How to Use Social Media Without Letting It Use You

The amount of time people spend on social media disproportionately increases every year.  


In 2019, our average daily social media usage amounted to 144 minutes per day, up from 90 minutes just seven years back in 2012.  


As the amount of time we spend on these platforms grows, so does our feeling of being overwhelmed with the huge volume of content social media offers. You need to learn to cope with this sensation, become more attuned to the demands of your digital presence, and customize social media to get the most from these platforms without losing your sanity.  


That’s why we've compiled a list of tactics you can use to improve your digital hygiene and mental health. But first, let's sort out why we need digital hygiene in the first place.

Why digital hygiene is essential

The environment our internet-connected gadgets foster around us influences our worldview, mindset, and health, even if we don't realize it. And in most cases, this influence is not positive. Maintaining a constant social media presence can lead to fragmented attention and have a detrimental impact on our mental state.  


According to some recent stats, Americans check their phones 96 times a day, the equivalent of once every 10 minutes.  


From another perspective, checking a smartphone right after waking up is the first thing 1 in 4 adults do every morning. And such habits take their toll.


Along with the growing time we spend with social media, the amount of information heading towards us is snowballing. Plus, social media design is built for infinite scrolling. This is where human computing power struggles to cope with information overload. Numerous pieces of research show how information overload decreases our thinking efficiency: we get distracted more easily, become more irritable, and experience increasing difficulty when we have to make smart decisions.


Since we're now floating in this endless information space with a limited attention span, it's essential to use what attention we have wisely. To do so, we need to know how information filter algorithms work and master infosec hygiene.

Take the lead before algorithms do

Sad but true. The sole purpose of an algorithm is to catch your attention and encourage you to spend as much time on social media as possible.  


Algorithms use basic psychological and biological mechanisms such as the need for social approval and dopamine production to serve you tailored content to push you into reacting immediately and unconsciously.  


On top of that, the algorithms remember your reactions so they can build an information bubble around you, determining your digital reality. The only way to burst this bubble and stop the flow of meaningless content is to take control of your feed. But what specific action do you need to take?  

Digital hygiene checklist

Some may say that the only way to stop being overwhelmed is to delete your social accounts once and for all. However, abandoning technology doesn’t lead to awareness, and staying plugged into the digital world can be useful, particularly during these turbulent times.  


To consciously use social media, we need to understand how it works and how we can set it right, as well as effectively take care of our cyber hygiene.  


Here are five tips on how to improve your feed and not let the algorithms drive you crazy. 

1. Start with a digital detox

Digital hygiene starts with cleaning things out. Unsubscribe from all communities and pages containing controversial or useless content. Get rid of publications featuring duplicate news items and remove resources popular among friends from the feed - this will help you declutter your information bubble.  


When you want to read something specific, head directly to the website. Reading the media on their home sites is also good because, in this case, the algorithms will not spoil your reality tunnel with recommendations based on any guilty pleasures.


2. Clean your friend list

People on social media are sometimes even bigger evil than unfunny memes or clickbait news. These are the people who cultivate the information noise. We all have friends or friends of friends who post extremely frequently. This also includes bloggers who share their thoughts about literally anything.  


It's time to examine your feed. If people you follow or keep in your friend list produce only garbage content, delete them or unsubscribe without giving it a second thought. Then do the same to supposed thought leaders and motivational speakers who have little to no expertise in anything they post about.


3. Bring in high-quality content

This is another good digital hygiene tactic. Once you get rid of information, bringing you little value and just wasting your time, consider filling your feed with high-quality content.  


Specifically, think of following proven experts and truly original and interesting people: creators, entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, etc. In other words, follow the people who are smarter, more experienced, and knowledgeable than you.


4. Learn to manage the algorithms

One of the features of social media algorithms is how they provide you with more information about things you are interested in. If you don’t engage with something, then chances are this will be removed from your feed. Hence, even if you cleaned up your feed and added useful content, over time, some sources will disappear since you will not be able to pay equal attention to everything.  


So, as you start consciously adding different communities, publications, and pages, the algorithms will retrain to suit your latest needs. Specifically, they will begin offering you pages and people relevant to your new interests.  


5. Use each social media platform for different purposes

What is a good digital hygiene practice, you ask? If you want to keep things simple and not meddle with the algorithm gods, start by setting your areas of interest across different platforms. For instance, you can use Facebook to find like-minded people for communication, YouTube for watching TED presentations, and Twitter for political news. Use each service for a particular purpose, and don't let them make your digital experience messy.  

Treat information the right way

Using social media without letting it use you takes time and effort, but you should know it's possible. But it will require you to develop critical thinking and intellectual skepticism, do some fact-checking, and form a personal opinion about everything.


You should also read news from various sources: liberal, conservative, alternative. This way, you will learn to see several sides of conflicts and make reasonable conclusions. Reading sources discussing the same issues from different perspectives will also teach you to distinguish between pure factual information and opinion-tinged messages.  


Last but not least, remember you are not just a consumer but also a provider of information for other people.  


To contribute to a better information climate across social media, try to deliver only checked and useful content for you and others. Like the information, you can find on Clario’s blog.

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