I’m a big fan of Twitter. It’s been great for building new relationships in both my personal and professional life. Now that millions of people are using the social network every day, I’ve noticed that there are certain segments of people who use Twitter in very different ways. They use it primarily to air their complaints, dissatisfaction and general unhappiness with every aspect of their lives (and the lives of others). You’ve probably got some of these people in your timeline. They can be easily recognized by their constant negative updates that usually start with or contain the words “I hate” or some form of snarky commentary about their job, co-workers, family members or the latest celebrity scandal.
Many of these people will often proclaim that Twitter is “free therapy” and that’s why they overshare so much about the depressing events in their lives. I think it’s interesting that some people describe and use the network that way, but no…Twitter is actually NOT a good replacement for therapy. Venting is not the same as healing.
What you will find on Twitter are people who will affirm your negativity. They will egg you on when you go on a rant against someone or something that’s bothering you. They will encourage you to continue to engage in unhealthy online behavior by RTing you or communicating with you throughout the day. Therapy, on the other hand, is what will help you move past your own personal challenges and actually find solutions to your problems.
Twitter is an interesting case study for human behavior, especially for black women, as we are one of the most active ethnic/gender groups using the network. I was struck by this again today when one of my followers, @blackgirlinmain tweeted this:
“…I think social media is an enabler to emotionally/mentally unhealthy people…echo chamber effect.”
I think she’s totally right. And as it turns out, recent research on assortativity in online networks backs up this theory as well. The March 2011 study shows that unhappy people follow other unhappy people on Twitter and vice versa. In this way, negative or positive status updates (and emotions) get spread online between certain groups of people. In other words: birds of a feather flock together. If you post a negative, angry rant on Twitter, expect to engage with other negative, angry people as a result. After a while, you’ll find yourself with a timeline full of complainers and Debbie Downers every.single.day.
If you do find yourself frustrated with the vibes that are coming from your Twitter timeline, here are a few tips:
Unfollow people who do not add value to your stream (or your life, for that matter). If you have to think about it, they probably don’t. If you’re like me and already following thousands of people, just be more discerning and aware about who you follow in the future.
Don’t get caught up in the latest “trending topic” just to be part of the conversation. This is not high school. Your life is not about getting noticed by the “cool kids.” Start your own (productive) conversation and you’ll find likeminded ladies who actually do add value and joy to your day. Ladies like @PeaceLovePretty, whose timeline is always an inspiration. Follow them!
Reevaluate the purpose for your time on Twitter. Are you spending so much time conversing with negative people because you’re in a state of depression? Are you lonely and therefore subconsciously seeking out other lonely, unfulfilled people online? Be honest with your inner self and get help from a REAL therapist. You’ll experience healing much faster that way.
Whatever you do, don’t let Twitter bring you down or distract you from the goals you have for your own well-being. (And yes, our online interactions drastically affect our mood just like our offline interactions do. There’s research on that, too.) Don’t let your online “friends” disturb your groove of becoming a better person and building positive, healthy relationships with others. Because, as the research shows, the people you follow on Twitter could literally be making you miserable.