Here’s my new theory: Facebook is a problem for everyone. If you’re on it, you probably struggle with moderation, and you often have reason to quote the poetic words of a keychain I coveted in high school: “I have been set adrift in a sea of idiots.” (If you have any sense at all, you will think this to yourself but not post it as your status.) If you are not on Facebook, it annoys your friends and you almost certainly do miss out on information that would be helpful to you. Also, let’s be real: I bet you frequently have to repent of your smug attitude about your lack of social media presence.
We’re all learning how to handle social media, and few of us have found a happy balance: we resent the way it sucks up our time and distracts us from “real life” and rubs our faces in all sorts of attitudes and opinions that we immediately wish we could un-see. But on the other hand, our grandmas like seeing pictures of the kids and it’s how the Bible study group shares prayer requests and we get serious cases of FOMO when we go for too long without checking in. So we love it, and we hate it, and we love to hate it, and most of all we love to post statuses about how indifferent we are to the whole online world anyway.
Yes, it’s quite maddening, and we’ve all been tempted to just throw in the towel altogether. But there are some pretty important (or at least interesting) things you’ll miss out on if you leave the water coolers of the twenty-first century, so before you delete your account once and for all, I invite you to consider this:
You are the boss of your news feed.
or, to put it another way (I couldn’t decide which one I liked better):
Social media is what you make it.
Here’s where you start. Make a list of all the social media sites/networks that you participate in, and ask yourself for each one:
Why am I here?
Who do I want to connect with in this space?
Am I here as a producer/creator or a consumer/spectator (or both)?
What are the dangers for me here?
What safeguards do I need in place for myself in this space?
Then, let the answers to these questions drive your engagement with that particular site.
As you think through the answers to these questions, here are a few principles that can help you create a more sane world for yourself online:
#1: Even if you are friends with someone in “real life,” you do not have to follow him or her on social media. On Facebook, you can accept a friend request and then hide that person from your news feed. Some people use their Facebook accounts to link to alarming political stories, promote their home businesses, share hilarious memes, post lots of cat pictures, or constantly humblebrag about their awesome lives. You may or may not share their enthusiasm for any or all of these topics.
If you find that one of your friends is constantly posting things that annoy you, stress you out, or bore you, UNFOLLOW HER (or him). If by some chance your friend asks why you never comment on her posts, you can blame the crazy FB algorithms for never displaying her stuff in your news feed.
Alternatively, even if you have unfollowed someone, you can still view her profile page. So on some day when you’re feeling emotionally fortitudinous, hop over to her page and leave a comment on some of her NON-Jamberry/cat meme/photo-of-dinner posts.
(This is less of an issue on non-FB social media sites like Twitter or Instagram; if someone follows you, you don’t have to follow back unless you want to. Not following someone back may feel rude, but let me repeat: YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR FEEDS.) See principle #2.
#2: You do not have to follow everyone, everywhere. If you have a friend who pushes every single Instagram photo to Facebook, then just be her friend on FB. You won’t miss a thing and your Insta feed is that much simpler. If your friend writes really funny tweets but has fourteen Pinterest boards about essential oils, then follow her on Twitter but not on Pinterest. Or do follow her pinboards, but only because you’re really interested in essential oils.
#3: If you’re not real friends, don’t be Facebook friends. One of the favorite exit lines from Facebook quitters is “Off to spend time having real relationships.” If all the people you read about online are not folks that you have (or want to have) real relationships with, it’s time to make use of that unfollow button.
There are more people in my life that I truly love than I can possibly keep up with through playdates and phone calls. I’m thankful that Facebook gives me glimpses of how everyone is doing, keeps me informed about major life events, and allows me to maintain connections with friends who would otherwise be lost to me. Facebook is not an alternate reality full of imaginary people, like some sort of Sims reality show. Fill your feeds with the people you actually care about, and it’s like Christmas card season all year.
#4: When it comes to controversy, DO NOT ENGAGE! I repeat: DO NOT ENGAGE! Social media is a water cooler, not a boxing ring. So don’t post statuses or share articles that you know will offend many of your friends. You are NOT going to change anyone’s mind in this venue. Similarly, don’t come to the water cooler with your gloves on. When you see that post about vaccines or yoga pants or improperly inflated footballs, Just Keep Scrolling. Do not read the comments, do not add your two cents, do not share to your timeline. If the offending poster is someone you know well and you’re sincerely concerned for the errors in his thinking, talk to him face to face or send him a private message.
Maybe you’re so passionate about a controversial topic that you want to use your social media presence to advocate for it. That’s great–but then don’t get mad if and when you get pushback.
(Yes, I know: occasionally opinionated friends (or, online trolls) can take a totally innocent status and hijack it in the comment threads. If this happens to you, feel free to delete the steamrolling comments, or better yet, delete your whole post. It’s not worth it!!)
#5: Don’t quit, just reset. If you’ve got a million friends and the idea of unfollowing 999,900 of them sounds too overwhelming, you may be a good candidate for a Social Media Reset. This is where you delete your account and start with a blank slate (maybe even under a different name, if you’re really worried about all of those people finding you again). Go back to those original questions. Who DO you want to keep up with? What drama do you want to avoid? And then selectively put the word out about where to find you online.
Be purposeful and proactive in your online interactions. Make social media YOUR tool, and not the other way around.
What other principles have you found helpful in your social media interactions?