The Karma of Social Media

I heard about another scientific study on the negative side-effects of smart phones, especially with regard to social media. Beyond the addictive qualities inherent in scrolling and other aspects built in to applications, involvement in social media appears to increase one’s chance of developing depression by thirty-five percent. I am sure this depends on how addicted a person might be, but it is a significant finding.

When I teach Buddhism at high school World Religion courses, I mention reports like these when discussing karma. I call social media “Egobook” applications that magnify karma. No one who understands the simple law of cause and effect would want to maintain so many connections to shore up their self image. Every uploaded comment or photo ripples through these connections and we cannot anticipate the consequences. 

When our self worth is bound to this process, we are very likely to suffer from negative responses. And there really is no way to clean up the fallout. It is completely out of our control and material uploaded remains as long as the internet survives. This is something that a little understanding of karma would change.

We need to realize anything pouring from our thoughts, whether in verbal intercourse or on social media, has a consequence. Sometimes we put our foot in our mouth and, realizing this, we can make amends in real time with the person in front of us. On social media, this is more difficult because we have no idea how many people may be suffering from our mistake. We have some feedback but a lot of non-responses. The karmic ripple can be significant.

People always say, “But what about all the good things that can come from skillful communication?” This is a good point—and I will grant this is the best of all possible worlds. Unfortunately, we are seeing the effects of a lot of unskillful communications, socially and politically. I wonder what it would be like if everyone fasted from social media for a week. I think things would be quieter and the karmic load would definitely decrease. 

As for me, I choose not to get involved with social media, although this journal is an exception. People say, “Aren’t you afraid of being isolated since social apps are the ways folks communicate today?”  Okay, this kind of isolation sounds good to me. I have enough karma with a spiritual lineage, family, a few good friends and, of course, a wonderful sangha. I will take face to face over Facebook any day. 

These words, cast out into the virtual world, are already dead. The idiot writing them knows this. If these prosaic corpses are reborn in someone’s mind and heart, I pray they will be of benefit.