As a social media manager, I spent most of 2016 plugged in and over-informed. Trump tweeted something stupid? I read it within 30 seconds.A one-night-stand from my sophomore year shared a Bernie meme? Ugh, that too. A celebrity passed away? I was the first to know, and I’m still not sure what the etiquette is if you’re in a meeting and no one else is aware yet that their beloved childhood celebrity has died.
So I’m exhausted. If this year was a test for managing social media in my personal life, I failed miserably. It’s gotten to the point where I will reflexively check my Twitter mentions as soon as I finish a task, even if that task is as basic as Googling something. It’s loading my results? Better find out if I have any new retweets. Seriously, it’s a problem. It’s embarrassing. Being in the know on what’s happening online is my job, but it’s also ruining my brain.
My New Year’s resolution is to take back control of my time on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quitting it. I goddamn love it here. But I want to go online because I want to, not out of habit. And if you need an Internet detox as much as I do—which, let’s face it, you totally do after this election—here’s how I’m thinking about this.
Step 1: Figure out your goals and ideal relationships on each platform.
What do you want to achieve? Do you want to interact with friends and family? Follow important breaking news? Learn about social justice? Receive notifications about Ezra Miller’s every move? Be deliberate so that you can make the most of your time online. If you surf with intention, it’s easier to go to a specific platform with a purpose in mind… instead of when your hands are idle and looking for something to do. Facebook is good for personal social interactions, your IRL peeps. Twitter is good for breaking news and current events like live-tweeting your favorite awards ceremonies or reality TV show. Tumblr is good for freaking out about the new Little Mix album and learning about dismantling the patriarchy. LinkedIn is good for, uh, work stuff, I guess.
Having goals in mind for each platform helps you disengage from your social networks with less fear of missing out. Facebook probably doesn’t need to be open at work unless you really need to know what articles your college roommate is pissed off about. Tumblr probably has too many dicks on it for the office. Check Twitter at times when you can dig into the latest news story, or media twitter fight, without having to multi-task. And if there’s something you’re genuinely worried you will miss, set a push notification for it.
Step 2: Let go of people who hold you back, at least digitally.
Exorcise your ghosts. Unfriend your ex’s friends who you forgot existed. Go through your entire Facebook friends list and just remove people you can’t remember. It’s the same as throwing out clothes: if you haven’t interacted with any of this person’s posts in the last year, do you really need the connection? You really, really don’t owe them real estate on your news feed. If you’re worried that unfriending them will send some sort of message, guess what: they probably won’t notice! And who cares what they think anyway? Purge that shit.
Here’s a list of other people you should probably unfriend:
- Your best friend’s annoying roommate who asked you what you were going to do with your gender studies degree.
- The girl who was in your internship program two years ago whose LinkedIn request you felt obligated to accept but who no longer works here.
- That guy from your freshman dorm who played Wagon Wheel on his guitar in the bathroom for NO APPARENT REASON EVERY WEEKEND.
- Your babysitter from when you were two years old who occasionally comments on your photos about how big you’ve gotten.
- The super woke chick from your volunteer group who treats activism like a competitive sport on Twitter.
- Every liberal dude you went to college with who writes multiple paragraphs on your posts about Bernie Sanders. Sorry dude, you know who you are.
- Basically any guy who feels entitled to your attention on social media.
Go forth and unfriend, my friends. If you unfriend me, I won’t even judge you for it.
Step 3: Pop your filter bubble – if you want to.
This is a controversial opinion and you don’t have to agree with me: I don’t think you need to stay friends with your asshole cousins/old teammates/racists aunts if you don’t want to. If their bigoted posts come up on your feed and makes you feel shitty, or pisses you off, or somehow damages your online experience, you do not need them there. I don’t think the responsibility to converse with them and help them see the light is yours and yours alone, especially if it’s not one you can shoulder. Cull that nastiness if it’s what you need to do.
That being said, if you have the strength and grace necessary to navigate those sticky political conversations, please do! I have so much respect for you. I am not you, as someone who is super bad at having a civil conversation with someone who criticizes her politics. This is a flaw of mine: I’m not great at debates, or even at listening. I throw sofa cushions at Fox News. I block people on Twitter who use a weird tone when replying to pictures of dogs I think are cute. If you are not like me and can take one for the team, hell, go for it!
But I’m not going to shame anyone for knowing their limits and being like nahh, this isn’t good for me or for anyone else. I unfriend people mercilessly. What I do attempt to do, however, is follow as many publications as possible, from a range of different countries and political perspectives. Every so often I even go to Breitbart and poke around, which is fun because sometimes I find articles about me. Make an effort to break out of your filter bubble, but do it in ways that suit you best. I learn the most as a reader, not as a commenter.
Step 4: Is there an app for that? If there is, do you need it?
This goes back to both steps 1 and 4. Every social network has an app, but whether or not you need the apps for each network you’re on is up to you. I have the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat apps on my iPhone because I am an avid social media butterfly. I do not have the app for LinkedIn because ew.
I also do not have notifications turned on for any of the apps except Snapchat, which I use primarily for messaging. Snapchat notifications are muted, so I’ll just stumble on them when I pick up my phone. Likes on my Instagram posts can wait until I’m nestled in bed at night. Facebook comments can wait for whenever I’m feeling masochistic. A friend of mine recommended that you move all your social media apps to the second or third screen of your phone so that you have to put in a little more effort to open them. Hell, put them in one of those weird little folders if you want to. Own your notifications and banish the unnecessary.
But here’s where things get interesting: there are apps that could replace your usage of some of the social media platforms. For example, instead of checking Twitter for the news in the morning, I listen to the newest broadcast on the NPR One app. That way I spend less time tethered to my laptop and I don’t have to deal with whatever bullshit is in my mentions right when I wake up. Plus I can brush my teeth and listen at the same time! Genius.
Step 5: Have an emergency plan.
This step thankfully doesn’t apply to everyone, but since I have to think about it, maybe you do too! Are you getting dogpiled by a conservative hate mob on Twitter? Are sexist assholes writing comments on your Facebook page? Is a stalker sending you gross emails? Have an emergency contact prepared who has all of your login information and can read, delete, and block on your behalf. Better yet, have two emergency contacts in case one of them can’t stomach it. I have a close guy friend as my first in command, and I have my passwords all written down and hidden in case I die in a freak accident and my parents are like, “Oh shit, people keep wishing Ella a happy birthday on Facebook.” You never know!
While we’re on the subject, go untag yourself from all those photos from college. You know which ones. Just do it.
Step 6: HAVE FUN.
At the end of the day, social media is for you. It’s for your self-improvement, your social life, and your entertainment. It shouldn’t stress you out or eat up your time. It should add value, and if it doesn’t, fix that shit. I just joined a bunch of dog-spotting Facebook groups and now I receive notifications multiple times a day alerting me to cute canines. I have never felt more alive.