Social media, self-enclosure, and false narrative

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

I intend this post to expand on some thoughts I’ve had on social media. The topic is not unique to a specific platform or to social media itself, but I think the way we use these networks allows for the problem to be more obvious. Fortunately, that may also help us solve the problem in an easier way.

Getting our feet wet

Like any other tool, the platforms that make up social media can be used in pretty much any way users can imagine. Whether such use is legal, illegal, moral, immoral, for profit or not for profit is irrelevant for the purposes of this post because the reality is that any possible use will be taken advantage of at some point.

Despite all this, I would like for you to consider what the real purpose of social media is. Although some may use social media as a source of income or entertainment or information, my view is that its true purpose is just as a means to connect to others (I realize how dumb this sounds, we’ll go deeper as the post goes on). As anyone can be able to attest, an existence without communication is no different than inexistence.

The way social media actually works allows for communication and incommunication (This is my word. There are many like it, but this one is mine), and either one can be selective (shutting some individuals out of a given content) or generalized (groups of individuals are shut out). I’m not interested in estabblishing if being able to communicate or incommunicate is a good thing, that’s up to those who chose one or the other. What I’m taking a look at is if those two possibilities are being used in the best way, whether they allow us to communicate and incommunicate content in the most appropriate ways.

Defining self-enclosure

Let’s define self-enclosure as the degree to which we limit the visibility of our online content. It’s clear that we all practice some form of self-enclosure: we may want to share some photographs and videos with friends, but no one wants to reveal personal adresses or phone numbers to people unknown. So self-enclosure works in a similar way to InfoSec in that access to information should be on a need-to-know-basis. However, whereas InfoSec comes with its own SOP, self-enclosure does not, and everyone must find the sweet-spot between their target self-enclosure and whatever self-enclosure is allowed or discouraged by the social media platforms that they use.

Whole blog posts can be dedicated to how self-enclosure is a godsend when it comes to privacy, while others could focus on its offensive and defensive uses (catfishing as an example of the former and publishing disinfo when living under hostile political regimes as an example of the latter). However, I would like to focus on how self-enclosure is applied in order to create a narrative of positivity. Such narratives are often both false and disrupt our expectations of what life is about.

The false narrative

It is a fact that life has it’s ups and downs, and though we would like to dwell only on the ups, the downs are there to remind us of how good life can get. Personally, my belief is that the downs are there to be solved so that, as time goes on, they result in better downs and we can reach higher ups.

When only the ups or downs are considered, as tends to be the case on social media, the result is the slow built up of an only-good-things-happen or only-bad-things-happen false narrative, which is dishonest at best and can eventually filter the way we view the world. Anyone can try and deceive their followers when it comes to how things are going, but no one can lie to themselves about reality. Accepting our circumstances if the least we can do for ourselves out of self-respect.

At the same time, being subjected to a constant barrage of great things that only seem to happen to others may make us think “what am I doing wrong that my life is so mundane?”.  Going further, chances are that those who suffer some form of mental illness, particularly depression, have an even harder time in separating fiction from reality in social media. The same thing goes for those who may find themselves in impressionable ages or who search for someone to look up to.

How to respond

Whether Joseph Goebbles really said that “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth“, the reality is that a lie can become the truth when the opposite team stops showing up to the fight. So what can you do to keep other people’s false narratives from winning you over? How can you stop your own false narrative from taking over?

  1. If you need professional help, go get it. This should go without saying, but perhaps it’s through counselling or therapy, or some other method that I’m unaware of, that you’ll get the help you need. Just. Do. It.
  2. Understand what’s going on. Humans are social animals, and part of social life involves ranking one another due to appearance, wealth or any other criterion. One upping each other is part of our nature, and we all want to be at the top. The thing is, is it worth getting those internet-points if they are meaningless to you? Would you like your employer to pay you in Monopoly-money? The only game you have to play at is the game of life; a game where your opponent is yourself and you can recruit friends and family as allies.
  3. Remember it’s about communication. Did you join Facebook to debate Cletus’ political views? Perhaps you joined Twitter for the nuanced, well thought out and informed conversations that come with a 280 character limit. I would argue that you joined whatever social networks you did because you wanted to see what your friends and family were up to, have a chat with them and stay in contact, right? Remember what the tools are for and use them appropriately.
  4. If in doubt, just doubt. We are all subjected to the turns of the wheel of fortune, and just as good times don’t last, neither do bad ones. Whenever someone only posts amazing or terrible experiences, you can rest assured that what they’re looking for is attention, rather than communication. The same thing goes for you, if you only focus on publishing one kind of content, take a look at yourself and evaluate how things are going.
  5. Develop better thought patterns / behaviors. Remember to not make assumptions and don’t jump to conclusions. Someone else’s life going great doesn’t mean your life is going down the drain. It is also worth remembering that our emotions and feelings, although aids to our survival, are not reality: you are not what or how you feel. This last point is something worthy of making a series of posts of, maybe I’ll give it a try in the coming months.