TO UNFOLLOW OR NOT TO UNFOLLOW - THAT IS THE QUESTION OF THE MOMENT
We’re often encouraged to restrict the kind of content we see and consume on social media in an effort to protect our mental health and feelings of inadequacy, and I’ve long been an advocate of that view, confidently advising people to “just stop looking at their content if it bothers you so much.” The trouble however, as is the case of so much well-intended counsel, is that in reality, just unfollowing someone isn’t as simple as it sounds.
When I first dipped a toe in the social media world via Bebo back in 2005 (remember Bebo???) quickly followed by Facebook, the premise was you became ‘friends’ with people, it was a mutual thing, and when I eventually moved over to Instagram, I kind of applied the same approach, following back anyone who followed me - it just seemed like the polite thing to do. Eventually, I cottoned on that this was not necessary but what it has resulted in is me following an enormous number of accounts, most of which I don’t see or would be likely to engage with if I did, and it has also clogged up my feed so I don’t see the accounts I want to see.
With social media still being a relatively new phenomena, scientifically-proven studies to prove correlations and causal-links between social media usage and the increase in diagnosed mental health problems are still not established. There is however, extensive social commentary, hypothetical theory and ongoing research to suggest there are direct links between the use of social media and depression, anxiety, hostility, aggression and infinite circumstantial evidence which offer the same conclusion. Social media can be highly addictive and detrimental to our wellbeing if not audited ... and that’s completely down to us.
So around about this time last year, in an effort to only see content that inspired me, I slowly started unfollowing accounts that appeared on my feed where the content didn’t galvanise me to engage with it or in some cases, offended or triggered me. Most of the time it was simply accounts sharing family snaps of people I didn’t know but occasionally there were accounts that had become highly political or opinionated or included imagery that upset me. It seemed sensible to me to curate a feed filled with the kind of images I wanted to see and filter out the ones I didn’t, that way instagram would be somewhere I could come to be energised and motivated, rather than somewhere that filled me with boredom or anxiety ... no-brainier right? ....or so it seemed.
WHAT IF YOU GET CAUGHT UNFOLLOWING?
Instagram promises us that they won’t tell the other person that you’ve unfollowed them, and to be fair, they don’t. However, that doesn’t mean the unfollowee doesn’t find out. It turns out if you have your suspicions about whether someone follows you or not you can go to their following list and you will appear at the top if they do, and believe it or not, there are even apps that people download to track who unfollows them!!! Why anyone would want that information I have no idea, talk about emotional self-harm ... that would destroy me!
Unfollowing someone isn’t as straight forward as it might appear, as you now have to assume the other person will find out and will take it as a personal insult. This happened to me recently when I unfollowed someone who’s content isn’t the kind of thing I would engage in, they noticed through a third party unfollow app and took it as an enormous snub. Now, until this moment I had naively assumed I could unfollow without detection and with no consequence other than me having a more relevant and interesting experience when I scroll on Instagram. I would never want to offend anyone by opting-out of their content and would certainly not want to have to explain myself when someone noticed... believe me when I tell you that is an uncomfortable conversation to say the least!
So, I now find myself in a predicament ... do I continue to filter out the accounts I follow but have no interest in in order to only see content I love, or do I accept the fate of scrolling through irrelevant, monotonous, and sometimes cringe-worthy or offensive pics from people I don’t know because I’m too terrified to offend? Hurt myself or potentially hurt others? I could of course leave Instagram altogether, and believe me I’ve thought about it, but that seems like a very dramatic reaction to avoid something that should have a very simple solution.
I think very few of us really don’t care if we upset people, and we should as a compassionate species be mindful of how our actions affect others. However, my ultimate feeling on this one is that we really need to prioritise our own wellbeing and wherever possible, fill our lives (both real and on social media) with people, places and experiences that bring out the best in us and avoid our contact with the people, places and experiences that do quite the opposite.
Thankfully, there is a solution that I believe helps you build online spaces where you can control what you see and don’t see, and that limits the potential of offending other people in the process.
Instagram has the mute function and I’ve been using that a lot recently when I don’t want to see posts from someone I think is (a) likely to notice and (b) I have a loose social connection to them. This saves a lot of potential upset or hassle.I then have continued to unfollow any accounts that I no longer want to see but that I don’t think they’ll notice/care or that I feel I have no social connection to.
It’s not a fool-proof plan and I’m sure I’ll get it wrong again at times but in order for instagram to be somewhere I want to spend time, I know I have to make changes to what I’m currently seeing when I log on.
WHY YOU SHOULD DELETE YOUR UNFOLLOW APP IMMEDIATELY
I have spent far too long trying to work out why someone would want to monitor who is unfollowing them and I genuinely can’t see why that would be useful information. All I can see is that it breeds more insecurity, fear and resentment in the person who has signed up for these kind of notifications.
There are an infinite number of reasons why someone might unfollow you, from looking for a different kind of content to inspire them, to you featuring something that’s triggering for them (think alcohol usage, field sports, differing political or social views), to it being done by mistake! The bottom line is, on discovering someone has unfollowed you, you still have no idea why they have and you’re likely to invent a reason that has little baring in reality along with a whole host of uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, confusion and upset.
These apps have nothing to offer you except distress... delete them now.
TO UNFOLLOW OR NOT TO UNFOLLOW?
On balance, I believe we should absolutely be able to unfollow accounts that we don’t want to see for whatever reason that may be.... we just have to be pragmatic in how we go about restricting what we see on social media, be mindful of how that might affect others and be prepared to explain if they happen to notice!