I am one of the 58,4% of the world’s population who, according to SmartInsights, use social media. I use it to connect with family, old friends, and former high school mates – organising that high school reunion that will never happen… because adulthood, and our different schedules, have us on a chokehold. 

But it is not always that. Social media can be toxic, and some users just forget that as much as the space is virtual; it is used by real-life people.

Twitter is the worst of them all. In 2020, I unfollowed a lot of people, especially the big accounts of Black Twitter, because of that space’s toxicity. I say the space is toxic because you could be voicing your opinion and the next thing, you’re involved in a twar. It doesn’t matter how valid your input is, if the person who disagrees with you has a lot of followers you will be bullied for your opinion because it does not satisfy their views. This is less common on Facebook, but it does arise from time to time. 

Lerato is a social media user that spends fewer than seven hours on social media: “I use Instagram more than any other social media app because there is less negative news and trolling compared with Facebook. I am not on Twitter, but I’ve heard it is worse.” Facebook and Twitter are notorious for trolling and negative things. According to The Conversation people that troll do so to feel good about themselves and to stress other people. “I would say stress is a strong word. I just don’t like how irresponsible people are with their words –  just because they are behind their phones. I would love to see people being more teachable when they are wrong, instead of being defensive and resorting to social media bullying.” 

Besides the toxicity of the spaces because of certain people who use them, the spaces do also in themselves create pressure on individuals because of what they see. People on social media don’t share parts of their lives that they wouldn’t want the world to see; no one shares their losses. I’ve noticed people using social media to gauge other people’s lives and feel inadequate; feel like they haven’t done enough because their peers are doing ‘big things’. We are all struggling with something, but like Facebook comedian Bathandwa Sefuthi always says in her videos, “Gowa kodwa ungafani nengxaki zakho.” Meaning, go through stuff but don’t look like your problems. 

I also don’t share much of my stuff on social media. I share jokes; I post pictures of me smiling, and out eating with my loved ones; but never how I struggle with anxiety. I post my new trip to a different province; not how I saved up for it. And other people use that to think I now have money. Social media is a façade to some extent, but real people use it. Don’t just be cruising and say things that hurt others’ feelings.

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Tell us: How much time do you spend on social media? And does it negatively affect your feelings of wellbeing?