I’ve not been using Twitter since shortly after the Winterwatch feature aired and wrote about why, in this blog A break from a skewed world. The response to the actual video was overwhelming and so was the emotional crash afterwards, I can’t function properly in a world of complete ups-and-downs like that. Not many people can.

Since I stopped posting on Twitter, I’ve been reading a lot of studies into the effects of social media on our wellbeing. Not only is it relevant to my job, but it’s also relevant to myself, and my ongoing battle with my own social media demons. You see, we only post what we want people to see – good or bad – and I feel strongly that we only do this in the interests of self-affirmation.

This blog post came from a bit of an experiment. I realised, when I wrote a blog on birdsong in springtime, that it automatically posted to my Twitter. I also realised that this would indicate whether anyone actually ‘cares’ about what I write. You see, any post of mine that’s been ‘popular’ has either been off the back of something media-related or from ‘known’ people sharing it. Obviously that’s how you build something, of course it is, but if you can’t maintain that level of engagement and content, it’s exhausting and anxiety-inducing, not-to-mention near enough impossible.

I know that I can post this on my blog and not that many people will read it. That becomes cathartic in itself. A bit like a diary or journal, I can share these perspectives and air them, on a platform that is more for me, than to garner whatever it is I’m trying to get from people on Twitter. The beautiful thing is that I can write this and it posts once, I can’t login to my Twitter at the moment and so I can’t fall into the trap of retweeting and deleting in a search for reassurance and validation. I’ve been watching from afar and it’s amazing how many other people fall into this trap.

We ‘like’ the pictures that we see, not always the words or perhaps any deeper content, such as a blog. We tend to see something attractive to us and think we like it, so click to affirm that we do. We may then share it ourselves, so other people can see it, because we want people to know that we like it. In a weird way, likes and shares and whatever they are on other platforms, are almost like a currency.

I read somewhere that when we post something, we check it, relentlessly, for 48 hours after. I noticed that at the peak of my obsessive usage, I wanted to post every other day, to keep ‘interest’ up – so perhaps there’s something legitimate in that timeframe. Through my distant observations, I’ve seen others doing this too.

Even when we post something that isn’t directly about us, we’re still doing it for a reaction and for attention. I have no doubts that we do and see things and coincidentally, we share it, but most content is engineered to impress – to show something off. How many times have you looked at an object or view and thought ‘that would be great on my instagram’? That’s when posting becomes part of our lives – a routine of sorts. A bit like the person filming a concert on their phone.

It’s fascinating. It’s dangerous and it’s also a really engrained part of our society. I’m reminded of something that the wonderful author Melissa Harrison tweeted to me, during another time of ‘twitter turmoil’

Never a truer word spoken.

6 thoughts on “Reflecting upon retweets – more musings on the pitfalls of social media

  1. I agree with all of this, Joe. Suspect most people would if they stood back and looked at themselves as you have done. Thank you for sharing.
    I’ve wondered about closing my Twitter accounts because in many ways I’d be better off without them. What am I doing looking at it now on a Sunday morning! But, as a result of Twitter I’ve got in touch with people who understand what I’m doing and I’ve heard about the amazing work that other people are doing.
    I guess, as with all things it’s a question of balance. Not always easy to achieve when something is designed to encourage our insecurities.


    1. Hi Liz. I suspect many would too and it really is a fascinating topic. I understand what you’re saying, I crowdfunded my book almost entirely through Twitter, but I have so many ‘real-life’ commitments that I just can’t keep it up. Balance is key, I’m just wobbly!


  2. I completely agree with you, Joe. I find I experience all the behaviour drives you mention. You’re spot on. Not putting anything on social media is liberating, I’ve found, after being ill these last weeks & not doing so. You’re freed from that 48 hours of ‘follow up’ drive. It’s good to focus on what’s real and in your life NOW – over the rim of the screens that suck us all in. Expect having your young one will give masses of focus ;o) Conversely, I’m looking at using social media as a ‘proper’ marketing tool now. It will be a tricky balance to hold off the attention drain pitfalls it can have, and I’ll see how it goes.

    Have you tried reminding yourself that if someone *really* wants to say something to you, and wishes to have your attention, then they’ll make the time to meet up, ring, email you, or send you a message? For me, I find that helps. Anyone who *really* needs to say something important to you will go that extra mile. Puts it into perspective, I’ve found, because it *is* all a massive demand on your time and attention – stuff we all never used to experience when it was just friends ringing you up or writing a letter/ email. This modern babble of voices is something we’ve simply not had time to get used to, and it’s all developed at such a rate. So we’re still all learning coping mechanisms and strategies to get the balance right. You’re not alone, believe me.


  3. I have started a blog about my journey through depression and my love of nature and photography. It is interesting that I want people to read it, but don’t know how many are, because it would be nice to help someone beat their anxiety or depression by finding something that will help them. I do realise that likes and shares can be a trigger of anxiety if you let them, I try not to. I suppose in the past authors felt validated by people reading their work and likewise with painters, actors, leaders of men, so nothing new there.


  4. We are all susceptible to the instant gratification of getting a response, but people have a multitude of reasons for using social media, and differing techniques. On Twitter I may use ‘like’ as a bookmark: when scrolling through in a hurry I will like something I want to come back to later. After reading I might delete the like because I don’t need to refer to it again. I don’t think this should be thought of as bad etiquette or hurt someone’s feelings. I may change my mind quite frequently about what I want from my account. Horses for courses. Use social media for your own means and don’t over-analyse whatever actions others take. It’s an anxiety factory!


  5. I hope your feeling brighter Joe. I’m sorry to hear your having these feelings about social media, as you say it’s a great tool but not worth affecting you negatively. Those people whom have been genuinely interested in your journey and interested sparked by your book will be there once again to support when your back. Be kind to yourself and try not to overload yourself, I hadn’t realised you have a full time job and studying too! Hats off to you especially with a little one.


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