As an online content creator and fledgling online business owner, disengaging from social media altogether is simply not an option for me. Gone are the days when I could just decide to take social media breaks for weeks at a time. There are posts and products to promote, and prospective readers and customers won’t go where there is no presence. Yet social media can be a very mentally taxing place. When we’re not sifting through fake news and blistering hot takes, we’re desperately trying not to compare our behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.
Occasionally it’s made better by videos of cute babies and pets. And, of course, we’re keeping up with what our friends are doing and saying.
But what happens when the things our friends are doing and saying aren’t contributing to our inner peace, but draining it?
Much ado is made about unfriending people over opinions. Undoubtedly we’ve all seen (and maybe even shared) the meme chastising the act of removing people from our friends list just because we disagree on some things. We’re supposed to be accepting of our differences, right? Well, sure. I’m a black, liberal, Christian woman living in Oklahoma. If I didn’t “accept” people who were different from me, I’d be eking out a pretty lonely existence.
But accepting people in your real life is slightly different from accepting people in your social media life. In today’s society, there is already so much that I have to navigate around and process in order to protect my mental health. I can love and pray for you every day and twice on Sundays, but surely I’m not obligated to subject myself to every article or post you share if I know there’s a good chance it’s going to take me to a dark place. I don’t feel entitled to the reverse from my online friends, either.
This doesn’t only apply to politics or religion. I’ve unfriended people who were needlessly cruel to other people I didn’t even know in their posts, because I knew that every time they came across my timeline, their conduct would be all I would think about. Sometimes deciding whether or not to keep someone in my social media orbit is less about the person themselves, and more about how much of their online activity I can stomach and still maintain my inner peace.
Of course, the better we know a person in real life, the less likely it is that their online activity will negatively impact us. For one thing, we understand tone better when we actually have a relationship with someone. For another, it’s easier to engage on hot-button topics when there is trust that any discussions will be conducted in good faith.
This is why our focus should be on fostering meaningful real-life relationships, rather than maintaining a spot on someone’s digital friends list.
We have to be intentional in the ways we allow social media to affect our day-to-day lives. Each and every one of us has the right to curate the experience we want, including whose energy we allow into our headspace. In an ideal world, there would never be a reason to unfriend anyone. But if it ever comes down to choosing between a robust “friends” list and serenity, I’m choosing serenity every time.