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Normalizing Behavior ... the Influence of Social Media

Did you ever notice that as soon as you start a new diet, you begin to see all varieties of forbidden, delicious food on your social media feed? Recipes for cakes, cookies, pies, pizza, ribs, wings, burgers - everything you've decided to abstain from eating. It's almost painful to scroll through - and I have found myself scrolling extra fast to get past some of those posts before my mouth begins to water. If you ever want to sabotage a diet, just get on FaceBook.

And what gives with those time-wasting pics asking you to get rid of something ... or choose only one ... Have you gotten sucked in by one of those? You type in your answer, which becomes one of hundreds, AND you now have a craving for whatever was in the pic. Why? Why do we care? And yes, I'm guilty. This is not necessarily a normalization of behavior, but I think we indulge because we want our voice to be heard - and albeit idiotic, it's a safe way to express our opinion on something safe.

FaceBook and other social media outlets are in the business of influence. Not only do they control the content (if they don't like something), but their algorithms decide who gets to see what. I've decided to spend a lot less time on social media these days, because the effect these companies have on our lives is scary.

First of all, it is no coincidence that the moment you even think about buying something, your feed becomes plastered with ads for that very product. How do they know? What's going on? One friend was talking to his wife in the car about stopping at a hardware store for a product. He wasn't even on social media at the time, but when he got home, there was an ad for that very product from the specific store he had mentioned they might stop at. True story. Yes, there is another algorithm at work here, but whose business is it when I want to purchase something? I don't need any help. Stop spying on me!

Beyond the algorithms, social media normalizes behavior that we may not otherwise feel is good or desirable. I'm no purist, but the amount of friends and acquaintances posting about how much they drank or how they skipped their workout and just watched tv on the couch all day, is crazy. "Everything is okay because I posted it on FaceBook and now the world loves me!" We laugh at the behavior and move on. But for some, seeing others engage in this behavior is almost like permission for them to do the same. "Oh, I see my popular friends are drinking today. I guess I will, too." Not exactly like that - but we are influenced by what we see our friends doing. Many of us suffer from FOMO and it's human nature to want to belong to a group, to be accepted by others. Fear of missing out results in people behaving not as themselves, but the way they think they should. The way they perceive others to act. But what they don't understand is that it's all a show. That person posting about "bad" behavior is really looking for acceptance and forgiveness. "Yes, I did something that might not have been good, but if I post it on FaceBook, people will like it and all will be well."

Scrolling through Facebook or any other social media, you're bound to see good examples of behavior as well - not everyone's moral compass is broken. I see prayers and quotes and beautiful pictures of gardens and family activities - all with positive messages of love, friendship, support. These are the posts I long for - and I stop scrolling to add a <3 or leave a comment. But others skip the sweet content in search of the naughty and interesting. And how many times have you rushed past anything that remotely resounded of religion? It seems to be one of those topics that people avoid, when it could (possibly) have a good influence on your life. Why do we do that? Of course, I for one will scroll past anything that tries to guilt me into action. I don't believe a Facebook meme should have any influence over my beliefs and my actions.

Oh, and don't get me started about politics. That's another area where people jump on a bandwagon and get really noisy. They post things that they would probably never say to someone in person - or if they did, the message would be subdued and more polite. It seems there is some kind of unwritten rule that you can post whatever you like on social media, and the louder and ruder, the better. We can hide behind our computers and know that someone (and usually a lot of someones) will like or love our post and give us support. But it's so easy to hit that like button, right? What does that even mean? "I see you." Or "I agree with you?" We don't really know. Both sides of the political spectrum and everyone in between is guilty of this. We tend to like to be part of a group and we share political rants not as a means to gain support for our own opinion, but to become an accepted member of the group.

So how do we solve this problem? I don't think we can. I think the smart ones are the people who have never really engaged in social media. I used to think they were odd. Why the heck wouldn't you have a FaceBook page? It's so fun! But now I see the negative influence it can have, and I've changed my tune. I'll keep my account, but I will be more discerning about what I stop to look at - and also what I post. We tend to post the best of our lives, putting our best face forward, but that's not real and it's not honest. I'll try to create a better balance of who I am - if people are interested at all. The only influence I need to give is that life has its up and downs, and that God has a plan for us all.

When you view social media, keep this in mind. FaceBook has become cluttered with garbage. Nothing is real. Not everything is as it appears. Relationships are much stronger when based on real, face-to-face interactions. Don't be influenced by loud posts and flashy pictures. Live your life in the way you feel is best. Be yourself.

PS - This is an opinion piece. I know not everyone feels the same way - just getting some thoughts off my brain.

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