Illustration by Spencer Olson

Unfollowing for Dummies

‘Better Internetting’ is our etiquette column for a better (digital) you

Twitter just turned 10; Facebook is 12. For the first time in our lives, we’re starting to deal with social media accounts that have quite literally grown up with us. We’re on this journey together — but part of it is figuring out what to do with all of the random people you’ve collected as “friends” along the way. And what if you want to get rid of them?

Here are my pointers for artfully (and permanently) cutting someone out of your feed:

First, try a soft-block

“Why don’t you mute them?” is the answer to most extended relative, acquaintance from college-level social media grievances, and it’s because it’s a nice option for someone you don’t have anything against, per se, but who you’d prefer to see … less of. Maybe their “Feel The Bern” Facebook rants are stressing you out, maybe their last sports game live-tweet clogged your feed. Whatever the offense, you may not be ready to unfriend them completely. No worries: there are some options for your tender heart:

  • On Facebook, you can hit a little arrow on any post in your feed and opt to “Hide Post.” It’ll read, “See fewer posts like this,” but basically it’s an opportunity to manually tell their algorithm that you don’t care about marathon fundraising or Vines of non-bake cookie pies. If that move isn’t aggressive enough for you, they also have “Unfollow [Name]” in that same drop-down menu. That means you’re still friends with your cousin Eddie, you just won’t see his climate change statuses in your feed anymore.
  • With Twitter, it’s all about your new hobby: muting. The option to “mute” someone is available in the drop-down menu of literally any tweet that your enemy has sent out. Once they’re muted, you’ll no longer encounter their tweets in your feed. The best part of muting is that there is (currently!) no way for the muted person to ever find out. You’re still following them; they’re just invisible to you. *kisses fingers like chef*
  • Instagram is a little more cutthroat, unfortunately. There’s no organic way to soft-block within the app itself, but third party apps like InstaMute claim to give you muting capability if you jailbreak your phone (right, sure). So, depending on how committed you are, there are options to explore. One good thing about Instagram is that casual users don’t tend to be as obsessed with follower counts, and there aren’t as many places on the app to easily check if someone follows you back.

Or, just go balls to the wall

I am a huge proponent of the unfriend, the unfollow, the un-anything when the right moment strikes. So if you’re inclined to truly cut someone out of your digital life, I say go for it. Don’t feel guilty! We are all clinging on to way too much in our gross little newsfeed ecosystems, and if you’ve identified something you’ve outgrown in this world, that should feel great. Fucking torch it. I’ll admit I’m a little pathological about paring down online—forever living an inbox zero, can’t-leave-a-notification-unchecked life—and while I know that’s not necessarily important for anyone else to emulate, obligatorily following someone when their ability to generate joy in your feed has already expired is like leaving a dead fish floating at the top of the tank: gross and bad for morale.

Be methodical

That said, it’s good to branch out from unfriending out of disdain. It’s easy to see a tweet or selfie that rubs you the wrong way and call it quits from time to time, but you should be just as comfortable with a casual, non-annoyance-based parting of ways. Basically, your inner bouncer should ask more than, Has this person done something egregious recently? when you’re considering an unfollow. Your standards … should be higher.

One solid way to keep a handle on your following pool is to regularly cull it. I have a handful of buddies who use Facebook’s birthday reminders as a daily unfriend exercise. It’s simple: Every day, check the top right-hand corner of Facebook to see who among your friends is celebrating a birthday. If you haven’t talked to them in a significant amount of time, or you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing, “Happy birthday!” on their wall, cut them loose. It’s a good way to weed out the Who’s you haven’t talked to since you met at a party in 2008. An added bonus: these people are getting so many birthday notifications, there’s no way they’re gonna notice you casually dipping out of their friend count. Everyone wins.

If it helps you sleep at night, leave a cushion

Certain third-party apps let you monitor who unfollows you on Instagram, and that might create tension for some people. In case you are an angel and experience unfollow anxiety, my buddy Spencer has a sneaky Instagram strategy for you to try: go to the profile of the person you’re going to unfollow, like a couple of photos in a row, and then unfollow the person. That way, if they’re tracking you with one of the apps, you ostensibly could’ve sat on your phone or accidentally hit “unfollow” while you were catching up on their grade-A content. Over the top? Maybe. Genius? Also maybe.

Be cool for once

This has never happened to me or anyone I know in my adult life, but if for some reason you unfollow someone and end up facing IRL repercussions, just own your shit and be pleasant. Let’s say you’re in the office kitchen and out of nowhere a co-worker whips out an, “I noticed you’re not following me on Twitter anymore!” Just smile and hit them back with, “Ugh! I’m so weird about my feed!” Acknowledge the event, but don’t pretend like it was a mistake. And certainly don’t indicate that you’ll follow them back if you don’t want to. Just attribute the faux pas to your own neurotic needs and wish them an amazing Wednesday. Your feed, your rules, dog. (Also, if they’re confronting you IRL about an unfollow, good call on the unfollow.)

Christine Friar is a writer in Brooklyn.

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