Social (Media) Etiquette: Normalizing Unfollowing Sprees

Clarissa Sabile // Columnist 

We’re starting a new decade and your fitness regime, bedroom de-cluttering journey and money-saving resolutions have been done to death. I propose you try something that only requires your thumbs and several minutes: A social media unfollowing spree. 

Social media is a crowded digital space made up of friends, family, acquaintances and strangers often putting an excessive amount of effort into their online appearance. At times, it can be a parade of brands that have strangled algorithms by the neck in order to capitalize on that one really obscure thing you wanted. Or, it can act as a life-saving feed that gives you something to do when you don’t know anyone in the room. Everyone has their own definition and use for these networking sites and apps— none of which are necessarily wrong or right. But, no matter what it is you’re seeing on the timeline, there is a problem if you no longer enjoy the content. 

There has been a rise in research concluding that social media use has become increasingly associated with feelings of depression and loneliness, rather than the collaborative, community-building aspects that they set out to provide. A HuffPost article described the behavioral impacts of social media: Envy, isolation, annoyance, insecurity and decreased social skills. These are only a few of the symptoms that a behavioral scientist recognized through interviews with active users. These paradoxical effects contrast the connectivity and engagement that users expect when signing up for accounts and following loved ones and strangers online. 

The issues largely stem from battles with self-image. People naturally compare themselves to others, which includes what they broadcast in their digital personas. We also place an over-reliance on validation through likes, comments, retweets and shares. In May 2019, Instagram put this to the test in Canada, removing the ability to see the total number of likes a post receives (unless you posted it yourself). Instagram’s reasoning for the change was that they want followers to “focus on what [they] share, not how many likes [their] posts get.” Basically, the content is what users should use as inspiration and take satisfaction from, rather than a number. 

I know a majority of millennials went through that ‘f4f’ era as ratio-obsessed pre-teens (and if you didn’t, it means “follow for follow”). Regardless of whether or not we had even spoken a word to these strangers, a high follower count was the equivalent to being cool and popular. In striving to reach those high numbers, blind following became an unspoken that many of us felt obligated to follow, and still unconsciously do to this day. This is the sign you’ve been waiting for: you don’t have to do it. 

Everyone has at least one of these in their follower lists: 

  1. A mutual friend-of-a-friend…of-a-friend that you’ve spoken to once, while drunk. 
  1. That classmate-turned-influencer that consistently DM’s you discount codes for some fast-fashion company. 
  1. Multiple brand accounts that required you to follow them to enter a draw that you ended up losing. 
  1. An ex co-worker that you never really liked but put up with because you had to. 
  1. Your ex. (Sorry, they probably moved on by now). 

If these or any other accounts you follow post content that is irritating, makes you feel self-conscious, or the owner’s real-life personality is problematic—cut them off. It’s like The KonMari method, but for your follower list. If an account doesn’t “spark joy,” you don’t need it. With algorithms already messing with what shows up on your timeline, you’re probably missing the posts you’d actually prefer to see that aren’t able to compete with Kim Kardashian. 

I get it, you might be hesitant to go on a follower cleanse because of the real-life social implications. It can be awkward to run into these people in real life after basically erasing their digital existence from your online world. The worst-case scenario would be that they confront you. You could lie, act like the app unfollowed them (and others, you promise) before assuring them you’ll follow them again. Or you could be honest, apologize, and secretly feel even more assured about your decision to unfollow them. If they noticed that you unfollowed them promptly after you did, it means one of two things: either they downloaded a tracking app that notifies them (cut these people off… ASAP), or they tapped your profile and searched for their username to no prevail. Both reasons suggest this person cares way too much about their follower count, since they’re actually taking offence at such a minor act. Which honestly, is way more embarrassing than your mature choice to unfollow them. 

Yes, this is a call-out to you, the reader. I’ve accidentally run into people I unfollowed in real life, got confronted and guilt-tripped for doing so, blocked them because of that, re-followed them after realizing they were alright, and I’m still here. A good ol’ follower-cleanse is crucial to healthy social media use and a happier you overall. The new year is the perfect opportunity to go on an unfollowing spree: start your feed off fresh with the content you actually enjoy, and updates on the people you actually want to see. 

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