stresses and impacts that each person is facing along the way.

It’s a lot, and a lot of the discussion about such is happening on social media platforms. And as you likely already know, these discussions can add to your stress levels, which is not always healthy.

In this post, I’m going to look at some of the warning signs that social media interaction may be adding more stress to your life, and outline some strategies for managing social media interaction to reduce stress, while also avoiding reactionary behavior that can damage long term friendships. 

Signs social media is stressing you out

Here are some signs that social media interaction may be stressing you out:

  • Inability to fall asleep or waking up thinking about social media posts or your responses to them
  • Angry displays such as yelling at, or throwing your device in response to a post or comments
  • Calling people names, making personal negative comments in posts, comments, and replies in ways that you never did before all of this started
  • Having angry discussions about posts or comments in real life, or even ending relationships with friends because of such

There are plenty of articles out there about how stress manifests itself on social media, but I didn’t research any of them. I’ve seen all of these behaviors in myself and my online friends over the last months, and it’s getting worse.

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Have you seen this type of behavior?

The more dangerous part of social media stress

What I have researched before, and what you may not know about, is that there is a far more dangerous aspect to social media-related stress.

A good post by lists it as a vicious cycle:

We’re all in a stressful time with everything that’s happening right now. At this point, many of us are isolated due to stay at home orders and social distancing, so we’re turning more and more to social media to stay in touch.

As the cycle above shows, that might be more hurtful than helpful. 

Beware the “echo chamber” but focus on your health

We, largely unconsciously, tend to put ourselves in “echo chambers” on social media by friending, following, and interacting with like-minded people.

This has been a problem for years, and came to a head around the 2016 election as this post points out. I always recommend looking at other viewpoints, and doing so via reputable news sources, rather than social media, but if those opposing viewpoints are increasing the stress, anxiety, and anger in your life, it might be time to focus on your health. 

Social media choices for reducing stress and improving mental health

Social media interaction doesn’t need to be an “all or nothing” proposition, and there are different degrees of actions you can take to reduce the negatives of social media.

You can try each of these to see if, and how much they help:

  • Stop doing the things that cause bad interactions – If your posts and comments are getting you into arguments, or getting you angry, stop posting and commenting.  Become a lurker for a while and just consume content.
  • Unfollow friends you disagree with – If particular friends or contacts annoy you, unfollow them. You won’t see their posts, although you may still see their replies to other posts. Facebook enables you to unfollow, or pause a friend for 30 days just to get their posts out of your feed. 
  • Unfollow friends who can’t stop talking about things that stress you out – Stress comes from what people say, but it’s the topics being discussed that create the stressful context. Consider unfollowing anyone who constantly discusses topics that give you stress. 
  • Do a social media detox – Stepping away is one of the best ways to clear out the emotional baggage from stressful interactions on social media, as it removes you entirely from that environment. How do you then keep in touch? Pick up a phone. Have social distanced coffee. Engage in real human interaction, I think you’ll find people are much better in person than online.
  • Unfriend – I caution people to think about why they friended someone in the first place, before 2020 came down on your heads, before unfriending someone. If it’s strong, maybe keep them as a friend, but do a social media detox. Again, even if you unfriend someone, you still may see their comments and replies on other people’s posts you read.
  • Unfollow en masse – If a lot of people are raising your stress level, consider unfollowing them all and clearing out your feed. 
  • Unfriend en masse – This is drastic, and you should consider detoxing rather than doing this. 
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There are two key points I’d like you to take away from this:

If you unfollow someone, stop participating, or do a detox, some of your friends may be mean about it, call you a baby, say you can’t handle it, or even claim victory for their point of view in an effort to bait you back in.

If the house is on fire, you get out of the house. There’s no shame in it. Also, people who do those things are the ones you should unfriend.

The other key point:

Encouraging humanity in the digital world

The following is based on a session at INBOUND17 that resonated the most with me. It was by Brene Brown and it, in my opinion, is worth considering more today than it was then. 

My wife warned me that Brene had a reputation for laying down the truth in a way that makes you think, and she did just that. She discussed the trends we’ve all seen on social media networks, including the “echo chamber” effect where people surround themselves with like-minded thinkers, which leads to intolerance towards anyone with a different opinion. She shared statistics about how people today feel more alone despite how connected we are.

Then she shared this key point.

Brene and her family live in Houston, and they had been caught up in the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. Brene showed pictures of the Cajun Navy that helped rescue the people in her neighborhood, she showed a picture of her husband making his way through the waist-deep water to get an elderly neighbor and her two dogs out of her house to safety.

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Brene’s key point in this:

“No one asked anyone who they voted for, they asked how they could help.”

The true connection of the human spirit. Our humanity.

Unfortunately, practicing our humanity is not the trend in the digital world. The problems described above are the trend. We have all, every one of us, contributed to it. It’s time we stopped being part of the problem, and in every digital interaction, no matter how small, nor how upset we are, seek out our better selves.

It’s there. I have many friends on social media who I ardently disagree with. I also know that if I put out a genuine plea for help, they would show up. Our better selves are there, it shouldn’t take a disaster for us to show it.

We should strive to show it every day, and in every online interaction.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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