Muting real-life friends on social media is harsh – but sometimes it’s the kindest thing to do | Louis Staples

I often think I must be quite annoying on social media. Looking through someone else’s eyes, I’d probably find some of my (masterful) vapid or obnoxious tweets. The selfies on my Instagram Stories? They’d give me the ick. And as for the constant pictures of my dog ​​… actually, let’s not get too carried away.

Do my haters complain about me to their friends? I’d be surprised if anyone cares that much. But like most narcissistic paranoias I still think it’s a possibility, because this is exactly what I do with the (many) people I find annoying online.

It’s one thing to deride people I don’t know for oversharing or being arrogant, ill-informed and cringe online, but my conscience kicks in when I find myself at odds with the social media presence of “real life” friends. There are two in particular whom I care about a lot. When we hang out in person I absolutely love them, but on Instagram they are guilty of serious crimes. The charges include: constantly posting pictures of expensive things they’ve bought; “inspirational” quotes about the importance of “hard work”; and exercise at the crack of dawn.

If I don’t see these friends in person for a while, I begin to forget the version of them I like. But when we catch up, everything changes. I message afterwards saying, “It was SO good seeing you, let’s not leave it so long next time!”, knowing that one reason it took so long is my disdain for their social media presence.

These tensions aren’t surprising, because social media platforms want us to be exaggerated, annoying versions of ourselves. We’re encouraged to post in an extreme (and often cringe-inducing) way in order to gain likes and followers, while at the same time making ourselves vulnerable to criticism.

This criticism – whether it’s in the form of post-posting paranoia or actual negative comments – can degrade our mental wellbeing, which is already run down by the constant online bombardment of content that makes us worry about how we look, our lifestyles, our careers and our opinions. (The more we click on it, the more the algorithm shows us.) Posting in a way that conflicts with what we’re like in “real life” could be a coping mechanism or a way of projecting the person we’d like to ok

Working out where people best fit into our lives is an important social skill. We all have friends who are better than others at giving advice, or on a raucous night out. Some are much better one on one, whereas others come to life in a bigger group. Certain work friendships go beyond office walls, whereas others do not. Social media adds another dimension to this: friendships that are best enjoyed online v offline. We should embrace the fact that friendships don’t always thrive in both spaces.

This is why I’ve muted some good friends, former colleagues and extended family members on social media recently. I’ve realized that if their output is annoying me, they’re probably posting for a different audience. Perhaps I’m seeing their “professional” persona – a side of them I don’t recognise. Or maybe I’m more irritated by them triggering my insecurities. (Am I just jealous of the expensive purchases my friends brag about? Probably. Does their cult-like devotion to waking up early make me feel guilty for sleeping in? Definitely.)

Muting your friends might sound harsh, but if you care about them it’s a small price to maintain a relationship that might otherwise become strained or distant. I’ve realized that there are much worse crimes than being a bit irritating on social media, particularly if I know someone is a good person in real life. (And I hope my friends agree with that, because my posts are definitely more annoying than theirs.)

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