5 Ways to Win the Internet

The internet is a scary place these days. Actually, it's always been a scary place. Remember when your kids getting abducted by a pedophile they met in a chatroom was the most pressing danger of the internet? Now your kids are the ones programing the chatrooms.

And yet, since the revelations that Cambridge Analytica harvested our Facebook data to psychologically manipulate millions of American voters, it's even harder to see the internet as just clean fun. We've suspected that increased social media use leads to depression and low self-esteem for years, and yet when push comes to shove, it's hard to bite the bullet and delete Facebook. So how to walk the middle way through this treacherous forest of low self-esteem, internet addiction, and global surveillance? I don't really have an answer to this last one (maybe watch "Minority Report" and play a drinking game where you take a shot every time the movie accurately predicted the future?), but here are just a few suggestions about how to keep your sanity online.

1) Invest in an app blocker
I love my app blockers deeply. On my computer I use "SelfControl," a handy downloadable application that blocks certain websites for the amount of time you choose. Some people also recommend Block Site for chrome. On my phone, I pay $5 a year for the app "Freedom," which does a similar thing. You can also set that to block applications and websites on a certain schedule. For example, my phone cannot access social media or email between the hours of 10pm and 9am. I do this so that I can sleep without constantly checking social media. Actually, it's impossible to actually block the Facebook app with Freedom (you heard me. They're sneaky!) but you can delete the app from your phone and then block the App Store, which makes it so you can't redownload Facebook.

It's crucial to have windows of time when you are not on Facebook or other social media. I am a fan of all the help I can get in this.

2) Engage one-on one, not in a public forum 
Social media is a great way to access and spread information, but it is not an effective way to engage in sensitive political or personal discussions. Although it seems tempting (and perhaps necessary) to engage the racist troll commenting on your friend's post, experience has taught me that this rarely, if ever, works well. Additionally, social justice activists in recent years have suggested it is more important to "call people in" rather than "call people out." Everyday Feminism has a good breakdown of this. Essentially, instead of shaming (or even engaging) with someone in public, it's good to contact them privately and try to have a one-on-one conversation. This makes it more likely that you will actually respond to each others' words, rather than respond from emotion. Or don't respond. Despite being evil, Steve Bannon was right when he said that the way to change politics is to change culture. Work vigorously on changing the culture, and the politics will follow. This may not happen in the comments section of Facebook.

3) Practice Right Posting
The Buddha, who lived around the 5th century BC, suggested that we all practice Right Speech. He defined this as is speech that is kind, honest, and timely. Our words can be kind, but not honest, or honest, but not kind or spoken at the right time. Even if we are practicing right speech, it is much easier to do this with words than online, because we don't relate to internet activity as speech. When posting something online it is useful to take three breaths before clicking "post," and asking yourself, "Is this kind?" As a feminist I am often quite angry at the world and prone to rants, so although my anger is valid I try to make an effort to minimize the bitter complaining I post. It might be better to do that in a journal or even a well-research essay. Is the post honest? This is all the more important in the age of fake news. Do you know who wrote the news article? Is it from a reputable source? If it is a meme, critically examine the memes message before reposting. Memes are catchy and hook us with their humor and emotional content. But are they factually true? What are they really saying? It is important to be critical of even humorous memes. Lastly, are our posts necessary? How many horrible articles about Trump do we need to repost every day? Be conscious of the Facebook feed you are creating for others. We all have to exist online together. Is a video of a cat snuggling with a dog necessary? Well, it might be. My mental health has been greatly aided by pet videos. But we all should be thinking about the virtual world we want to create.

4) Clean-up your Facebook privacy.
I am not an expert on this, but there are many articles on how to do this, such as this one.

5) Practice radical vulnerability online
I was talking with my friends a few weeks ago, and someone mentioned how we "compare our insides to other people's outsides." In other words, we look at the facade of others, which is usually happy and successful, and compare how we feel to that happy image. As a result, we feel terrible. It's not new information that people only share their best 5% online, and that this creates a reality in which everyone seems to be doing better than they actually are. But what happened if we shared our failures, rejections, and insecurities online instead? What if we posted about our loneliness, our need for human connection, or fears-- not just our wedding photos and news about personal projects? Shifting away from an emphasis on posting news (we should be getting our news from a newspaper anyway!) towards honest and vulnerable communication will do much to create an internet culture that is kinder and true. This is because human beings, when they are being honest, are not always happy or confident. We are insecure and crave connection and belonging. This is why we turn to the internet in the first place. Let's be honest about that.


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