Social Waste is a chronicle of social media mores to help keep you sane in an ever-maddening digital world.
Sometime recently, your hand was hovering over the unfollow button of a Twitter account you’ve been wanting to drop for a long time. Only the account follows you back so you haven’t done it. But does digital courtesy get you anything other than a headache?
The other day, I was talking to a friend who mentioned they were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Twitter (and all other social medias as well, but let’s just focus on the bird for today). Yes, my friend checks Twitter daily. Sure, they participate often as it’s become a regular part of their life. It has to be. They conduct business across almost all social platforms, Twitter most of all. We’re so ingrained in social media that it’s nearly impossible to walk away if you need to maintain any kind of digital presence. And while we all fantasize about going off the digital grid, how practical is that really?
There was no reason at all to disagree with my friend. All of the points they made were true. I agreed with each of them in earnest. Curating a Twitter presence can feel like a chore these days, though I argued to my friend that it doesn’t have to.
Twitter is a tough place. What was once my favorite platform now feels like a space where you have a lot to lose. It can be ugly. It can be surprisingly stupid. It can almost certainly drive you insane if you give it the power to do so. But, most importantly, it can still be a fun place to hang if you’re doing it right. What’s right? It’s simple and up to you: follow who you want and lose the rest.
Everyone has different thoughts on how to use Twitter. Some people tweet fast and loose about whatever’s on their mind. Others adapt to the day’s conversation, whatever that happens to be. And many more people are frozen in an almost perpetual state of rage, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our Social Engineering Overlords at Twitter dot com want to keep us mad–probably because there’s some godforsaken data out there that tells them people tweet more when they’re mad.
I would never tell anyone how to use Twitter. That’s not the focus of this article and it’s absolutely none of my business how you choose to peruse a social network.
But here’s how I use Twitter: I want my space to be an entertaining one for anyone: friends, acquaintances, followers, and readers from every walk of life. I try and stay focused on the sillier things because I like Twitter to be an escape from reality. If you follow me you’re going to see lots of Critters references, Nicole Kidman gifs, pictures of and thoughts on old horror films, as well as a whole slew of exchanges with other writers (bloggers, authors, editors, screenwriters).
I also try and curate a similar vibe for when I’m scrolling my own feed. That’s why most of my follows tend to be the easygoing sort. Yeah, there’s a few Hollywood types and bloggers who might step too often to the soapbox, but it’s not dissenting opinion I fear. It’s the anger and negativity that has come to define so much of the Twitter experience. And while we can’t control the larger world around us, I think the platform would be a lot better at the individual level if we all accepted one inalienable truth:
You’re going to outgrow the people you follow.
I don’t mean that in a condescending way. Our digital footprint is an ever-changing organism. It evolves. Its needs shift. Again, everyone approaches Twitter differently. But I think the easiest solution for a happier Twitter experience is this: give out as many “get out of jail free cards” as a person needs in 2019 to reclaim their Twitter feed. Let unfollow, unfollow, unfollow be your mantra. That means not taking things personally when it happens to you.
It’s entirely possible that you already have this figured out. But as I continued to discuss Twitter with my friend, I learned that the source of their exhaustion was really quite simple. They had done far too many “mutual follows” over the years and most of those people no longer interested them. They hadn’t interacted with any of these people in years and no longer felt like they needed to be following them.
“So unfollow them,” I said. “Who cares?”
For some reason they couldn’t do it. I think this is pretty common. It’s similar to one of my own Tweets from a few weeks back. Sometimes you stop being compatible with someone’s online persona. That’s healthy and harmless and I think we need to stop taking things personally. When I first joined Twitter, I knew I wanted to use it as a marketing and networking tool. But that doesn’t mean you need to follow people who make you mental. If you’re not meshing, then there’s probably not much in the way of networking opportunity, is there?
Let’s add one more harsh truth: I’ve unfollowed people who I like a lot in real life. People I’ve had drinks with. People I’ll continue to have drinks with. There are other people I won’t follow at all. People who I love dearly, but don’t follow because their online voices and interests just aren’t my scene in the least and so what’s wrong with that?
The golden rule on social media should simply be: do what’s best for you. But it isn’t. Too often we trap ourselves willingly in these digital prison cells and think there’s no escape. We act as though that follow button is some kind of binding contract. And when we lose a follower it’s the end of the world. Because, be honest, that’s the real reason you won’t abandon one of those mutual follows. You don’t want to lose one off your follower count. And again, that’s madness. Let it go and realize how little you care. I think Bill Murray in Meatballs said it best: “It just doesn’t matter.”
That’s really easy to forget. Everything about this public online word is weird and I do not think we have fully grasped the magnitude in which it has rewired us. Have you ever seen people make statements on Twitter that you know they don’t feel so strongly about, but they know the sentiment will net them a shitload of likes and reach? The dopamine high is real and isn’t to be underestimated.
But really, it’s fine to unfollow. Hell, some of you might be thinking about unfollowing me. If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to do it! I won’t take it personally (unless you’d like me to). I’ll just assume that you can’t stand to see anymore talk of Howling sequels and Taylor Swift reaction gifs. Because, look, I’ve been unfollowing a lot of people lately and it’s all in service of keeping my feed fun (or, at least, morbidly interesting). Yes, when I use social media, I like to have fun. When I’m not feeling someone’s content, I drop off.
We don’t have to agree on much, but can we at least agree on this? Unfollow. You’ll feel really good. And if you do it enough, you might just start to remember what it was that you liked about Twitter in the first place.