Thursday, December 31, 2015

Facebook New Year's Resolutions

I was relatively late to social media. In my case, waiting was a good idea. I got to observe from the sidelines. I avoided learning some things the hard way.

When I finally joined Facebook I was ready. That's important to point out. 

That's why I was surprised and appalled to have had not one, but two, skin crawling, nauseatingly negative experiences on Facebook. One of them was a couple of years ago, but still smarts. The other one was a week ago. 

Both experiences made me feel badly on two levels. One was that my feelings were deeply hurt. Another was that there was something about the way they went down that, in retrospect, might have been prevented had I been a little more savvy or careful.

It is tempting to publicly describe what happened. As difficult as it is in the short run, I think I will be happier in the long run taking the high road. Another way of putting it is that I am keeping it classy. A third interpretation is that I am above such behavior. Putting myself on this social media pedestal is a very satisfying feeling at this juncture.

It was surprising to note that things that happen via social media can feel just as crappy as things that happen in "real life.”

Nasty Facebook events have not happened in a vacuum. I've been given an opportunity to learn from any mistakes I have made in my choice of Facebook company.

I've taken a long, hard look at my Facebook life. As a result, I've come up with some resolutions. I am calling these New Year’s resolutions, but, truthfully, I've put them into effect immediately.
I am hoping that by implementing these safeguards, awareness, and common sense measures, I might avoid feeling emotionally battered in the future. Maybe it will help you, too.

Remind Yourself That You Don't Have Your Entire Toolbox
When we meet a person face-to-face in real time, we are evaluating them on levels that we are not fully cognizant of in the moment. We use eye contact, body language, nuanced conversation, and social signaling. Even the quality of a handshake or a smile can tell us tons of information about a person. Is this person safe or a threat? How is our chemistry together? Am I looking to extend the conversation or politely exit? Are we laughing?

When we meet someone for the first time on social media, we are stripped of abilities that for most of us are so natural, so ingrained that we might not appreciate their full function. It behooves us to remind ourselves that when we make friends on Facebook, we are doing it with one metaphorical hand tied behind our backs.

Continuously Ask Yourself: Do I Like This Person? Do I Still Like This Person?
This may seem obvious. But when I was honest with myself about the living, breathing cautionary tales I call former Facebook friends, I came to a shocking conclusion. I didn't actually like these people in the first place.

Things change. Maybe the funny stoner you liked in high school casts a negative pall on your newsfeed. Maybe you liked someone two years ago, but don't like them anymore.

Or maybe you didn't think being Facebook friends was that big a deal.

If you wouldn't consider being real life friends with someone then consider why it's okay to be Facebook friends.

I took a spin through my current friends list. The vast majority of the people on it are people I like - a lot. A couple of people gave me pause. That brings me to the next pointer.

Quietly Un-Friend People Before It Turns Completely Toxic
Just unfriend. Don't private message people to tell them why. Don't call them out on your status updates. Take the high road. But do it.

If Things Have Already Turned Toxic, Block Them
If the person gives you the heebie jeebies or you just don't want to see their crappy stuff in your newsfeed, block them. Especially do this if they bother you with private messages.

Continuously Ask Yourself: Does This Friend Like Me?
I admit to not having thought of this much previously. But sometimes I like certain people more than they like me in my non-social media life. I tend to move on quickly if I sense the other person doesn't like me. This can and should apply to Facebook.

If I find that I'm the one dishing out encouragement, comments, and likes with nary an acknowledgement, I’m going to start looking at that.

If I find that I am not feeling included in certain discussions, am not fine art enough, bereaved enough, gay enough, snarky enough, gorgeous enough or just not enough, I'm going to start quietly unfriending. If people are cliquey I'm quietly unfriending. I'm 52 years old. I graduated from high school a long time ago.

Consider Unfollowing
This is a late discovery of mine. There are three possible ways I am planning to use this capability.

I am going to put some people on probation. They are showing me some red flags. It will be a stopgap measure between being their friend and not being their friend. I'll check in with their wall once in a while to see what I think. In any case, If I can use a break from their updates.

I will unfollow and then follow again depending on what is happening.

Then there are people whom I like and are positive people. But there are only so many cat, dog, or sports pictures I can see in one day. I plan to check in with their wall, see what their up to and if something changes about the tenor of the posts I'll follow again.

And finally, I may need to temporarily distance myself during September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, I felt under siege by the sheer numbers of posts. I lived childhood cancer and to some extent I still do. I do not need to be reminded of the ravages or risks to my surviving children all of the time.

Everyone is different. I have an unlimited interest in people's children. I enjoy seeing people's meals. But if you don't like these things, then unfollow.

I found this article helpful on the subject of unfollowing.

Be Careful About The Friend Requests You Accept In The First Place.
In my non-social media life, I am friendly but cautious. I am warm but not particularly initiating. This pattern extended to Facebook - at first. Most friend requests come from others.

But then I got a little sloppy. I accepted friend requests with the sole criteria that the person and I had some mutual Facebook friends. It's time to get a bit more discriminating. I need to vet people more carefully. And once I accept a request, I'll put that person on probation for a bit.

Read Between The Lines Of Your Facebook Friend's Non-Social Media Life
Who seems to have a healthy relationship with family and friends? Group pictures, being tagged, shared family gatherings, party pics, and evidence of breaking bread with others are a clue, however imperfect, to the person being capable of healthy relationships. If they have children, do they seem to take pride in them? There's another clue.

On the other hand, one of my train-wreck former Facebook friends once publicly unfriended her own sibling, and another seemed to be a loner, which seemed romantic and appealing at first, but then not so much.

If Facebook is someone's only form of social interaction it might mean that the person is elderly, fighting chronic illness, living in a rural area or recently relocated. It could also mean something more sinister, and, excuse my language, fucked up is going on.

The capability to maintain social ties in real life says something about a person's ability to be a good friend on social media.

Be Careful About Riding In On The White Horse
One of my best qualities is my ability to step in in a crisis, be a good listener, support people through life stressors, and reach out during times of tragedy.

If your real life friend is undergoing surgery, cancer treatment, a period of unemployment, a divorce or a diagnosis, and posts about their struggles on Facebook, by all means support them there. If they are using social media to seek kinship and encouragement that can be a healthy coping skill.

If your real life friend is going through these things also consider a phone call, visit, a casserole, or hug. But that's a subject for another blog post.

Any empathic person will be moved by a new Facebook friend's struggle with domestic abuse, a child's diagnosis, or a financial setback.

Deep friendships have been formed around struggle particularly if you yourself have experienced something similar.

But be careful about reaching out if you don't know the person well. I've learned the hard way that hardship does not always elevate an individual. I've been a virtual cheerleader, kept vigil through people's follow up scans, encouraged people to seek help, only to find out later that, sick or not, the person was essentially a jerk.

And as unsavory as this is to report, people will sometimes make up stuff and post it on Facebook just for attention. That is a serious mental illness in which you don't need to get mixed up.

Heed These Red Flags
Public unfriending and shaming
Micro-complaining takes up the majority of status updates
Black and white, rigid thinking
Combative questioning and comment style
Lack of healthy boundaries
Excessive attention seeking
Grossly non-reciprocal Facebook relationship
Excessive TMI
Threatens to leave Facebook but never does
Suspected lying or fabricating
Something doesn't "feel right" and you can't put your finger on why.

I Know My Wall Is Weird
I have 21 separate photography series I post on a weekly schedule. I also share this blog. For one entire year I took a photograph of my dinner and posted a description. These are artistic things. These are weird things. I get that.

I post these weird, artistic things in addition to the more usual stuff. Pictures of my family. An occasional selfie. My Christmas tree.

I share some political stuff.

It's a lot.

Here's the thing, though. I'm a generous Facebook friend. I share friends’ art, blogs, crowdfunding requests and petitions. I pray for people. I encourage people. I exclaim over people's kids, home renovations, and accomplishments. People who aren't freaks remember and appreciate this.

But even so, I know I'm sharing a lot of photography of weeds, trash, nearly dead flowers, odd parts of NYC and crumbling Mid-century modern architecture.

I won't apologize for it. But if it's a bit much for you, I invite you to unfollow me. You could even unfriend me. But if you do either of these things, please do it quietly. If I find out later you unfriended me, I will probably block you. Because if we aren't friends anymore, why in God's name would I want to see your posts anyway?

You might also enjoy:
Modern Narcissus

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