Banhammer Activate: Silencing Negativity on Social Networks
On safe spaces
Our society has a pretty intense obsession with ideas like popularity, extroversion, and freedom of speech. It's fairly interesting, because the way these topics tend to intersect results in this weird cultural idea where the only reason someone could want privacy is to hide something shameful.
The reality is, everyone is entitled to a little bit of safe space; a little breathing room or privacy to recharge from the world. So this entry isn't a dissertation on the pros and cons of free speech, or concerns about the information bubble -- this is about how to carve out a safe space on social networks in a sea of information.
Some social networks, like Facebook, started out as closed-garden systems. Others have implemented privacy settings, but were originally pretty open and public. Whatever social network you're on, find the privacy settings. You can usually find them by going to the home page and clicking on a tab that either says "account settings," or shows a little gear icon. A few things you can do include:
- You can toggle the privacy of your updates and posts between public and private.
- You can usually set up different "levels" of friends, so (for instance) your best friend can see the picture of you covered in cats, but it's not publicly available.
- You can hide people from your feed, so you don't see their updates.
- You can restrict your posts so not all your approved friends can see them, but only an inner circle of friends.
- You can pick and choose who can see which photographs.
- You can require that photo "tags" of you must be approved.
- You can remove or implement GPS tagging.
I strongly recommend checking your privacy settings every 3 months or so and making sure they're still up-to-date. Some social networks are notorious for accidentally resetting privacy settings to a default/ public status whenever they push through an update of the website.
Limit Your Friends
For some reason, a lot of people have upwards of 200 - 900 friends on their social networks. I don't really get this. According to Dunbar's Handle, the number of meaningful, emotionally valid relationships we can actually maintain is finite. After a certain number, the "friends" are really just data collectors for the social network in question. I mean, they're real people, yes -- but many of them are real people who with whom you have absolutely no relationship with aside from clicking "like"/ re-sharing on the occasional meme or image macro.
When you click "like" or re-share that sort of information, the social message you're sending is secondary. The primary purpose of those likes and shares is to provide specific marketing data to the corporation running the social network. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. It's really up to the individual whether or not they care about that sort of data collection -- some people think it's just about creating ads relevant to them, and they're fine with that -- but it is something to be aware of. After a certain (finite) number of meaningful relationships, the "friends" on your feed exist, essentially, as unwitting and anonymous data collectors.
Who You Friend and Why
Who they are
Immediate Family Members
Parents, siblings, SO, inlaws.
You know them.
Sometimes you wish you didn't.
Actual (Current) Friends
People you talk to on a regular basis.
You choose to hang out with them IRL, so you must like them.
RL drama can spill over onto FB.
You used to be close, but time, distance, and circumstance has introduced a drift. You'd like to catch up.
Might be nice to catch up.
Might realize you have nothing in common with them anymore.
They're in your social group, but you don't like them.
You get to snark on their updates and photographs.
They get to snark on yours.
Extended family members
Cousins, aunts, uncles.
You know of them (and maybe know them)
Sometimes you wish you didn't. (Really, Aunt Mildred?)
High School/ College buddies
You were in the same class or sorority.
You share memories of a specific space and time.
They bring up those memories at the worst times.
You know them from work.
They might be cool.
Then again, they might not.
Celebrities/ New Organizations/ Etc.
Wil Wheaten/ George Takei, etc.
They're funny and brighten your day.
The comments section can bring you down.
You friended them on a whim.
Maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Maybe you just gave a complete stranger access to your personal life.
What do your friends bring to your feed?
It can be important, even necessary, to be strict about your friends list on social networks. It may seem counterintuitive, and depending on how you choose to use social networks, may even be unnecessary. If you're using your social network as a hub to the rest of the internet, then maybe you don't want it to be locked down.
But if you choose to use a social network not as your hub to the rest of the online world, but as your retreat from it, then it's necessary to lock it down.
You don't have to friend people just because they sent you a friend request. And if you do friend them because, say, you work together or they're a relative, you don't actually have to interact with them. The aforementioned privacy settings can be tweaked to prevent certain annoying coworkers, religious relatives, and intrusive bosses from seeing the bulk of your feed.
It can also be used to toggle who shows up in your feed on or off. This lets you remain "facebook friends" with that person who you love to hang out with IRL, but their social network persona kind of irritates you. You don't want to unfriend them and possibly have them ask why, thus precipitating an awkward conversation of why their feed bugs the hell out of you, but you also don't want to see their Jesus memes every day. That's what hiding their feed is for.
The really important thing to reiterate is that you don't have to friend anyone, or stay friends with them, if they are a negative presence on your social network. If the existence of an IRL relationship is dependent on them being in your friends group, then they are probably not actually important or beneficial to your life. In other words, if the RL repercussions of unfriending a non-work relationship* from your feed include no longer interacting with that person, then the relationship has bigger problems than a little negativity on your social network.
* Caveat: Obviously, work relationships have their own balancing act on FB. I generally recommend either maintaining a policy of not friending coworkers on social networks, or creating a separate friends list with special rules for coworkers.
The Humorless Jerk
They're a humorless jerk online. They comment to argue, debate, or correct.
The Social Slacktivist
Everyone does it -- some people just get carried away.
Stop with the spiritual memes and offers of prayer, seriously.
The Negative Nicky
They can't say anything nice.
They "like" everything you post. Everything.
The Awkward Co-Worker
They bring up your FB conversations (that they did not participate in) at work and quiz you on them.
The Grammar Nazi
They venerate Shakespeare, Dickinson, and Twain, but decry comma splices or deviations from current grammar rules.
The Sad Panda
Most of their updates are cryptic statements of sorrow, which they refuse to explain..
The Passive Aggressive One
You post, "Wow, being a mom is harder than I thought." They post, "People should appreciate the blessings of family."
The Cool One
They display all the positive traits and none of the negative.
Picks Their Battles
They view with eyes of generosity instead of calling out every single instance of perceived social injustice on your feed with irate righteousness.
Agrees to Disagree
You two may not agree on politics or religion, but you do agree to not let it ruin your friendship.
They always have something nice to say, or they don't say anything at all.
They are a neutral presence, offering neither positive or negative interactions.
They are aware of the history of language. As long as they can understand what you're saying, they're fine.
They realized they were being offensive, negative, or perpetuating misinformation, and they apologized.
They're a bit of a double-edged sword, but tend to provide more laughs than misery. They're the friend who dashes in out of no-where to post a hilarious or sarcastic comment to one of the negative presences on your feed, bringing much-needed levity to a comment thread.
The Cool Co-Worker
What happens on FB, stays on FB. They don't know 'nothin.
So the next time you log onto your social network, only to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with the stress and drama, stop and ask yourself why you're letting your online social space be dictated by negativity, anger, and drama. You wield the banhammer. You have the power.
Set boundaries and abide by them. Determine which posting personalities bother you most, then remove the "friends" who bring down your feed.
IRL, you often don't have choices about who you interact with. You may choose your friends, but you don't choose their friends. You don't choose your parents, siblings, coworkers, or classmates. A lot of relationships that are formed IRL are formed of necessity and circumstance. If you're lucky, they are also fulfilling relationships that bring positivity, support, and value to your world. If you aren't lucky, they are negative, draining, and stressful -- perhaps even abusive.
Your social networks, however, aren't subject to the rules of IRL interactions. You can choose who to have (or remove) from your feed. If they are a source of negativity and drama, you have the ability to limit their influence in your life through the simple click of a button. So take power over your feed and turn it from a place that brings you down to a source of positive interactions and supportive friendships.
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