Surviving Social Media

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Social media: We use it, sometimes we abuse it, but mostly we watch cat videos and yell about politics through it. So if you want to retain your sanity while you’re on Twitter or Facebook or Mastodon, here are some principles for making it out alive. I don’t claim to follow all of these myself (I’m a work in progress over here), but they’re still solid.

(Note: Not all of these principles apply to all social media services. And while I call them “rules”, they’re not hard and fast. Adapt them as you see fit to your specific experience.)

Rule 0: Don't use it

Look, social media is generally a wasteland. Even if the service you prefer isn’t overrun with bullshit, it’s also a big time waster. Social media is designed with the same addictive principles that oversee slot machines and mobile games. And after over ten years on social media between Twitter, Tumblr, and Mastodon, I believe that society was not, and might not ever be, ready for that kind of social media.

As it was in WarGames, so it is with social media: The only winning move is not to play. But if you must use it for whatever reason…

Rule 1: Turn off retweets

Twitter becomes about fifty times more useable if you turn off retweets as soon as you follow someone. Not only does this move clear up your timeline, it keeps the focus of what you see from that account on what the account itself has to offer. You’ll have fewer posts to read through and a better idea of the voice behind that account, which can help you choose whether you want to keep following it.

And while I say “retweets”, this rule refers to the equivalent of retweets on any other service (e.g., “boosts” on Mastodon). You can always choose to turn them back on later if you have a severe case of FOMO or whatever.

Rule 2: Avoid hatefollowing

This should seem self-explanatory, but still: Avoid following accounts that you know will only piss you off or make you feel bad. Politicians, artists you dislike, drama accounts, whatever — if it makes you unhappy, avoid it. And that leads into…

Rule 3: Avoid making other people hatefollow by proxy

When you share things you dislike, you put that negativity into other people’s timelines. (And on Twitter, thanks to its algorithms, the same goes for hitting “like” on, or possibly replying to, posts you dislike.) If you know something you retweet or like would upset people who follow you as much as it upsets you, think twice before doing it. You don’t have to avoid being negative, but you don’t have to force other people to see the bullshit that makes you unhappy, either.

Rule 4: Snitchtagging sucks defines snitchtagging as follows: “The act of tagging the subject of a negative post about them, especially on Twitter, that they weren’t already tagged in (e.g., a subtweet).” It reeks of passive aggressive behavior, which makes it a bunch of bullshit. Avoid snitchtagging at all costs. Similarly…

Rule 5: Remove non-responding parties after one reply

When you reply to a post on Twitter, you reply to both whoever posted the tweet and anyone else either tagged in the tweet or already in a reply chain. By replying to everyone tagged in the reply multiple times, you’re flooding their mentions with whatever you’re talking about. So remove everyone who doesn’t respond after one reply (or set of replies, if you had to thread your response) to avoid overloading their mentions. Stick only to people active in the conversation, especially the person to whom you’re directly replying.

Rule 6: Block and mute liberally

People will want to make you feel like shit for blocking or muting them. (“You’re a coward! I win, you lose!”) Stop falling for that trap. You have the absolute right to curate your social media experience however you see fit. No one has, or should have, the right to make you feel like you have to keep them unblocked or unmuted.

Rule 7: Don’t try to be part of every conversation

This one comes near the bottom because this is arguably the most important principle/“rule”: Your voice is not needed in every conversation. You don’t need to dunk on people whose politics or beliefs are different than yours. You don’t need to snark at people who say dumb things. The next time you go to do either of those things, ask yourself if you really need to be part of the conversation. You might end up posting less, but that can make what you do post all the more worth reading and sharing.

Rule 8: Share from the source if you can, credit people whose work you repost if you can’t

I mean, c’mon.