A Writer’s Quest for Authentic Social Media

This post is a follow-up to my previous thoughts on Facebook. I’m a bit hesitant to write it, because, like many introverts, I am uncomfortable voicing ideas before I’m sure about them. However, others must find themselves asking similar questions, so perhaps these imperfect musings may be useful.

I am still figuring out how best to engage social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter) in ways that feel authentic, nurture relationships and connection, and don’t sap time and energy away from creative work. Why this is such an issue for me I don’t entirely know, but I got a bit more insight from Gretchen Rubin’s most recent blog post about why she doesn’t read reviews of her work or profiles of herself. These two lines in particular struck me (emphases added):

  • “I’ve found that I’m happier, and a better writer, when I don’t read these pieces.”
  • “For the kind of writing I do, I need to be honest and open-hearted.”

While her post isn’t about social media, her reasoning strikes a chord. I am happier and a better writer when I spend less time with social media. Also, when writing, I need a wide inner space to attend to and transcribe my inner voice without thinking too much about how my words will be received or “liked,” whether in general or by someone in particular (which is different from keeping readers in mind in terms of clarity and sound writing).

I am fortunate that my Facebook friends are diverse in terms of where they live, what is important to them, how they vote, what they believe, and how they spend their free time. Finding a way to participate in this enriching, invigorating virtual sitting room without allowing it so drain my emotional or creative energy is the goal.

How to do that is something I am still figuring out, but I have changed my mind about deleting my Facebook account and have instead, for now, deactivated it. I was convinced by too many friends that saying goodbye forever may be a decision I would regret. In a few weeks I plan to re-activate Facebook, but with, I hope, some clearer personal strategies, such as 1) using lists to tailor with whom I share more personal statuses and photos versus general resources and 2) setting aside and scheduling specific, finite times for social media engagement.

That’s not to say I do not continue to have misgivings about Facebook’s business model. All of us too easily forget that Facebook is a business driven first and foremost by internet marketing, not a public service, as Paul Levy, a senior researcher at University of Brighton, reminds us:

“The free service Facebook offers to its 1.2 billion users is free because of the advertising revenue the site generates from the time that users spend on the site. This model drives a need to keep users on the site as much as possible.”

“If you thought you were going to start your new year with a clean sheet, then, as a social media user, think again. Facebook’s new and revised terms and conditions will see it observe your behaviour, location and the sites you visit in even more detail. In order, no doubt, to create further features to keep you engaged. Inevitably, these will also throw up further issues of badly targeted content and intrusion into our personal lives – a double-edged sword that can bring pleasure, or pain.” Read more

I do not think that these concerns are hyperbole or sensational. Beyond how Facebook may use our information, there is also the fact that our friends-only posts can, of course, be shared or saved by any of those friends through screen shots or cutting and pasting, which is not a problem if our friends list is very small and intimate, but many people’s Facebook friends also include acquaintances from many areas of our lives.

Finally, news outlets can use social media photos and statuses in lieu of more solid reporting, such as after deaths of public figures or even non-public figures who are involved in newsworthy accidents. Consider this advice for reporters covering deaths, from the textbook Reporting for Journalists (2nd edition, by Chris Frost, Routledge, 2010), my emphases added:

“Often news desks will ask you to get photographs. Always ask permission to borrow photographs and ensure they are returned. Remember that official school photographs may well be copyright of the photographer, so make sure you take some home-produced snaps in case there is a problem later. You won’t want to go back again. Accessing their Facebook page is the best way around this problem as you will be able to get a photo that can easily be used on a website, paper or broadcast and that does not require you to return it (although it is still their copyright). If you are unable to access their Facebook page because of the privacy settings, ask a member of the family to e-mail you a picture either from a Facebook page or direct from their photo album.”

Note that anything that has a “public” Facebook privacy setting, including all cover images, could be used in this way, regardless of whether our Facebook friends (or friends of friends, if that is our default setting) agree to share their own copies.

For now, my quest for an authentic social media that feels right to me is ongoing and in progress. Please share your own experiences and ideas in the comments.

Header image credit: Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)

%d bloggers like this: