Social media affects the lives of millions of people–it can build us up or tear us down. There’s plenty to read about its constructive side: new faces making it in the world of social media and stories of instant success. But a lot less is said about the negative side, even though there are rather serious problems lurking behind online wars and behind the closed doors of content creators “forced” into high performance and day-to-day creativity.
For some reason, everyone expects those working in social media to deal with each online attack as if it were natural, in addition to the expectation that we keep up with an impossible work pace. An example of what I hear often is: “You’ve chosen this. This is what living this kind of lifestyle means,”
But what if you haven’t chosen this yourself? What if you’ve just been creating content for years as a hobby, but one day, everything you post online starts spreading like a virus for the next three years, making hundreds of thousands of people happy, but also irritating many?
Well, this had been my life for several years. In 2016, Forbes Hungary elected me as the country’s most influential blogger. By then, I had achieved everything I possibly could: 3 years, 7 best-sellers, more than 100 000 books sold, numerous sold-out talks. Yet, I wasn’t happy. In the second half of the journey, I began to feel that this wasn’t my path, but I didn’t have the courage to take a leap into something new. I kept on saying yes to other people’s expectations–up until life forced me to make a change.
Last June, while I was at Philip Zimbardo’s book launch, the psychologist famous for his Stanford prison experiment, I received a message from an Internet troll. A fictional fan page had sent 1 million of their followers after me as a part of a smear campaign. They tried to hack every single one of my social media profiles around 50 times a day for a whole week. In case you’re wondering, I’d advise you never to read through the comments of 500 trolls, because they have the power to annihilate your entire capacity to feel. Moreover, you’ll think that everyone you meet wants to hurt you. You can also say goodbye to creativity for a while, because as long as you’re terrified of what’s going to happen next, your creativity will simply not function.
My reaction was to press a reset button and buy a one-way plane ticket out of the country, because I knew that I needed new perspective. Hand in hand with slight PTSD, I moved to Lisbon for six and a half months to work with start-ups, figure out who I really am, and what I wanted to do with my life.
For the longest time, I was convinced I was alone in my troubles, and that something must’ve been wrong with me. I thought I would stay like this forever, but luckily, that’s not what happened. During this time, the topics of depression, PTSD, burnout, complete isolation, and paranoia emerged in more and more interviews I conducted with international digital creators. I remember them repeating the sentences “I can finally talk to someone about this,” and “Someone finally sees the 360 degree picture,” at every interview.
Eventually, I decided to make a move and dig deeper into this topic. To complete the story, who better to ask about PTSD than Zimbardo, a renowned expert in this field? He welcomed me to his home in San Francisco.
Eventually, I decided to make a move and dig deeper into this topic. To complete the story, who else could I have asked about PTSD than Zimbardo, the expert of this field? He received me in his home in San Francisco. At the end of this article, various influencers open up about their own stories honestly.
Philip Zimbardo’s Guide to PTSD
Apart from a little organization, I didn’t change anything about Philip Zimbardo’s answers this time. With no particular aim to be exhaustive, I’m going to share his most important thoughts, followed by a few famous influencers opening up about the topic.
1. CLEAN UP THE PAST
Philip Zimbardo: What you have to realize is that it’s all about time perspective. You are stuck in a negative past and you keep replaying the old record, over and over again.
“People don’t like me…”
“What was wrong…?”
“Why did I do that?”
It’s all about regret.
Especially with social media, we are replaying all the negative things. Actually, we say we have to clean up the past, and then say, “I am going to live in the present”. I am going to say, “I am a good person, I am going to focus on who those people are who love me, who respect what I do, and screw the others.””
Philip Zimbardo: “It’s about learning how not to make it about your failure. Again, the world is filled with different points of view. In some cases, you say, “Is there anything reasonable that I can change?” Because sometimes, you learn from criticism. Clearly, you want to focus on what you have to do now to make it positive.“
Philip Zimbardo: “You can’t allow to be stuck in a negative past. There are a lot of critics out there. A lot of them are jealous of your success. It’s really about rising above: I have to believe in myself, I am a good person, what I am doing is worthwhile, and there’s always going to be critics. I respond to them once, like, “You are wrong, and here’s why,” and I have to move on.“
Philip Zimbardo: “I still get e-mails about the prison experiment. “You are so evil. You let those kids suffer. You should be in prison. You should lose your job.” And I am, like, “did you read my book?” I apologize. I explain. Maybe they’ve seen a video or something. I say, “I am sorry that you feel that way, but I think you are wrong. Please, read my book,” and sometimes I even send them a chapter. They never respond again.“
Philip Zimbardo: “Instead of saying “I was a victim,” say, “What did I do to make it happen?” You are partially the creator of the problem. You can undo it.
To summarize, you could say: that was what happened then.
Why are people saying those negative things about me?
Are they jealous?
Many people are.
Did I say something in the wrong way?
In which case I am going to phrase it better.
Is there anything I should apologize for?
I apologize, and it won’t happen again.
You have to lift yourself out of the negative past.“
Philip Zimbardo: “When many people anonymously attack you, maybe there are 10 of them, maybe 1000. In your mind, you make it worse.”