Imagine if you threw an open-invitation party at your house. Nearly everyone who showed up was ushered inside — even people you barely knew, even people you hadn’t seen for years. The more the merrier, right?
Well, that’s how many of us acted in the early days of social media. We were excited to explore, connect, and share at this new party. Other than spam, we accepted friend and follower requests willy-nilly. The more the merrier!
However, just like a house party can turn into a rager, and then into an “OMG…Someone called the cops!” situation, over time our social networks have slowly evolved into a different type of party than what we may have originally envisioned.
- We may no longer get the same enjoyment from hanging out there. Some days our interactions may even lead to feeling of outrage, hurt, or loneliness.
- We may feel like our networks have grown so much they have a life of their own. It no longer feels like an environment we’ve designed, but one that’s being actively managed by forces outside our control.
- We may struggle to remember how we came to be attached to all of these people, pausing before we accept new friends/followers. We may struggle with privacy and determining who deserves to know personal details about our lives.
All of these problems were compounded in the past year when, in the face of increased political/social unrest and pandemic panic, we saw the true face of many of our social media “party guests.” We learned some people don’t share our morals and values, some are truly toxic, and some simply trigger us in a way unique to our own history.
So, clearly it’s time to show some of these guests to the door. But how do you do that without shutting down the whole party? Because for many of us, parts of the party still provide substantial value.
Take a Step Back
The first thing I’d recommend doing is taking at least a few days to unplug from social media entirely and get centered. Think of it like climbing onto a high balcony and looking down on your house party to assess the full landscape.
- How do you feel right now? Does any part of using these platforms cause you to feel bad? (If not, carry on!) If so, do you know what those parts are? Is it certain people? The overall tone of the types of people/content you’ve chosen to follow? Is it that you only use this platform when you’re feeling a certain way, (like when you’re bored or unsatisfied with your current reality?)
- What is the overall tone and content mix of your various networks? (Mostly work info? Mostly news? Mostly updates from friends? Mostly politics?) Do you still enjoy that tone and mix? If not, how would you like to change it?
- Are there specific people or newsfeeds within your networks that regularly bother you? (Ask your friends and family for their feedback too. You may regularly complain to them about something or someone you see on social media.)
After you’ve had a chance to assess the problem, it’s time to do some housecleaning.
When you return to social media, be on the lookout for people and information that sets you off. Don’t get too hung up on why or how to officially sever ties. For now, just go with your gut and mute, unfollow, or unsubscribe.
The goal here isn’t to create a Disneyfied network consisting only of happy people who agree with you all the time (although that is your right, should you choose that path.) It’s simply to turn off all the unhealthy noise — and only you can define what’s unhealthy for you.
- Maybe it’s the person who regularly picks fights
- Maybe it’s the person who shames others for not feeling AWESEOME! #YOLO, #Blessed, #LivingMyBestLife
- Maybe it’s news from sources all who parrot the same talking points
- Maybe it’s the person who regularly posts things that dehumanizes others
- Maybe it’s the person who make you feel like you’re never measuring up
It really doesn’t matter what the reason is. It’s your house, you get to make the rules. But I suggest you set up and start enforcing those rules right out of the gate your first day back on social media. See how it makes you feel. (You can always turn them back on later.)
Invite new guests
If you want to keep the party going after the rabble rousers have been expelled, it may make sense to handpick some new folks to add to the mix.
Remember, social media is an environment you design, click by click, each day you interact with it. You made some choices (or lack of choices) that may have led to it getting out of control. You can make different choices to change it into something healthier.
- Are there people who inspire you, whom you’d like to learn from, or who you’ve lost touch with because the algorithms determined they were not exciting enough to show up in your feed? Friend/follow those people or start interacting with their posts, so you start seeing them in your feed more often.
- Are there new pages, groups, or news sources that can help improve/diversify the tone of your feed? Take five minutes to subscribe or follow them. Need ideas? Go check out the pages/accounts the people you admire and subscribe to some of the stuff they read.
- Does your network usage support your personal goals? If not, make some shifts. For instance, if you want to change careers, don’t spend all your free time consuming feeds of political news or cat videos, seek out posts and people connected to that new career.
Reshaping you social networks will be a slow evolution. But following these three steps — clarifying your intention, removing anything unwanted, and adding healthier connections and content — can lead to some radical changes over time, creating a party you’ll be proud to host and eager to enjoy.