Something really weird happened today, or certainly something really weird for me. Something I tweeted a couple of weeks ago got picked up by a couple of total strangers who then proceeded to fight each other over something very strange and petty, tagging me in at each stage in the conversation. My original tweet had been about enjoying a night of live music with my Mum, and now all of a sudden these people were arguing about the relationship status of one of the musicians and it’s bugged me a whole lot more than it should.
I think the first reason is because I try to keep things positive on social media. I don’t understand people who feel compelled to share online the films or books they didn’t like, or the public figures that annoy them. If I love something, I share it and if I see a film that I wasn’t so impressed by, for example, I keep quiet because maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe it just wasn’t my thing. I don’t see what value it serves, just like gossip and bickering in a public forum don’t do any good, either.
I have an aversion to bitchiness and gossip that goes back to being bullied at school; I can’t understand why people don’t take more care over how they behave online. I get that this is a first world problem of course; I just got tagged in a heated discussion of celebrity gossip, I mean so what? I guess it bothered me because the matter they were discussing was hugely relevant to me; like the figure they were discussing, I’ve been single for a number of years, too. They couldn’t have known that, and obviously I’m not imagining my love life invites the same level of speculation as a celebrity. It just reminded me of something that I still wonder about - when I post about loving a play or concert, when I share my writing, is there a contingent of people who ignore all that good and can’t focus on anything but the fact that I’m single? Are there people side swiping all the joy that comes from art for a chance of some grubby gossip?
I think this matters beyond what annoys me. A recent Guardian article looked at how addictive features are built into social media. This means we’re getting hooked on the positive reinforcement of approval, but I think too many people crave any kind of attention, even if that means inviting negativity. As this is World Mental Health Day, I have to take a breath to think about what this all means. If we’re all getting hooked on attention, and negativity seems to garner more attention – as ever the squeaky wheel gets the grease – then what are we letting ourselves in for? I’m not trying to put forward some kind of Pollyanna vision here. The bewildering range of social injustice across the world makes me angry and I’m not afraid to say so. I’m not burying my head in the sand, but I don’t call a roar for change negativity. Anything that highlights injustice and leads to change can only help our mental health.
But for the other side of social media, the side that likes to gossip, or pick fights, I’m going to keep myself away from all that. I want to focus on the things that give me joy – the people I love, the art that comforts and inspires me and the writing that I can’t live without. Maybe people will still gossip behind my back but to be honest, as long as I don’t have to hear it, I’m not sure how much I care. I’m going to focus on the positives and so with that, let’s take this full circle. For World Mental Health Day, here is the music that I so enjoyed with my Mum, from a musician who gave me a memory I will always treasure.
Back away from the gossip and the negativity for your own mental health. You’re much better off finding ways like this to make your soul sing.