First Hand — Entry Level Activist on the benefits of social (media) distancing
Over the past few months, where social distancing has been keeping us apart, social media has kept us connected. But at what point does the desire to stay in-the-loop with the endless breaking-news updates and images start to impact negatively on our mental health? This is something content strategist Faith Robinson asked herself as she posted about the importance of ‘social media distancing’ on her Instagram account, Entry Level Activist. Based in Copenhagen, Faith shares insights and learnings from her own feelings of exhaustion, and the steps we can all take to social media distance.
As we continue to isolate in flats, apartments and (momentarily private) corners of shared housing, the only muscle-memory I seem to recognise is the familiar tap of absentmindedly opening Instagram, again.
We’re on social media constantly and, even before this crisis, we were replacing real-life contact with online validation, delivered through the mystical currency of engagement metrics. But as our need for human touch increases during lockdown, so do the mental health implications – driven by a dependence on social media. It’s a crisis within a health crisis, alongside the ongoing climate crisis, and it’s scary.
I started Entry Level Activist in 2019 to make activism less overwhelming and more relatable. Inviting people in rather than calling them out, the feed includes explainers of key terms and cultural phenomena from ‘OK boomer’ to ‘greenwashing’. And during lockdown, I started to think: If we can distance ourselves from strangers in real life for health reasons, then surely the same can be true for social media? I guess that’s what I wanted to explore when I published a post defining ‘social (media) distancing’ on Entry Level Activist last month.
Getting away from (mis)information overload
We all know by now that social media and mental health are connected in intimate ways. Put bluntly, I find Instagram difficult to deal with sometimes: measuring yourself against social media algorithms is one thing, but in the context of a global health pandemic, the desire to understand, or even try and help the situation via a (mis)information overload is a nightmare.
Week two into lockdown, I fell into a dizzying scroll-hole of egocentric panic. Between checking the latest online case numbers, messaging family and friends and constantly checking all my social media feeds, the intensity of trying to understand it all hit me hard. So, feeling emotional and exhausted, I logged off for three full days. I needed the space and peace of mind that the online world just could not deliver.
After some baking, jigsaw-puzzling, a few fantastic conversations and movies later, the tension in my body started to ease away. It reminded me why I started an occasional mini-movement, #nophonefridays, a while back – when Corona was nothing more than a pale, summer lager.
“I find Instagram difficult to deal with sometimes...Week two into lockdown, I fell into a dizzying scroll-hole of egocentric panic.”
To share or not to share
Opening the app a few days later, I came back to all kinds of posts that suddenly felt weird. The way that Covid-19 was affecting different countries was cruelly highlighted by the collage of international content on my feed. This included follower-attacks on influencers still travelling, non-medical designer face masks, humble-brag selfies from couples in luxury summerhouses, contrasted with pictures of packed-out medical facilities. The balance of social media felt even more distorted than usual.
So much felt inappropriate, especially when complemented by real-time news updates and press conferences on TV. Even with my own Instagram posts, I was baffled by what to share. Fresh out of my social media distancing exercise, I quickly realised the value of holding back during such an insanely sensitive and fast-moving time. It’s everyone’s individual prerogative as to how much they share on social media, but it’s important to flex that empathy muscle, whoever you are, and especially if you’re in a place of privilege. Despite long debates with friends on this, it’s a point I truly stand by.
Good social media should enrich
So... are you sensing the hypocrisy yet? If yes, you are not alone. Whether it’s guiltily eating meat while aspiring to be vegan, shopping unethical brands while caring about environmental justice, or scrolling social media while knowing full-well it’s not going to make you feel good. We’re all complicit in actions that contradict our beliefs.
Social media can enrich as much as it aggravates, but harnessing positive opportunities in great, informative content is what drives me to keep creating. In my mind, good social media should cut through the noise, meet you where you are and help develop your individual thoughts or concerns into some kind of measurable, IRL (entry level) progress.
With all that in mind, these are some of my top tips for practicing good social media distancing.
Tips for social (media) distancing
Have a #nophonefriday
I started doing #nophonefridays a little while back. They actually started as an annoying accident when I left my phone at home. But after experiencing the creativity it allowed me, I started advocating for it. Through lockdown we’ve come to rely on communication with friends, family and the world, so I appreciate that right now, a full day without your phone could be extremely lonely. But when lockdown lifts, I’d definitely give it a try.
Take phone-free walks
Craving human touch is normal when we’re physically alone, and many of us are replacing in-person connection with increased screen-time. One antidote is cuddling a pet, but something more accessible is exercise, which is a habit I’m certainly relying on during lockdown for mood and mental health benefits. It sounds simple, but try to have daily time outside without your phone, to widen your own viewpoint on things.
Chat about it
If you’re not up for social media distancing but still feel weird about it right now, why not have a conversation with someone about it? This will help you articulate what you want out of that world, since it’s easy to forget that a lot of what causes us anxiety online is self-imposed.
Follow things that nourish and inspire you
Only follow accounts you actually like. Explore your autonomy. Find accounts that speak your language and help you feel good through thinking and learning.
Actioning something that makes the word better, however simple, is part of the goal with Entry Level Activist, and no choice or question is too basic. So, if the online world leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed, try a bit of social media distancing and see if it helps you find better perspective and balance within.