Okay, but seriously, can we talk about this a second? Because I find myself more demoralized than ever by the things I see on the internet, and I’ve come to some pretty awful realizations as of late. Forgive me in advance; maybe most of you made these discoveries long before I did. But as someone who has romanticized humanity to the point of complete naivety, I guess I let myself be blind to these things for far too long.
I remember when we all began to realize that Facebook was a toxic place.
Do you remember that? Suddenly, everyone was arguing over politics and wedding cakes. We all found out our favorite aunt or uncle was, like, super racist. We had to block family members, old friends from high school, that awful ex we had a hard time getting over but who we suddenly could see — through the window of Facebook — how terrible they truly were. Even if our accounts were set to private so to not reach the World Wide Web, we still had to deal with this shit. It was unbearable. Untenable. Unenjoyable.
So, when we discovered TikTok at the beginning of the pandemic and the resultant shut-downs, it felt like a breath of fresh air!
There was no bickering. No in-fighting. We all learned fun little dances, memorized sounds and lip-synced to them, duetted people we liked just to show their content to our own audiences. It was spectacular! For me, it was a creative outlet where I could express myself in a new way — completely decoupled from all my other social media accounts which, at that time, had been inextricably linked to my business, LYMIA BRAND. For the first time, I could just be me.
As time went on and a lot of us grew an audience on TikTok, we began to realize that this was an incredible opportunity to talk about things that truly matter. We stopped doing dance trends and started having conversations about things that were truly important to us. And for a while, it was great. I learned so many things, made connections with incredible people, and had perspective-shifting conversations with people who knew about things I didn’t. I got to build my own community of women empowerment, de-centering men for a while, not because we don’t like them but because women deserve to be the main character, too. It was a wonderful time.
Until it wasn’t.
Soon, TikTok began to feel a lot like Facebook. Only, it was far worse because the algorithm seemed to be deliberately attuned to sending out controversial topics to the unintended audience. Those of us doing work on women’s empowerment found our videos being pushed mostly to fragile men who hate women. Those doing anti-racist work were pushed out to white Christian nationalists. Those doing work in pro-LGBTQIA spaces were sent to the FYPs of homophobes. We all got inundated with hate. We reported these abuses to TikTok, and TikTok did nothing. They did not attempt at all to uphold their own anti-bullying guidelines. Yet, when we as creators stood up for ourselves against the raging masses, we endured community guidelines violations. We got suspended. Some of us lost our accounts. It became a dangerous and demoralizing place to exist.
Some of us, like myself, then turned back to Instagram. You remember Instagram, right, the place we all forgot about?
That’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last several months. I have a much smaller following over there, and it felt like I could actually reach the people who my content is designed to reach. I began focusing on building my community, not my following count. And it was wonderful! Ahhh, home! Finally. But, as Instagram began to notice the energy I was putting into the app, it began pushing my content out to more people. A few videos went viral. My following began to grow despite myself, and soon, all the hate and abuse came with it.
And it’s been within the last few days of this going on that this glaring, should-have-been-obvious realization came to me.
Facebook isn’t a toxic place. Neither are TikTok and Instagram. It’s Earth. It’s us. We’re the toxic place.
What a sad and miserable discovery.
We’re having conversations right now about the reality of alien visitors to our planet. We’ve spent decades fearing them, fearing the inevitable hostile takeover from an unknown and much more advanced species. And I wonder, if they are so much more advanced, both intellectually and technologically than we are, and if they are malevolent creatures, why haven’t they attacked us? Or, if they are not malevolent creatures, why haven’t they made peaceful contact?
Not to get too woo-woo here, but is it possible they don’t engage with us because they can see how malevolent we truly are? Do they see the way we war and rage against each other and perceive that we, at our core, are not a peaceful species? That, perhaps, we are the threat to them?
And it’s not about aliens. It’s not about aliens in the same way it’s not about social media. It’s about us. It’s about the realization that humanity has lost its way. We have become the villains we portray in film.
So, what do we do with this knowledge? What do we do with the realization that we are the problem, that humanity has a toxicity problem?
The only thing I know to do, dear reader, is try not to become all the things we despise. We have to learn how to toughen our skin without hardening our hearts. We must learn how to stay soft, open, and compassionate. We must refine our ability to reject the hatefulness of the world without closing ourselves off from the world itself, or worse, becoming like it.
I refuse to make myself small to avoid the very big hate of humanity. I will not stop being who I am, teaching what I teach, and uplifting those who I choose to uplift. I will not deactivate my accounts and stop the work I love doing just to avoid the toxicity of people filled with hate.
Instead, I will make their world smaller.
I will block those accounts to protect my peace. I will not engage with hate, bigotry, or lunacy,
I will write in my journal. Journaling has become an incredible way to deal with feelings that are hard to cope with or express.
I will go to therapy. I will devote myself to acquiring tools and resources for remaining a soft person in a hardened world.
I will lean into the people who still possess a kind spirit. I will pour my time, energy, and attention into them.
I will try to have a healthy sense of humor about it, when possible. Laughter is a salve for many wounds.
I will commit to never becoming like that. As Nietzsche once said, “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” I will not let the hate and cruelty of the world find its way into me, however tempting it may be. I will not let the world make me into a villain.
Most importantly, I will focus my attention on the good. The world is not made of only toxic people. There is goodness all around — there is still so much love and beauty in humanity, no matter how deep we may have to dig to find it. I will not become jaded by very loud and public hateful masses. I will attend to the good, instead.
And as for you, my dear, gentle reader, I implore you to do the same.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.