Social media has been around for a little while now. It has been over a decade since Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram strolled into our lives and took them over entirely, and we would all like to think that we are fluent in their language by now. However, it seems to me that social media apps, despite the enjoyment and connection they bring us, are chipping away at our overall sense of wellbeing, and one of the big reasons for this discombobulation, in my opinion, is that we are playing by the wrong rules. I’m going to let you all in on a secret: you have complete control over who occupies your social media space. We should all be doing everything we can to fill that space with positivity alone.
It is my experience that young people, who tend to use social media on a daily basis, feel a strange obligation to follow anyone and everyone that they’ve ever met on social media. We’ve created an environment in which the failure to follow back – or even worse, an unfollow – is tantamount to a declaration of war. Obviously it isn’t easy to change the rules when we’ve been playing the game so happily for so long, but this is creating an environment of negativity for us all. In my own social media use, I have changed my habits. I’ve realised that it is not only acceptable, but important, to choose who occupies my social media space carefully. I choose who is in my life, and I curate my virtual space likewise.
What this boils down to, in the first instance, is allowing yourself to remove people who only bring you negativity. The first step to a more positive social media mindset is making full use of the ‘see less of this’ option. You don’t like what someone is offering you? See less of it! The beauty of this option is that it does not indicate to the person you’re seeing less often that you’ve changed anything. To all intents and purposes, you still follow them so you’re still giving them your virtual approval, but you’re doing so without forcing yourself to absorb content that makes you feel anything less than positive. Sometimes, however, seeing somebody’s social media output less often is simply not enough… Sometimes we need to not see them at all. The good news is that Zuckerberg and his buddies have given us the ‘mute’ button! With this holy grail, we can stop seeing somebody on our timeline altogether, and they are still none the wiser that we don’t care for their content. These two options are fantastic in situations where you’re just not crazy about what somebody posts, but you don’t want to risk your friendship in any way by unfollowing them.
However, sometimes the problem runs deeper than this. Sometimes we need to completely shut people out of our social media spaces. The best way to ensure that you see absolutely nothing that a negative account is posting is to unfollow them (and this works even more effectively when the person has a private account, as this prevents you from being able to even stumble across their content!). Unfollowing is a hugely tentative issue in the world of social media: for many of us, an unfollow feels like cutting all ties. Being unfollowed can feel like a complete rejection from a friend, but this is a dramatic overreaction. Social media should not be a test of friendship, but an extension of our personal expression, so we should think of the choice to follow people more in this vein. We should only follow those people whose content inspires and excites us. We should feel no obligation to follow those people who provoke jealousy or insecurity, something that occurs all too often when our social media are designed to project an image of perfection. For so many of us, there are friends whose Instagrams project a phoney image of perfection, and this can cause us to feel jealousy or bitterness, and there is absolutely no need for us to accommodate any kind of negative emotion coming into our lives. If only we felt comfortable using the unfollow button, we might allow ourselves to reject undue negativity. If we all change our attitude in this way, unfollowing will cease to feel like an attack, and we can all curate our social media environments more carefully and happily.
If this is not enough, there is, of course, a last stand: the block button. This is truly bringing out the big guns. Even more than the anxiety we all have around unfollowing, the block button is a beacon of fear for any self-respecting social media user. But this should not be the case! As I said about unfollowing, if somebody is bringing negativity into our headspace through their social media output, we are not obliged to welcome it, and if this output is persistent enough, blocking might be the only way forward. Recently, I was blocked by a former friend, and I wasn’t mad about it as I would’ve been a few months ago. We’ve had a rough year, bringing each other negativity, and we had already unfollowed each other, but clearly I was a persistent enough negative force for them. By blocking me they ensured one more piece of their positivity in the realm of social media. This experience showed me that blocking can be an act of self-care, and it should be treated as such. Similarly, there is such a thing as ‘soft blocking’ people. This is in the case that somebody follows you, whom you would much rather wasn’t an audience for your output. By blocking, and then immediately unblocking, someone, they forcibly unfollow you. This is a great way to remove someone from your social media space without them noticing necessarily! I’ve found sometimes that there are people who are very much no longer a part of my life, and it only makes sense for this to include social media, so by soft blocking them, we remove their unwanted presence from a part of my life, but without making a scene.
Social media is an almost essential part of life now, and it is of the utmost importance that we start to change our online behaviours in order to preserve our mental health and general positivity. By allowing negative forces in our social media spaces, we open the door for negative emotions, so by carefully considering who we want in these spaces, we can create a more comfortable environment. If in doubt, think of Marie Kondo: only allow people in your social media spaces who spark joy.