In the summer of 2007, soon after a college intern convinced me to join Facebook, I remember thinking, “This is going to change everything. This is going to change the world.”
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and other social networks, blogs, and interactive online media have undoubtedly impacted billions of people over the past 12 years. Social media has helped topple dictatorships and given a voice to many millions of people previously unheard. It has reunited families, reconnected old friends, and rekindled romances. It has created opportunities for a massive number of small business owners, authors, and entrepreneurs. My wife and I are two of those people.
But there has also been a dark side to the last 12 years of social media: Cyber-bullying, negative headlines, data and security breaches, Russian interference in elections, impact on mental health,–the list of harmful elements of social media, sadly, goes on and on.
Whether you log on and see someone complaining about something small, like how boring a tv show was last night, or something big, like how toxic our current political environment is, it’s impossible to use social media these days without constant exposure to negativity.
Forty-one percent of Generation Z social media users recently said that social media makes them feel sad, anxious, or depressed. A 2017 study found that the more time 18-22-year-olds spent on social media per day, “the greater the association with anxiety symptoms.” Disinformation Twitter accounts continue to publish more than a million tweets per day. The majority of teens have come across racist or sexist hate speech on social media. Nearly 43% of teens have been bullied online, and 41% of all Americans have experienced online harassment. The data is all startling, but we don’t need the data to know how we feel when we log in and check our feeds.
What then can we do to combat the negativity? Could we all quit social media? No, in 2019, social media is an unavoidable part of our lives, for better or for worse. We could put the responsibility in the hands of the social media companies themselves, but they haven’t exactly proven trustworthy lately. So really, the only thing we can do is to change our individual behavior. And it starts with small acts of kindness that will have a ripple effect.
Here’s one idea: #BeLikeableDay, a global movement which asks people and organizations to pledge to take one minute out of the day on February 26th to commit to an act of kindness on social media. Compliment a friend on their outfit on Instagram, share gratitude for a neighbor on Facebook, or leave an unsolicited recommendation for a colleague on LinkedIn. Re-tweet a charitable cause on Twitter, or simply say something nice on the social network of your choice.
Together, one person and one act of kindness at a time, we can start to make social media a more positive place to spend our time, first, on February 26th, and then, maybe eventually, every day. And here’s the good news: Online acts of kindness don’t just change the world of social media for the better, they change you for the better.
A recent study by Yale and UCLA researchers suggest that performing small, kind gestures diffuses stress and improves mental health. In a Berkeley study, participants reported greater feelings of calmness and increased self-esteem after helping others. Committing acts of kindness even lowers your blood pressure: According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, author of The 5 Side Effects of Kindness, acts of kindness release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of nitric oxide, which in turn reduces your blood pressure. Yes, there is science to being nice online!
So, instead of complaining about all of the negativity and toxicity of social media, and making it even more negative, how about choosing positivity on social media, on #BeLikeableDay and every day? You might improve your mood. You might even change the world.