The Reasonably Sane Person’s Guide to Surviving Social Media

A couple of decades ago, if I moved across the country, that meant I’d probably see folks from my home state once or twice a year at best. Now, thanks to the wonders of social media like Facebook and Twitter, we’re able to virtually hang out with people we’d never get to see in person. Unfortunately, as is the case with most things humans create, there’s a dark side. Social media have also become ideal platforms for folks to scream at each other like sugar-loaded kindergartners.

Let’s say you don’t want to yell, be yelled at, or listen to people yell at each other, though. Should you delete all your social media accounts, drop your laptop in the bathtub, and take up a mellow hobby like Sudoku? Well, maybe, but there are other options.

Here are a few tips to help you negotiate social media without losing your mind.

Remember, It’s All Voluntary

Lately, I’ve seen people posting things like “I just can’t take Facebook any more. I’m going to leave for a while.” It’s common, and it’s understandable. For some, it’s the meanness, trolling, and freeform politics-related mayhem, while for others it’s the general lack of critical thinking skills among the citizenry. Some are tired of clickbait listicles, and others have a low tolerance for guilt-inducing memes about folks who have it worse than them. Your mileage may vary.   

Even on a good day, Facebook and Twitter can be like the public toilet walls of the Internet, only less refined, so sometimes people need to take a social media holiday. That’s fine, but remember this: Don’t treat leaving social media like something that merits an apology or explanation. In fact, if logging on ever starts to feel like an obligation or a dreaded task, it may be time to go back to sending good old-fashioned letters. Better yet, try using two cans joined by a waxed string.

Go Ahead and Post Those Food Pics

We all come to life’s table with our own interests. In short, upload legally compliant pictures of whatever makes you happy: babies, best friends, cats in suits of armor, new cars, crocheted book covers, or bowls of Tom Yum Gai soup. If someone doesn’t like them (trust me, someone won’t) or if they think they aren’t constructive, instructive, or critical enough (trust me, someone will) let them think it. Who cares? Not you.

Then, if someone calls you on your self-indulgent content, you get to decide how to respond. They probably won’t mention it, at least not in person. They’ll just post something else passive-aggressively complaining about what you did. Don’t feel bad, either. These folks also post things you’ll find baffling, so there’s that to consider.

Block, Mute, and Drop at Will

Free speech is one of the foundations of our society. It gives me the opportunity to say what I want, and it lets the world know exactly what I’m all about. If some guy wants to talk at length about how Hitler had some good qualities, at least that gives me the scoop on what that dude finds to be most important in life. Then I can opt to make my exit with all due haste.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean I have to listen to or agree with you. I may want to hear you out or I may not. That’s my decision. If I’m at your house, it’s considerate of me to let you speak without being a jerk. If you’re at my house, depending on my current level of jerkiness, I can listen, ask you to be quiet, or tell you to leave. If we’re on neutral ground, I have the option of walking away. To extend this to the social media, though I’ll never tell you to stop talking, blocking your content or dropping you from my friends list is my right.  

Well, I don’t mean you. I’m talking about that other person. 

Beware of Engaging with Trolls

Here’s something worth considering: People who consider using social media a contact sport rarely do so to learn or participate in rational discourse. They go there because they know The Truth™ and are itching to condescend to anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs. The words “I don’t know” haven’t crossed their lips since they finished toilet training, and they live for the opportunity to respond to your thoughtful thread by posting weblinks from their favorite echo chambers with no context or explanation. This is what gets them out of bed in the morning, apparently, assuming they get that far.

Most everyone knows to avoid trolls, but it’s easy to forget trolls aren’t always mysterious predators who lurk in cyber-alleyways waiting to shake people down for cash. They can also be the folks who make up our friends lists. This is one of the reasons I don’t argue about politics on social media. Yes, I have arguments, but I don’t want to expend valuable rhetorical calories on the internet, especially when the likely response to my line of reasoning is the online discussion version of a simulated fart.    

Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Bullied

It’s common enough to be accosted by someone you disagree with, but even people with similar beliefs can be pushy, especially when they think you aren’t toeing the company line. Why are you posting pictures of cupcakes or updating everyone on your binge-watching habits, they want to know, when there are more important things happening in the world? Why aren’t you posting about those?

For one thing, they don’t know what you’re doing when you aren’t online, and for another, it’s not your responsibility to explain it to anyone. As the conventional wisdom goes, the world will know about your convictions because of the things you do, not what you say. Don’t be bullied by people who try and tell you what to say, whether you agree with them or not. Say what you want when you want. Be unapologetically you.

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Okay, if you’re still feeling perplexed by the barrage of mean political and religious posts on social media, comfort yourself with the realization that some of the folks who’re now insanely religious and experts on geopolitics may also believe professional wrestling is real.

One last bit of advice: Don’t tell them the truth about wrestling. They won’t handle it well.