Let’s talk a little about what I like to call “social media fatigue”. I’ve noticed friends and family members have posted announcements on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds saying they’re tired of all the negativity, or need to take a break for a while. I totally get it — social media can require a very thick skin (or no fucks given, however you prefer to phrase it) and it can become overwhelming.

But let’s talk about social media for a moment and think about what it is, and what it can be. The internet is as vast as the real world, made up of groups and cliques, individuals and companies. It’s really no different than walking through Manhattan at rush hour, or Tokyo at any time of day. You can find anything (or anyone) you want, and as a result, you’ll encounter people you wish you hadn’t. A few simple rules to remember might make your experience more pleasant:

You don’t have to be “friends” with everyone.

As someone who lives a very semi-public life, I get a lot of friend requests from strangers I’ve never met offline. Some I’ve known for years through my work and through various advocacy projects, and some, I have no idea who they are or why they want to connect with me. In that case, I do a little digging and see what they’re all about. Where they work and live, and who we might have in common. I also try to guess what it is they might hope to gain from being connected with me, or what they can share. If the stars align, I click the “accept” button. If not, well, that’s what the “decline” button is for.

A bit of advice: If there’s someone you’re friends with on Facebook, or follow on Twitter or some other social media platform, and that person makes you unhappy because they’re racist, or sexist, or just a random asshole — D-E-L-E-T-E  THEM. I don’t care if it’s your sister, college roommate, or your boss. Mute them, delete them, block them — do what you have to do. My number one question about rudeness on social media: If a person behaved this way in your home, would you ask them to leave and/or never invite them over again?  If the answer is yes — WHY are you tolerating their behavior online? Maybe this is better asked of a therapist, but I’m telling you now — if you don’t delete them, you’re choosing to be abused by someone, and that’s not okay.

My social media presence is my “home” on the internet.

I have four social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin (like everyone else, I have no idea why I have a Linkedin, but everyone  does, so okay.), and Instagram. I have a Pinterest account, but I rarely interact with anyone except my daughter and a few friends. We send each other “pins” we think the other might find interesting, and that’s about it. My Facebook and Twitter are the two main accounts I use daily, and Instagram is used a few times a week.

Facebook is the online equivalent of my living room and my dining room. If I would not invite you to my home, I probably am not friends with you on Facebook. This is no reflection on you, it’s just my way of not being a “friend collector” — I want to ensure there’s room for my actual friends and family. It’s where I go to talk about random stuff like my neighbors, or my cat, or get advice about parenting issues from people who actually know me — some of whom I’ve known since I was in first grade. It’s where I can post inappropriate cartoons or GIFs of actual dumpster fires, because that’s the kind of day I’ve had. It’s a cocktail party/dinner party/pre-game session that never ends, and the doors and windows are locked, since my account is private. Of course people can still take screenshots or download photos of me in my pajamas eating popcorn, but whatever. At least nobody can just walk in the “door” and start screaming racist remarks at my “guests”, or start passing out anti-choice literature.

Twitter is a big part of my work life. I finally ditched my work-named Twitter accounts and combined them all under my own name, so it’s a little more personal than it was before, but it’s always been just me. I don’t have (or want) someone else speaking for me — I like the accountability Twitter brings, and I can always count on my Twitter folks to keep me in line. Many of my Facebook friends cross over into Twitter folks, and vice versa.

Instagram is where I get to share where I am and who I’m with — sometimes in the literal sense, sometimes in an abstract way. Lots of crossover from Twitter folks and Facebook friends, but some strangers, too. I use Instagram more for inspiration and ideas than Pinterest, mainly because I’m not a 20-something in a sorority, and somehow Pinterest has sort of turned into that. Instagram is where I follow professional photographers who I admire, designers and dreamers. It fuels my creativity in a way that Pinterest never will, and Facebook and Twitter can’t, since that’s not what I use them for. My Instagram is also public, so I get to interact with strangers in a way that I can’t on Facebook.

Curate Your Twitter Followers, And…

Be careful as to who follows you. This is equally important, and it’s often overlooked by people who use Twitter. As with Facebook, if you’re not comfortable sharing a lot with strangers online, make your account private. That way anyone who wants to follow you has to send a request. You can decline your racist uncle, your misogynistic brother in law, and your boss. If you’re brave enough to wade into the Twitter waters with a public account — great! Now you just have to spend a little more time, perhaps weekly, to cull through the people you follow and those who follow you, to make sure you’re only getting the information and interaction you want and need.  Why would you want to be careful about who you follow? Because if you tweet @ them — guess what? You’re tweeting at their friends, too. Same with the people who follow you. So if any of them are creeps, chances are they have creeps for friends/followers, and this is how people end up with trash Twitter feeds.

The Sounds of Silence

If there are people you still like and want to be connected to on Facebook and Twitter, but maybe they’re rabid football fans and you’re not, or maybe you’ve seen just one too many photos of Baby Winthrop’s poopy diapers for your liking, there are ways to hide people for a time without actually ditching them. On Twitter, you can mute them, and on Facebook you can unfollow them. This won’t remove them from your lists, it simply removes them from your feed. You can still keep in touch, and then re-follow or un-mute when Baby Winthrop has gone off to boarding school, or football season is over and the rants about his or her team are a bad memory.

Carol From the Block

Let’s talk a bit about one of the handiest things offered by almost every social media platform known to mankind: The Block Button. Your Uncle Chip keeps posting links from Breitbart and calls them “news” and you’re just done. Or that guy on Twitter who can’t seem to stop mansplaining how X, Y, or Z works, and you’ve just had enough. You’re ready to burn the bridge and you literally have zero fucks about who gets mad: Block them. You can’t see them, they can’t see you, it’s like the online version of a good old-fashioned Amish shunning. My rule is that I don’t block anyone until they become abusive. Threats, vicious name-calling (yeah, dude who liked to throw around the C-word, I’m looking at you…) or cyberstalking of any kind (ahem, guy who makes up fake accounts online just to say unpleasant things to me randomly, despite us not having spoken in years) — that will immediately get you sent to the 9th circle of hell via the block button. I suggest you use it wisely, too. Remember the rule about social media being your online “home”? You would not allow someone to threaten you, verbally abuse you, or otherwise terrorize you in your own home (God I hope not, anyway) — don’t allow someone to do it online. I know some people thrive on this kind of drama, but in the end, you’re only giving these people what they want — your valuable time, attention, and energy. NOPE.

 

Just remember — social media can be an amazing way to connect with people you would have never met otherwise, and a great way to stay connected with family and friends who live far away. But if you’re finding that people are making you uncomfortable or upset — think hard about thinning the herd. You don’t have to be connected with anyone unless you choose to be. Make sure the people you’re interacting with respect you and are kind. As for the rest? Well, party’s over.

(Trash truck fire GIF via Giphy).