Emotional Intelligence in the Age of Social Media

“We are being sold unhappiness, because unhappiness is where the money is”
– Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

Decision-Making Difficulties in a Digital Age

In the age of Social Media, decision-making has become a lot more difficult. Why do I say this? Well, there are a number of reasons. For starters, social media is specifically designed to tap into your emotions, grab your attention and keep you engaged (or, in some cases, outraged). The algorithms that are the engines of social media sites work away relentlessly to keep you clicking and prevent you from applying rational thinking to what you’re doing. The second challenge to your decision-making is the fact that there has never been such an abundance of misinformation. In 2018 alone, Facebook removed 1.5 Billion fake accounts. It’s hard to even get your head around numbers as large as this.

Sometimes your decision-making is affected in ways that are not overly harmful, for example when you purchase that “must-have” gadget you saw on YouTube. But your decision-making could also be impacted in more sinister ways, for example your decision not to vote in the presidential election because of your dissatisfaction with a whole range of issues you tracked on Twitter – if you’re interested in how bad this can actually be, you should set aside some time to read The Disinformation Report from Renée diResta (http://www.reneediresta.com).

Emotional Intelligence and Awareness

So, what can you do? Well, I believe that you can come at this from two (related) Emotional Intelligence angles. The key here is to acknowledge that our decision-making is prone to being emotionally hijacked whenever we are on-line. We need to increase our emotional self-awareness if we are to reduce the chances of being steered into making poor decisions.

Emotional self-awareness is our ability to understand the emotions we’re experiencing – to be really aware of what the emotion feels like and to be able to differentiate between a variety of emotions. Self-awareness is also the ability to identify emotional triggers, in other words what is causing our emotional reaction. In this regard, it is valuable for us to treat emotions as information, telling us about the external world. I’d like to separate out two aspects of emotional self-awareness that are inextricably linked but which we can consider and employ separately.

Consider your emotions

First there is what I will refer to as immediate self-awareness – being aware in the moment of the emotions that we are experiencing and how they might be altering our behaviour. Traditionally when we are considering emotional self-awareness this is generally what we are referring to. When dealing with social media, emotional self-awareness can act as an early-warning system if we are sufficiently attuned to the emotions we are experiencing. It helps us to invoke another key emotional intelligence skill, namely impulse control. This can provide us with the opportunity to do some reality testing before jumping into making a decision – for example, asking ourselves “if I didn’t think I needed that gadget an hour ago, why do I think I need it now?” People who have well-developed self-awareness can use emotional information to help them to modulate and adapt their reactions to emotional triggers.

Anticipate your emotional responses

There is also a second important aspect to emotional self-awareness, what I will refer to as strategic self-awareness. By this I mean the ability to consider in advance what our emotional reaction is likely to be in a given situation. This is predominately based on our past experience. Take for example, public speaking. If this is something that we have done on a regular basis then these prior experiences can inform how we will expect to feel in a future speaking situation. This is valuable information to have as it allows us to employ tactics to manage emotions that might be disruptive. In the case of social media, knowing in advance how our emotions have been triggered in the past allows us to spot the triggers as they arise and take action – or indeed to avoid the triggers altogether. Understanding the impact that social media has on your emotions provides powerful motivation to limit your screen time.

In any given situation we can tap into our emotional self-awareness to ask ourselves three key questions:


So, here are a couple of things to try.

Over the next week, when on social media, stop for a moment at regular intervals and try to name the emotion that you are feeling right at that moment. Then, try to identify what it is that is generating that emotion and take note. If you keep track in a journal you will almost certainly identify some patterns. Be sure to also note the time of day and your emotional state prior to looking at your social media. This reflection can then help you with your strategic self-awareness, identifying in advance any emotional pitfalls that are not serving you well. You might even find that your on-line spending has reduced. Using your Emotional intelligence could save you money!


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