Some Social Media & Media Engagement Hygiene And Self-Care Lessons I've Learned From Spending Several Years On This Hellmouth (The Half-Assed Activist)

Second in a series of posts about self-care, mental health + political engagement

Hello! I'm probably going to post a lot of "social media hygiene" management stuff under this umbrella since I spend so much time living inside the Internet. Being more intentional about how I take in information and how I spread and share it is part of taking care of my mental health. As always, I'm sharing what works for me. If you don't think a specific thing would work for you, no worries, you're the boss of you, please do what works for you. 

Some things that are currently working for me: 

1) The Information Firehose Is Always On (but I don't have to be). 

I'm not a journalist and I don't hold political office. It's not my profession to keep track of news, work a beat, or track legislative or foreign policy. I definitely want to be an informed, engaged citizen and I want the world to suck less, so, I'm not avoiding information, but I am absolutely trying to set a few boundaries around my time and attention so I can function a little better in general and be more purposeful when I do wade in. I realize having more choices about how and when to engage is a privilege that not everyone has. I have it, for now, so I'm gonna use it. 

Some specific practices I've adopted: 

A) I turned off all notifications on my phone that aren't "your phone is ringing now!," "You have a text message," or "This is a reminder from your calendar/to-do-list/a thing you specifically decided you wanted to do/know about." GLORIOUS.

B) No phones/internets in the bedroom. I started this during the 2016 election and it was a good, good practice for me. I use my phone as an alarm clock, but it's loud enough that I can hear the alarm and/or the ringer from a different room (if it weren't I would get an old-school alarm clock). Before I did this, I found that I was reading/checking One More Thing, One More Thing, One More Thing, etc. before I could put the day away and fall asleep, resulting in much ranting and worrying and not sleeping.

I also try to wind down from internet at least an hour before I plan to go to bed. Kittens are great for this, I feed them a night meal around 10/10:30, scoop the box, refill their water, spend half an hour sending them scurrying after the laser pointer to tucker them out. Once I get into bed, I may read a book, but nothing that goes "ding" or lets me click on "stuff" is allowed near me.  "But Jennifer, we sometimes see you online Tweeting late at night." Yes, thanks for asking, I've had insomnia since mid-December thanks to a medication change, working on it, and please know that when I do break this rule it NEVER helps me, I never feel better. 

C) Because I do have a tendency to be a bit compulsive and hyper-focus on things, I try to delay checking in with news/social/feeds (blog comments, emails, etc.) as long as I can in the morning. If the world is burning, I'll face it better with some food/meds/water/kitten snuggles in me. It's okay if I take some time to plan my day first, the news will still be there in half an hour. 

 2) Obsessively monitoring and collecting and sharing information/"raising awareness" about a problem is NOT the same thing as HELPING.

Reading and sharing every article and take about every scary or momentous thing that is happening in my country is an easy trap for me to fall into. For a long time, I felt like every day was this:

All my social feeds, yelling in unison: "But while you were focused on THIS DISTRESSING HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE, this OTHER DISTRESSING HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE was happening" 

Me: "I KNOWWWWWWWWWWWW. Am I letting [this scary thing] down if I'm too busy reading about [this other scary thing] to focus?" 

All my social feeds, still yelling: "Yes! Definitely! The problem is that you are not doing enough! It is all bad! Look at this bad thing! You're not looking enough! LOOK MORE!"

Me: "I guess I'll spend another month glued to the news feeling horrible all the time. Let my deep paralysis and depression be the indicator of my caring." 

Also Me: :Furiously shares articles of things that I am scared and angry about: "Look! I care! I am RAISING AWARENESS!" 

I had this (very common, I think? esp. for a teacher/media maker?) fallacy until quite recently: 

"If Enough Awareness is raised about Problems In Our Society, people will automatically Know What They Should Do and therefore Someone Will Do Something. As a Smart, Aware Person Who Pays Attention, Raising Awareness is one of my primary duties toward my fellow citizen." 

Turns out All Awareness Raising, All The Time was not teaching me what to do or how to do it. It was actually making me feel helpless and discouraged in the face of mounting problems, and the helplessness seemed to be spreading the more awareness I tried to raise with each click of the "share" button. I value the people who are archiving all of it, every single bit of it, it is important work, but it's not MY work.

Thanks to comrades/activists/thinkers/writers/geniuses like Lily Be (@QueenLilyBe), Sydette Harry (@BlackAmazon), Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture), The Council of Andreas aka  Andrea Chandler (@NeolithicSheep) and Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes), I've started feeling less helpless these days. Like, don't get me wrong, I still sometimes rock back and forth saying "we're soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo incredibly fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccked" for hours in a row, but I feel a bit less helpless when I apply some of the lessons I've absorbed from these folk, such as:

  • Presidential politics, electoral politics and federal policy are Very Important and affect us all, but obsession with that level of government is far from the only way to make change in the world, especially obsession that is reactive in nature. Voting is important, contacting my elected officials and leaving public comments on proposed policies is important, protests and other activism focused at specific legislation and government actions are important, but also, what do I want to make happen in my community and the world? Can I find other people who are working to move a specific change or agenda forward and organize with them/support them in working on issues with the understanding that this is a slow, often tedious, long-term work? Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we build. I need both.
  • I should turn my rants into actual writing and paid $pitches$ (That one is Mikki, who sometimes also takes me out to lunch to yell at me about writing books, and who also has a bunch of books coming out, so, excellent yelling).
  • I do not share images or videos of violence, especially images of Black people and other people of color being harmed on my feeds. I do not share images of immigrants or refugees being caged/gassed or otherwise harmed. The casual, ubiquitous social spread of these images can be incredibly triggering and harmful to the people who are most vulnerable to police and other state violence.I am not a news organization or policy institute (where it could be argued that documenting and preserving evidence of these abuses is part of telling the truth about them), I can believe what is happening without seeing these images, I can definitely do it without sharing these images.
  • Representation matters, in so many ways. If we're talking about a specific issue, I try to look for and amplify reporting/commentary/discussion by people and communities who are closest to that issue. To me, being closely connected to something and caring about it a lot means you have more knowledge and more authority to speak on it than someone with the supposed distance to remain "objective." What's the old Polish slogan, used widely by disability rights activists in the 1990s? "Nothing About Us Without Us." 

Maybe most important to my shift in social media practices and media engagement is this: 

  • Outrage and anger when something fucked up happens in our world is a reasonable and healthy reaction, but when those things happen, how are we caring for and centering the most vulnerable people? (This is Sydette's constant question, and it's mine too, thanks to her). These friends and writers rarely discuss/share an article about a political situation or problem without also sharing a specific action or set of actions people could take on behalf of those most affected by that situation. Could be places to donate money that directly help, could be specific avenues for calling/emailing/exerting public pressure. Generally if they're going to talk about an issue it's going to be through the lens of "Here's a thing you can do if you want to actually help." They will also tend to skip big charities/orgs like the Red Cross or ACLU and focus on smaller, local, specialized, direct service organizations or giving money directly to people. 

This praxis has almost completely changed how I share and spread news stories in my feeds, especially on Facebook which I use to connect with family/friends/colleagues/meatspace connections (vs. the blog audience, of which Twitter and Patreon are a subset.)

My personal rule, now and in the future: If I'm concerned enough about a [nightmare candidate for a cabinet or court position][a pending piece of legislation][a crisis that is happening] to share a news article about it on my wall, I need to also share what I am doing about it and what I hope other people will do about it. I try to append calls to action or places to donate to any current events posts or news article shares, and I try to do some bare bones vetting of those organizations or methods first. If I can't think of anything to do or don't have time, that's fine, but also, maybe I don't need to share the thing without that. I'm not the only information vector the people I know have access to!

When I do share, the people I know will either click or not click, they will read or not read, they will call/donate/share or not, they will mute my tedious commie pleas, it's all up to them. If I'm going to Raise Awareness, I'm also going to try to do a tiny bit to Decrease Helplessness. 

For me, trying to sail the good ship Anxiety through the rocky Straits of Despair, Action, even a tiny one > Caring > Awareness.

3) Bullshit containment and "comedy" avoidance.

Not all awareness is good awareness. I blocked the current president on Twitter back when he was just a tacky jackass with a reality show that made me hide in another part of the apartment when my housemate watched it so I didn't have to ever hear his voice or look at his face. His tweets are still pretty unavoidable - people share them into my feeds (even greyed out/blocked), media reports on them, people screen-cap them, etc. and I guess they are important news of the day since that's how we'll find out about wars and stuff...but I'm not a journalist who is being paid to monitor them, therefore I refuse to seek them out.

In addition, I never, and I mean, NEVER, retweet the dude or share anything he's said verbatim into any of my feeds, and I never reply to him or tag him in any way (most snitch-tagging of any kind is instant, permanent block from me, but especially not a powerful Fascist with a horde of angry trolls and bots). I don't share it to mock it because he spelled something funny, I don't share it to call it out, I don't share it to disagree with it, I don't share it, period. Sharing it, even to disagree with it, spreads *his* framing and *his* language. There are ways to fact-check and refute it, I hope mainstream journalists learn some of those soon. 

I also unfollow/mute most people I know who do repeatedly share his tweets, even if they're people I like and agree with and if whatever it is IS newsworthy (or mockable, etc.), even if (or maybe especially if) it's in the form of joking. To this end, I have ferociously and irrevocably blocked all excretions of The Borowitz Report from my eyes (I didn't think it was funny before), I don't want to hear Late Night Comedians dish about the latest gaffe or montage of horrors, I don't give a single fuck what SNL is doing, I just can't with all the "LOOK AT THE DRUMPF HE IS ORANGE AND HE CAN'T SPELL SO GOOD/HIS WIFE IS EQUALLY RACIST BUT SHE DOESN'T LIKE HIM HAHAHA." Nothing* about this administration is funny for me. 

(If a little George and Fred Weasley "U No Who, U No Poo" laughing gets you through the day, okay? I don't want to take it away from you. Just...I cannot. And I don't have to. So I don't.)

*Non-comprehensive highly-personal list of exceptions whose jokes about the president I might want to hear without screaming:  Alexandra Erin (@alexandraerin on Twitter, who does seriously expert analyses of presidential messaging and framing and has an excellent dry sense of humor, Chicago story homie and champion bigot-kicker Ian Belknap (see you in the tunnels, bud, I've got lots of books to burn to keep us warm) and documentary friend Ruth Leitman (currently producing a series about reproductive rights)(Her film about immigration was screened for the entire US Congress and helped unite a family). I like the Gaslit Nation people a lot, though I'm not a podcast person so I don't actually listen. If they made jokes, I'd be like, cool, tell me your jokes! In that vein, I hear Samantha Bee gives a good rant delivered with appropriate hysteria. 

Collect them all or curate your own! 

4) Pleasure/nonsense/humor/art/breaks/beautiful things are okay. In fact, they are necessary.

By which I mean, it's okay to seek out, share, consume, absorb, create, engage with art and things that feel good and are fun, joyful, silly, lighthearted. We can care about the world and the problems and horrors that are accumulating, and we can also seek comfort and fun and connection and love and healing. We know what we're fighting against, what are we fighting for? Again, I realize that choosing to engage/disengage is a result of a certain amount of privilege, but I'm also gonna watch every episode of The Good Place and see my friends and pet cats and sing in the shower and go to the movies and listen to music and write things that are not political and use Twitter for jokes without guilt that that time needed to be used For The Struggle. 

By which I also mean, if you read this far, you definitely deserve a kitten picture. This is Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger, age roughly 8 months, whose new favorite thing is to throw himself dramatically on the stairs leading up from our basement/office level so he can block our exit so we will give him pets. He does it every day, multiple times/day, with the exact same level of urgency and drama every single time.

If we are to be hostages to a dipshit con-man and his dipshit family for the time being, let us be love-hostages also:


To review, if you wanted to apply these things in your own life and social media habits:

  • Think about when, where, and how you want to learn about and follow current events. It's okay to set limits, budget your energy and attention, and take breaks. The speed and scope of what's happening right now is on purpose, it's meant to harm and scare and overwhelm us into inaction. Taking breaks and pacing yourself doesn't mean that you're giving up, it's actually a strategic way to avoid overload and despair. 
  • When you share news stories and current events/politics info on social media platforms, consider also sharing something you plan to do and details for how to do that. 
  • When you share news about crises, especially if you're not a person who is in immediate danger or being directly affected, consider how what you are sharing is meant to help the people who need it. 
  • Do you really need to amplify the President's words? I blocked the man almost as soon as there were platforms to block him on and I still can't fucking escape his propaganda. Maybe we can fight what he does without spreading what he says.
  • There is resistance in joy, and love, and creation, and silliness. You contain multitudes. 

You've been a great audience, so here is our second kitten, Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat, Midwest Snuggle Champion:


Thanks for reading, and thanks to the many patrons who support my writing. I'm keeping posts in this series public, at least for now, so feel free to share. 

P.S. This ideally should have been 4-5 separate smaller posts, right? Gonna open some wine and drink to "learning as I go."