Podcast by Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, and
Nicole Rothenay, Faculty, Communication
It’s easy to blame social media for recent social problems like cyber bullying and a decline in mental health, but the reality is that social media is powered by people. Social media isn’t bad and it can actually present an incredible opportunity for users. In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to APU Communication professor Nicole Rothenay about improving awareness about social media and using it to find communities, connect with people, and even find jobs. Learn why it’s important for people to reframe their relationship with social media to become a creator instead of just a consumer, understanding social currency to maintain a healthy awareness about how social media affects your mental health, and discovering how social media can help individuals find their own curated “normal.”
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Read the Transcript:
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Hello, my name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer. And today we’re talking to Nicole Rothenay, Communication faculty in the School of Arts, Humanities, and Education. Our conversation today is about the future of social media, what’s normal anyways. Welcome Nicole.
Nicole Rothenay: Hi Bjorn. Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: You bet. Social media is pervasive. It is in everybody’s life and sometimes it dominates people’s lives, sometimes it’s not even a part of people’s lives, but it is important both culturally and in our society. So I’m going to jump into the first question is: Do you think conversations about whether social media is good or bad are just the first step? Can you elaborate?
Nicole Rothenay: Yes, absolutely. I follow conversations about social media quite diligently, and there’s been a noticeable trend over the past couple of years that focus the attention on whether social media is good or bad. Most of the attention in the news, perhaps not surprisingly is overwhelmingly negative. While there are positive examples, they’re often outweighed by the negative stories.
When you see so many examples of the terrible side of social media, it becomes quite easy to set social media up as the bad guy, which is where we are today. There are claims that social media is essentially ruining our society. Social media is bad for us. Social media is destroying the youth. I actually collected some of the most recent headlines that mentioned social media for our conversation. And here’s a small collection of those.
So the first was:
- “COVID and False Beliefs. How Social Media Exploits Cognitive Bias”
- “Florida plans to fine social media for banning politicians”
- “Why Prince William decided to boycott social media this weekend”
- “On social media, American-style free speech is dead” and
- “Social media algorithms to face scrutiny as lawmakers look to curb misinformation”
Each of these have something in common. They set up social media as the target or the enemy. Social media exploits, we’re boycotting social media. It is facing scrutiny. It is the reason that free speech is dead.
But the reality is that social media is powered by people. Social media is not to blame, people are. Some of the arguments looking at social media as good and bad suggest we delete our social media accounts. I simply don’t think that’s a realistic solution for most of us, especially anyone interested in education, marketing and communication, or networking. Some arguments also suggest perhaps that less and less people will be using social media or boycotting social media. And therefore we should also be using it less.
I tend to rely on research on social media from the Pew Research Center to gauge current trends. Their most recent social media research in 2021, which was published about a month ago, says that despite a string of controversies and the public’s relatively negative sentiment about aspects of social media, roughly seven in 10 Americans say they ever use any kind of social media site, a share that has remained relatively stable over the past five years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.
I do think awareness is very important and conversations like the podcast you recently hosted with Dr. Alison Slade about the good, the bad and the ugly side of social media are really important for awareness. We definitely need to be aware of the dangers of social media. We should also accept the reality that social media probably isn’t going away. So in summary, I think there’s a lot of drama about whether social media is good or bad, but I think these arguments ignore the fact that it isn’t going away. If it doesn’t go away, is it really in our best interest to ignore it?
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I love your response. You go into depth about so many issues that are actual issues with social media. And it really makes me think about, whenever there’s a technological change that occurs a generational split will occur, and not to say that it’s always a generational split, but this new thing is going to ruin the country. This new thing is going to X, Y, and Z.
You go back decades, hundreds of years and there’s always this fear of technological changes. Now with the internet and social media, it is a legit change in which we are connected to everybody around the world. One of the fascinating things about social media is that you have to opt in to social media. And so you don’t have to do anything, but just like you said, for most people they will opt in.
But I think as social media has matured say, when it really hit for the first time in 2005 and we’re about 15, 16 years later, people know what’s going on and they really understand how it is being used by others.
But with that said, people don’t always understand everything that goes around with social media. So for example, and this is a follow-up question. Twitter is always used in news, but the percentage of people who actually use Twitter and tweet is a very small percentage and it’s a specific demographic. Do you have any ideas and thoughts about Twitter and how it over-represents certain people?
Nicole Rothenay: I think that is an excellent point. So Twitter, it’s interesting that it’s in the news the most, but it’s one of my least interesting platforms because I think it’s least representative of people and their opinions for a variety of reasons.
But maybe to take a slightly different tack on your question, I know that many people will think about who is on social media and where they are. Well, my friends no longer use Facebook. So Facebook is dead and I tend to rely on Pew Research Center and as a social media marketer in the past, I’m interested in looking at where people are actually and how they are actually using social media. And Pew Research Center shows that YouTube is the number one most important platform for all generations. I think they were even showing that 49% of people, 50 and over use YouTube. And that to me is amazing and outstanding.
And so Facebook follows very closely behind that, even for, I say students, but even for people in their 20s. And so when it comes to Twitter, Twitter is much lower on that scale. And so I think that in reference to your question to say, why do we look at Twitter as an example? I think it’s news mongering. News people are looking for a certain story to tell, and that story is typically a negative story.
And so when we look at finding evidence for the point of view that we want to broadcast, that it’s easiest to go to our preferred platforms and our preferred audiences. And so a journalist is going to find much more ammunition for their argument and for their story on Twitter.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I completely agree. Twitter is kind of the best and worst of human nature in the sense that if you can, you can succinctly communicate in 280 characters, basically your thoughts. But at the same time, Twitter does not acknowledge sound, logical and reasonable arguments versus if people start to dogpile or are just mean, Twitter is the perfect social media platform for that.
There’s just so many other platforms. And like you said, Facebook has gone down in popularity, but it’s still in the billions. And so even though people might not be using Facebook as much as they used to people still connect and it’s still a way to connect. And so that leads me to the second question is, so if we accept that social media isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, what do you suggest?
Nicole Rothenay: I think my easy answer and you kind of nodded to this earlier is just to embrace technology. So maybe to become a creator rather than a consumer. To think less of consuming content put out by other people and maybe finding ways to become much more active in it. And maybe avoid Twitter and the endless conversations about your opinion.
I do, like you mentioned, I want to start with the caveat that not everyone needs to be on social media. There sometimes feels like quite a bit of pressure to be present on every platform, but that isn’t sustainable for most of us and it’s just not necessary. So I think we start by understanding why we’re using social media in the first place. So my suggestion of course, is to use social media to create, to learn something, to connect professionally or to seek out advice from a very specific audience.
I am particularly interested in rhetoric. Many of us think of rhetoric as purely persuasion or the tactics we take to persuade someone. I think of rhetoric as all communication. I think all communication is persuasive in some way and is therefore rhetorical. So rhetoric for me could be boiled down very simply to three key ideas, purpose, context, and audience. It’s much more complicated than that, of course, but I think we often misconstrue the audience consideration.
For example, in school, your English or communication teacher will ask you to write something. And they’ll ask you to think about your target audience. You might answer the teacher and that the teacher will say, “No, you can’t use me as your audience.” So the student will say, “Okay, my classmates” and the teacher might respond, “No, no pick a real audience.” And so the student will probably roll their eyes and say, “Okay, my audience is the general public or the government or school boards.”
They’ll go write their essay. And they’re really just writing it for the teacher, but pretending they’re writing it for “real audience.” I don’t think that’s very effective for learning how to think about audience.
So there’s a Greek concept of Kairos and it’s a rhetorical concept that considers the timeliness of your message. It means the right place at the right time for the right audience. And that’s really hard to find, especially in academic settings when you’re writing essays for teachers. So I think using social media is a great way to better understand, and actually connect with real audiences in real time.
So you can get instant feedback for small ideas. And that is really powerful, whether you agree with what the person is saying or not, or what the feedback is. So perhaps you don’t actually need a captive audience depending on your personal goals, but understanding how audience works on social media can help you find the right communities.
For example, I was a social media manager for my university, and there are two colleges in the city where I live. So there are two social media managers who manage university social media accounts. So typically networking means I need to wait for an annual conference to connect with other like-minded people in my profession. I met the other person who manages social media in my city, and we had a chat and it was very helpful.
But with social media, I was able to find a group of hundreds of social media managers who managed social media for universities, from community college, all the way through big traditional R1 schools. This group was fundamental to my success and I was able to troubleshoot, find ideas, and commiserate with people in my same situation nearly every day. How amazing is that?
So as a researcher, I’m interested in quite a few subjects, including military and writing matters. And I had to wait for an annual conference to find other people interested in that specific topic. And the group of the annual conference was very excited, but it was still very, very small.
Social media allows us to build and create communities in effective ways that are perhaps more effective than maybe traditional formats have allowed. So my major suggestion is to become a creator in some way to think of how you can become a creator, focus on finding your audience, your community, and creating rather than consuming.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I love that. And I, 100% support that of becoming a creator than just a consumer. If you’re actively engaged and in the product, so if you’re actively engaged in social media, then you have a different perspective on it. Versus if you’re passively consuming it, then you just kind of consume whatever is sent to you. And at the worst you can consume it without thinking. And that’s where misinformation and disinformation can really affect people in a very negative way.
As a side question, I’m going to set up a few scenarios for you. And if you could tell me just from your perspective, which social media platforms would be better or most advantageous for people. So if you’re somebody who’s looking for a job, as a early- to mid-career professional, which social media platforms should they be on?
Nicole Rothenay: I think this is a great question, platforms are probably one of the topics that I’m really interested in. So I think the easy answer is LinkedIn, of course. Hopefully if you ever Google anything about how to network or how to find other people for your career, you’re going to run into the idea that LinkedIn is the best for you to have your portfolio set up, to have your resume available, to present a career-minded profile presence. And that’s what career seekers are on that platform for that’s what they’re going to be looking for.
But the less easy answer of course is thinking about what your goal is in the first place, which of course makes it hard to answer. So it depends on what you’re trying to do. So if you’re a journalist, maybe Twitter. So we were talking about how on Twitter journalists use that place as an audience, because that’s a place where you can communicate very quickly with a very specific type of audience.
And so if you’re looking for a job as a journalist, rather than looking for job ads, you’re trying to set yourself up as a freelance journalist, Twitter could be your best platform. If you’re looking for more traditional forms of work, LinkedIn is the best place to be because you’re going to find some job ads. You’re going to find different ways to connect very directly to people who are hiring and to hiring recruiters, but you could also find jobs and have a presence on any platform that you enjoy.
So I say LinkedIn, because I think it’s important to be on LinkedIn for professional presence, but the real answer is find the platform that you enjoy the most and then find the correct community on that platform. So if you look at Facebook or you look at Reddit, which are two of my favorites, you can find that there are huge groups of communities and diving into those communities can really help you connect in a really interesting way.
So for our conversation, I was looking at a lot of mental health topics on YouTube and mental health creators who create content for YouTube. And in doing that, going down the rabbit hole, that research, of course, I found a community for what they call NewTubers on Reddit.
And so if somebody wanted to become a YouTube creator for mental health, rather than say, go get on LinkedIn and set up your projects and set up your portfolio and show people that you can do this, I would say, get on YouTube, make videos, and perhaps go to this Reddit community on YouTube or on, I think it’s the sub-Reddit NewTuber, go there and connect and actually network with people who are interested in your field.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s excellent. I really like how you mentioned Facebook and Reddit, because Facebook, as we talked about is hugely popular, but it really connects you to any community out there. And I’ll say this in a positive way, it connects you to any community that you really can connect all around the country with other people, like-minded people, in a very positive way.
And so how can connecting with those people help you. And especially for people with Reddit who aren’t familiar with Reddit and Reddit seems a little confusing. I acknowledge it looks a little confusing. What’s a good way of jumping on and finding those communities to help you in your career or in your personal life?
Nicole Rothenay: I think those are excellent questions and that’s something that I’m still working on every day. And I am obviously super interested in this topic. And so I love to really dive into new communities all the time.
My easy answer is practice. It takes practice finding those communities. And sometimes you’ll think that you have the right community for even a year. I’ve been in communities on, I stalk people in different random communities that I don’t actually have any professional interest in, because I’m interested in researching them.
But I’ll think that I’ve got the right community or perhaps the most accurate community for networking with those people when I’m ready to do so. And just watching comments and watching feedback and watching the different posts you’ll start to see suggestions from the audience. So Facebook, I think is relatively easy, they have a search feature that works relatively well for finding groups. You type in your topic of interest and you can join groups based on their title.
Reddit is a little bit difficult as you mentioned, because it’s made up of sub-Reddits. And while the communication titles or the topic titles may seem intuitive, they are often not when you’re trying to find a new community.
What I think of a community when I’m not very embedded in it is not quite what they consider themselves. And so anywhere you can start as close as you can get, and then asking questions and diving in and talking to people can start to help you find those communities.
I think Reddit is especially valuable because they embrace the idea of creating useful quality content in a way that many other platforms do not. So even on Facebook groups, a lot of those groups are created with the purpose of selling something.
So it’s still a marketer behind a website trying to build an audience for themselves in a way that Reddit is not and Reddit communities are not. Reddit communities really embrace quality and having the right answer.
So for me, I tend to start with Google. If I know that I’m looking for a Facebook group, if I’m looking for Reddit, I’ll type in something about the topic or the community that I’m looking for. And then I will add on a caveat to do the search for Reddit, to do the search for Facebook groups. And sometimes you’ll find really interesting sources like a Buzzfeed article that tells you the five best sub-Reddits to follow. And you start there and kind of dive through the rabbit trails until you find better and better sources.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. I love that because Reddit, I’ve been hesitant to jump on Reddit because I don’t quite understand it. I recently watched “WandaVision” and really one of the most interesting shows that has been created in a while, and it really created a whole creator community to start trying to figure out what’s going on in that show. And a lot of the information or the leaks they would get from Reddit and so really interesting platform. And just like you said, they focus on quality, which is really the most important thing in life.
Now I’m going to run by a few things. And if you could give me an idea of which social media platforms to use, if you are somebody, so we were talking about the early to mid-career professional, but you also write, say some blog posts or some articles, where should you post those articles?
Nicole Rothenay: I have two specific suggestions for you. My first sticking with the idea of social media platforms is actually LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is an under-utilized-by-many source for just creating and getting into the habit of publishing articles.
But an even better source that you could use is Medium. So medium.com allows you to create and publish articles, but even better from my perspective, I’m interested, if you were trying to learn how to publish or become a freelancer, Medium allows you to connect with established publications and to learn how to pitch to those publications.
And so, you can also put writing behind a paywall on Medium, so you can create your personal Medium account, put your writing behind a paywall and just start writing articles. And potentially not very many people are successful at this, but potentially you could generate maybe a dollar or so a month for a couple of months, and then you could learn how to pitch publications and to put your writing there. And then you can still share those publications or you’re writing articles from Medium onto LinkedIn. And I think both of those are excellent sources for getting started, but also for doing it, I think in “real life.”
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. And I personally feel that most people should have a portfolio of writings. It doesn’t mean that you have to write articles that could be published on the Atlantic or the Smithsonian or things like that, but a way of creating a portfolio that shows potential employers in the world that you’re able to organize your thoughts, especially through writing.
Writing is one of those differentiators skills that a lot of people don’t have confidence in. And if you just practice, you can become a great writer. The next thing from writing is what happens if you are in visual arts. So again, a beginning to mid-career professional who dabbles in some way in the visual arts, what’s the best place for that?
Nicole Rothenay: Another excellent question, because I am always an aspiring hopeful in visual arts. I can’t draw, which is saying I can’t write because anybody could draw with enough time and practice. And I just haven’t dedicated to that. So I really enjoy looking at different communities for that, especially for professionals.
One easy answer is Instagram. And I say that’s an easy answer for various reasons, but it’s primarily visually focused and it’s a typical social media platform. And it is a great way to build an audience.
The other suggestion I have is Behance which is a really great and probably less known platform for publishing artistic portfolios that you can actually connect to other people who are interested. So it really focuses mostly on using the Adobe Creative Suite, which is the professional standard, but it is a wonderful place to showcase illustration,and to showcase branding work and is a place where recruiters, I suppose, who are looking for that kind of work are more likely to go. So while you could make useful connections on Instagram, I would actually suggest looking at Behance instead.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s great. Obviously Instagram is the place to go because, owned by Facebook and then inherently is used by millions, millions, and millions, hundreds of millions of people. I also like DeviantArt. Although the title Deviant sounds deviant, it’s really not. And it has amazing, amazing art where artists throughout the world share their portfolio.
The next question is, so we talked about writing, we talked about visual arts. What about music? Where do you recommend people to potentially post their music? And that can include purely music or also podcasts. It’s a big question.
Nicole Rothenay: Well, and honestly, I think you are probably much more poised to answer that question than I am because I think that’s your wheelhouse or your interest. But I think off the top of my head, there’s SoundCloud is something that I’ve heard of. And there’s also YouTube, surprisingly has a great way to reach different audiences.
And I don’t know if you had more questions about this, but I think really in largely the answer to all of these questions, what is the best place? What is the best place? Is to think about a platform that you like and to just get started. So instead of thinking, what is the best and most perfect way to develop my interests and to share it, is to whatever platform you are most comfortable with, start there. So if you feel most comfortable with YouTube or Instagram, start sharing there, and then you would probably find suggestions from people interested in your work for finding a better platform to connect. But I’d be curious to hear what you think the best place for music is.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: It’s interesting because the music industry over the last 15 years has been, I’m not going to say decimated because people still make billions, but it’s been extraordinarily decentralized where the major record labels really only focus on their major talent. The people they know will sell or publish record and then millions and millions of people will buy it.
But then beyond that, there’s an incredibly diverse, independent music industry out there that is not centralized and it is decentralized. And so, like you said, SoundCloud is a good place to post your music. It’s also really good for podcasts. It’s not as well known and it’s very difficult to make money off of it. That’s one of the realities, it’s very difficult to make money. Beyond that there’s Bandcamp and there’s CDnow, which I think still, I feel terrible saying this, exists, but there’s so many.
And really the idea is to find a music distributor and always there’s a variety different companies that you will pay them a fee and then they will instantly take your music and put it on Spotify. They’ll put it on Amazon, they’ll put it on Apple. So you don’t have to worry about putting out your product.
And so the idea is to really find a musical distributor and once you pay the music distributor a fee, and then they send it off to Spotify, to Amazon and to all those other well-used streaming sources. So then you can then get paid for that. Now it’s very difficult to make money. Then it requires you to really focus on your product, the actual music, and then the distribution. Of course, there’s a whole side thing about marketing and getting people to actually listen to your music.
But it’s the same thing with podcasts, where does and I use Acast because this is where this podcast channel is. Acast will take your podcast and then they will distribute it to a variety of different services. The difficult thing with podcasts and music is that as a small independent person, it’s extremely difficult to make actual money. But if you’re doing it as a passion project and you’re not doing it to make money to pay the instant bills, then do it.
We all have to find things that will help us. And as an early and mid-career professional by putting out your creative work, it also demonstrates to potential employers of your creativity. And one of the things that employers always want is, we want people who are creative. What does that mean? When you say, Hey, we want creative people because mean that when you use an Excel file, you creatively use the Excel file?
And as a person, employers and hiring managers love to see that you’re creative. And if you can demonstrate that you are creative and if you have that out there, they’re like, okay, we get that. And if you especially then hard sell yourself and how that creativity translates into jobs skills. That’s an excellent way to be again, to have a differentiator in the job community.
My last random question is so for video creators, so there’s YouTube. Is there anywhere else people should potentially post their creations besides YouTube?
Nicole Rothenay: I first of all, want to say that the question employers want creative people, what does that mean? Is my new favorite question and it will probably be the next start of my rabbit hole. I love that question so much.
But so for video, I think first definitely YouTube. So I know that YouTube is the obvious answer, but Pew research showed there was a huge spike in YouTube subscribers and followers across all generations very recently. So in that recent publication, I think they’re saying that 89% of people use YouTube and are on YouTube, including people 50 and over, which was at 49%. And that to me is so fascinating.
And so I think if you’re interested in video, I know that there can be a belief that YouTube is more of a video repository. If you don’t get connected with your audience, then it just becomes essentially a storage area for video. But YouTube is also, I think, underestimated and not seen as nearly as powerful as it is for the most part. And most people recognize that, of course, YouTube is super powerful.
Another one, and I know it sounds silly, but TikTok could be a potentially interesting place to be. I know that there’s a lot of drama around TikTok especially if you haven’t used the platform. One of the comments I see is TikTok is bad for us. And when I get on there, all I see are half-naked girls dancing and I’m like, well, apparently they think that’s what you want to see. So I don’t know what that says about you.
But TikTok is allowing people to meet, to reach millions and millions of other people, especially the younger generation audience. So I think that could be a really interesting platform if you were trying to experiment with short-form content and then as someone interested in multimodal composition.
So I like the idea that people think that they can’t draw or they can’t write, but we often write and draw or create very often every day in our real lives. And I think TikToK is a really excellent example of that. TikTok really teaches you how to do video editing skills in a way that most people would not.
So if you were to say, “Hey, do you know how to edit videos?” Most people will say, “Absolutely not. I have no idea,” but if you’ve ever used TikTok you have learned so much more than even standard video editing software will probably allow you to do. And that means that there’s probably better platforms or more specific ones for video that I just don’t know of, but those would be my two suggestions.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And those are good suggestions. I love YouTube. I would love it if there’s an alternative to YouTube and there are, but it’s just difficult when most of the world is literally on YouTube. And TikToK is great because just like you said, that’d be a really good way to show your creativity. And the fact that you have experience with editing video.
My only suggestion is try not to make videos in which you’re half naked. And that’s maybe because I’m a little more conservative, but when you’re potentially sharing things with employers, they can then look at social media. And then if they see that, it’s better to try to have a fully professional product that’s out there.
And this is a side conversation about what happens when you join the workforce and your social media accounts are still active from when you were 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and then the content that’s on there. Try to always think about, I’m going to get a job someday. Should I really have pictures of me drinking? And should there really be pictures or videos of me half naked? Now, everything’s personal choice. I would personally not do that and I didn’t, but it could create complications for you in the future. And so the next question is even if we focus on creating more than consuming, does the topic of social media mental health matter?
Nicole Rothenay: Yes, absolutely. Even better than saying that it matters, it actually seems to be a perfect platform to embrace talking about mental health and what normal really is. So detractors of social media tend to cite mental health struggles as one of the biggest issues of social media.
For example, social media is leading to greater numbers of ADHD, depression, and anxiety. But it’s important to remember, of course, that correlation is not causation. So the field of psychology is also constantly developing as quickly as social media and technology are rapidly developing. And so greater cases of mental health diagnoses are not necessarily due to social media. They’re just happening at the same time.
You can actually find channels directly related to helping you overcome mental health issues, which I think is fascinating. And it’s one of those audiences that I’ve been particularly interested in researching for this conversation. So we think about whether those conversations are actually more harmful or more helpful.
If we’re saying that social media leads to issues who are mental health, but I’m also using social media as a tool to find communities of people who are like me and have the same mental health struggles then, is it more helpful or more harmful?
One of my most interesting examples, I think, when we talk about social media and how it’s a problem is the idea of attention. And so often what will happen is we’ll say we can’t be on social media, or we can’t use social media in classrooms because it’s a threat, it’s a distraction. It will take away our attention or our ability to pay attention.
And I find that to be a very fascinating argument, because what you’re really saying is that maybe you’re not paying attention to me. Or you’re not paying attention to the things that I think you should be paying attention to.
So if we’re thinking about attention and what the normal amount of attention is and where it should be paid, that conversation changes pretty drastically if you’re in middle school or high school or college or an everyday professional living out your life. At what point is social media not a dangerous distraction and something threatening to your mental health?
So I think that there are challenges in social media for our mental health and those are pretty well-known. One of them being the idea of social media as a highlight reel. We only see the good things. So if we go back to this idea, that social media is a platform where we’re connecting with our friends, then we see social media as a representation of real life.
And it’s just remembering that it’s not. We are seeing the best parts of people’s lives. We’re seeing celebrities and influencers who are attempting to sell you something and build their audience. And we are looking at the nice version of things. We’re looking at something created through a filter or edited in Photoshop or somebody took 20 minutes to create a four second video on TikToK. And those are not reality. And while we recognize that, sometimes we forget it, I think.
The second area that we should probably pay attention to is the idea of social currency. So social currency is this idea that the more followers you have, or the more likes and reactions you have, that the more important or the better you are, and that can also be a dangerous trap. So just getting likes on pictures does not necessarily mean that you are creating something useful or that you are doing something in the right way.
So, for instance, back to our example from earlier, if you are posting half-naked pictures, which of course I don’t suggest you do, of course you may get a lot of likes, but what is that really doing for you as a creator or a future professional, trying to live your life?
The third trap, I think for mental health is FOMO, the fear of missing out. So often we see different aspects of people’s lives that we may not have in our own life. And we get stuck in the trap of, “Oh, I wish I could do that. Or I wish I could be there.” Or if you’re a musician and you see the successful Taylor Swift and all she has to do is post a song and she doesn’t even have to market it. And she has an insane amount of attention. I think that’s very different. We wonder why we’re not getting that.
And we miss out on all of the hard steps in between that, which is not really the fear of missing out, but that’s one of those things that we think we look at somebody who is extremely professional and think that they have not gone through all of the struggles that we are.
The final one I think is online harassment. So we do know that social media can be an area for cyber bullies to exist and thrive, especially when we’re in private corners of social media. So making sure that we are aware of the potential problems of online harassment. And so, as long as we are aware of those dangers for our mental health and for social media, then I think that understanding that it’s not necessarily a cause for mental health dangers on social media, then we’ll be fine.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I really like that you talked about, of course, mental health and in what to do and FOMO. And we all know that these videos take a long time to create, even if they’re four seconds long. There is a suspension of disbelief where we enjoy it. And with FOMO, there was that before social media, I think social media has amplified it where you get to see just like you said, little snapshots of people’s lives.
And we have to focus on ourselves. And if we really have a really good idea of who we are in the world, and we’re not unduly influenced by others, and that can mean a lot of things, then we can enjoy social media.
And even when we talked about posting half-naked pictures, should you do that for your future career? If you’re a model, then that’s part of your gig, but most of us are not models. And so it’s advisable to not do that.
And just always think about just like you said, what people are trying to sell to us, what we’re consuming. And if we always have the creator mentality, then we’re always looking at all the products coming at us in a more skeptical light. And it’s not that you have to disbelieve or not trust people, but it just means that you’re always thinking about what are they trying to communicate to me? And with that communication, are they just trying to get likes, are they just trying to get money or are trying to share something that they feel is important? And so that leads us to our last question is, so what’s normal when it comes to social media?
Nicole Rothenay: So, what’s normal? Nothing. I think the easy answer is that nothing is normal. And so, one interesting aspect of topics of mental health is that we’ve used perhaps a trendy term most recently, I think it started in 1998, the idea of being neuro-divergent. And as I was looking up neuro-divergency I started to wonder what it meant to be neuro-typical. Does that mean if I don’t consider myself neuro-divergent does that mean that I am neuro-typical and one of the answers that I liked the best perhaps, and so I took it to be true, was that no, there’s no really such thing as neuro-typical because all brains are different.
And so it just depends on where you are on the scale. So what’s normal, nothing. Nothing is normal, it just really kind of depends on your interests. And so once you find your community, that becomes your normal.
So what I think is really interesting about social media is that it creates an echo chamber for people who are interested in your very specific interests. And that is what’s really important. And what can be normal for you is that you can find your communities and your interests and your normal on social media.
So that being said, I think that we’re trying to think of social media as something that is not good or bad. It’s a communication tool. And the bad things that we see on social media are just the result of so-called good and bad people, which I argue don’t necessarily exist already. There are just different opinions and different perspectives.
So awareness, and I think that’s been kind of the underlying topic that we’ve been talking about. Awareness is absolutely key. And it’s the first step for understanding what normal should look like on social media.
So understanding that bad things can and do happen on social media and that if we are looking at social media as a place to create rather than consume, we understand why we’re there, then that awareness can help us move forward.
A second step that I think is really important for trying to understand what your normal is on social media is to clean up your feeds. So whatever platforms you are on and you enjoy, pick those platforms and get rid of the rest, maybe you don’t need to be everywhere. Pick the ones you enjoy. I like YouTube. That’s probably my favorite platform and I just clean up my feed constantly. So, who am I following? Why am I following them? And what are they showing me? Do I need that in my normal reality for my social media?
I think it’s important to look at multiple perspectives. So perhaps I need to find somebody who thinks differently than I do, but that doesn’t mean that I need to follow a marketer or a brand who is only trying to sell me a topic and it’s not providing quality information to my life and my interests.
And then third, I think normal is what we make it. So if you think of yourself as an example for future generations to follow on social media, then there’s no such thing as normal because you have to teach others in your community and who are like you, what normal looks like. So learn to be a good example, learn to be a good model of what good social media behavior looks like.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And I love that, learn to be what good social media behavior looks like. And that’s the key, if people would just control themselves, it’s a blanket statement about life, but especially on social media there’ll be very few problems. And I really liked what you said about ways to deal with that.
And from my perspective, one of the things I really liked because I love Benjamin Franklin and his 13 virtues, and it’s a little old, a few 100 years old by now. But if you look at virtue two, which is “silence, speak not what may benefit others or yourself, avoid trifling conversation.” If people would practice some silence on social media and avoid trifling conversation, a lot would be fixed.
And as virtue number seven, “Sincerity use no harmful deceit, think innocently and justly. And if you speak, speak accordingly.” And just silence and sincerity, imagine if people who are on social media and I’ll throw this out to politicians and celebrities, if they looked at silence and sincerity as a virtue, how many things would be fixed?
And it’s one of those things that social media is here. It is not going away. And much like a podcast I did with Dr. Jonathan Surovell, who is a philosopher and we talked about social media ethics, his suggestion was to delete it all and have meaningful conversations with the people in your life, which I completely agree. You need to have meaningful conversations with those in your life and you can delete social media, but like we talked, people need it, they need it for their careers. And so many jobs need it to connect. And so absolutely wonderful conversation today Nicole, any final words?
Nicole Rothenay: Yes. I think that you’ve made some excellent points and I agree that as much as we might like to think otherwise that social media is a distraction and a tool and potentially dangerous. And it feels sad to admit that perhaps we need social media, but thinking of it as an opportunity. So instead of thinking like, “Oh, we need social media because we are reliant on technology.”
If we reframe that for the ways that we talk about it and think about it as social media is an amazing opportunity that has never existed with technology before, to not just establish a platform but to reach out and connect with others. And to actually be able to have instant feedback with communities who are actually interested in the same things you are, that’s extremely powerful. And it’s a wonderful way to think of social media moving forward.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And thank you for those excellent final words. And today we were speaking with Nicole Rothenay, about the future of social media, what’s normal anyways? And my name of course is Dr. Bjorn Mercer. And thank you for listening.