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Facebook, I’ve never really liked you. Instagram, that perfect life of yours is starting to look a little phony. And Twitter, could you please, just for once, stop shouting?
There, I’ve said it. I’m done with social media. Or at least, I’d like to be.
I’m Carol Toller, an editor at The Globe and Mail, and I’ve been struggling with the question of what I get out of social media – and what it gets out of me – for years. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent, exceedingly awkward, ask-me-anything session before the U.S. Senate made clear that companies such as Facebook have data-sharing issues that should alarm even the most casual users of social media. That’s a concern, obviously, as Globe reporter Tamsin McMahon showed in her coverage of Zuckerberg’s testimony, but I’m troubled by other aspects of social media, too.
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others present their products as a way to share fun, spontaneous snapshots of our lives, but for me, they’ve always added a layer of stress. I feel compelled to be on social media and to be active (otherwise, I’m accused of being a lurker), but every post requires so many microdecisions: Is the emoji right? Would a GIF be better? Should I use ALL CAPS, or upper case and lower case? Is the moment still right for this post or has the Twitterverse moved on?
The questions that run through my mind about my public image are even more distracting. (Is the link I’m sharing actually valuable or lame in some way that I haven’t noticed? Will it betray my personal politics? Is it okay to reveal my personal politics? Should I get new glasses for my profile picture?)
Sure, maybe I should just get over myself and ignore the inner doubts, but research shows that my digital-self’s insecurities are rooted in real-world gender bias: Women don’t get equal treatment on social media. We’re retweeted less often, followed less frequently and our opinions are generally considered less authoritative. We’re judged not only by what we say, but by how we look (and we’d better look good).
Sarah Boesveld of Chatelaine captures the pressures that social media imposes on women – particularly young women – beautifully in this piece. The girls she speaks with are smart and savvy about the brands they project online. But they’re also slaves to their social media accounts, and they’re dealing with stress that for many of them turns into mental health issues. And if any of their posts bring out the trolls, a special hell awaits them. (If you haven’t experienced or witnessed the trolling that countless women endure in the world of social media, this mind-boggling account by the fierce Laurie Penny offers a harrowing primer.)
But signing off social media entirely may not be the best response to the frustration I find myself feeling. It’s certainly not easy to lose access to all your online “friends” – my colleague Wency Leung admits to struggling after she deactivated her own Facebook account. And dropping out completely doesn’t make sense at a time when we need more women’s voices to be heard, not fewer, in conversations around the country and around the world. Elizabeth Renzetti makes a compelling case for more diversity in social media, as well as Silicon Valley, in this column and she underscores the point every time she speaks out – with grace, intelligence and fabulous good humour – in her own social media posts.
As frustrating as it is for many of us to acknowledge, social media is a different experience for men and for women. And in many ways, existing platforms have been designed that way. Lest we forget: Facebook got its start as a platform for rating personal hotness, and we all know which gender loses in that particular game. Even today, social media seems set up to reward people for how they look. If you doubt that, try explaining why female Instagram users get five times as manylikes as men.