Handling Social Media Toxicity

Things like Twitter or G+ are amazing ways to invite awesome people into your life, from fans to collaborators to sparking a romance with a significant other. It’s also a great way to invite people in to make your life shittier, rather by accident or on purpose. Here’s what I try to keep mindful of, as a way of helping Twitter not actively assault my stress and thus my mental health. (And as someone who has clinical anxiety, I strive to keep all that on a tight leash. And fail more often than I like, but I’m getting better over time.)

It’s Okay to Unfollow Someone

People take massive offense to this, but really, it’s okay. You do not owe anyone your, uh, “followerhood?” If you find yourself constantly disagreeing with someone in a heated fashion, or seeing someone’s name in your timeline is enough to set you off into a rant, it’s time to unfollow that person.

Unfollowing needn’t be permanent. Maybe you just need a short break from communicating — we weren’t built to communicate constantly. Follow back later, when you’re reminded that person exists and whatever reason you had for unfollowing is passed. I do this when I recognize that, for whatever reason, I’ve lost the ability to read a given person charitably or they’re otherwise annoying me.

Or just plain don’t follow that person again. That’s also fair — your timeline needs to cater to your needs.

Some apps have a “mute for a day” feature. Dear fuck, I wish Twitter had that built in. That would genuinely make the world a better place.

It’s Okay to Block a “Fan”

Just because someone is a fan of your work doesn’t mean that person and you will get along. If your dynamic with a fan on the Internet turns into “guy I pointlessly argue with who still for some reason buys my books,” then it’s time to evaluate that. Is that dynamic costing you time spent venting instead of writing? I have had exchanges where a single minute turned into 30 minutes of unproductivity, because I couldn’t just go back to work. (This is partly due to Internet arguments not really having what David Allen would call closed loops, and the brain gets obsessed with open loops.)

And not everyone who buys your thing is worth additional time above and beyond the time you put into making that book, or game, or whatever. There are people who take joy in sucking the life from others. They want to, for good or ill, make the impact on your life that you have on them — especially as they see you talking with other people around the public, worldwide water cooler.

If such people become positives in your life, awesome! But if not, you don’t need to tolerate them. Don’t lash back; the many people who can see both of you talking will see you both as morons. Don’t suffer in silence; your life is more valuable than one fan’s occasional book-buying. Block.

And so you know, blocking needn’t be permanent, either. But it can be useful as a way to shed someone toxic from your timeline, even if that person isn’t normally toxic.

It’s Okay to Block a “Pro”

For a the same reasons above.

I won’t name names, but there was one professional who responded to a comment I put on Twitter, being really unhappy with it. A mutual fan and he started to argue over and over, and kept tagging my name in the loop. I asked them to stop, and the pro bit my head off.

Bam, blocked. Now my timeline wasn’t being assaulted by two people who were engaged in some epic Internet rage that constantly sent updates to my phone. I could eat my lunch in peace.

I’ve since unblocked that dude, but I also see him as “crazy guy,” not as someone I would genuinely want to work with.

It’s Okay to Block Someone You’ve Never Talked With

There’s one person a year or so back who kept getting retweeted, and he was saying some of the most hateful, mean shit that others took as “jokes.” I blocked that person, and my life was better for it.

It’s Okay to Unfollow or Block Without Warning

You don’t need someone’s permission to unfollow or block them. Just do it, if that’s what you need. Someone I blocked weeks or months ago whined about it earlier this week, saying “Most people send me a C&D.”

Folks, don’t give people like this the satisfaction. They aren’t worth your time. That very statement — that multiple other people send this dude requests to cease and desist in being an asshole — tells me that this person shouldn’t be in my timeline, and that my life is better for it.

And here’s why it’s key: none of this is permanent. Warn someone if you’re going to kill their puppy, not if you’re going to turn off their ready and immediate access to you for the time being — unless there’s a need for that, like you’re doing business with them or you’re, you know, their spouse.

(Plus, tweeting “Unfollow” to someone just makes you look like an enormous douche.)

Focus on the Positive

A year back, I did a project where I refused to tweet anything snarky or negative, for a week. I did just a week, because that’s a short timeline for focused restraint and study. I really should do that again. Monte Cook did similar in that time, calling it A+. I also am a proponent of #HappinessIs.

It’s Okay to Take a Break

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to close your Twitter (et al) window. Walk away.

Do it for an hour. Do it for a weekend. Do it for 100 days, like Monica Valentinelli did. This won’t solve the problem of other people, but it can help you gain perspective.


Now, for the flip-side…

It’s Okay to be Unfollowed

People unfollow for a host of reasons. Maybe you and that person don’t (or won’t) get along in any exchanges. Maybe you keep retweeting someone that person really hates (in the manual style where blocking that person doesn’t help). Maybe that person’s life has change, and (relevant to my usage) that person doesn’t follow hobby gaming anymore. Or maybe that person was interested in your books, but cannot handle your constant stream of personal politics — whether agreeing or not.

Maybe that person hates that you talk in all caps on occasion. Maybe you routinely say some triggering shit, and that person can’t handle it. Maybe you swear and blaspheme too much. Maybe you’re constantly negative, or you let trolls get the better of you so your feed is a stream of arguments. The list goes on and on.

And maybe you were being an asshole that day, instead of striving for being Internet-zen. (I’m talking to you, self.)

You’re free to take it personally. But there are better things to spend your mental energy on.

I have friends I talk with in person, but have unfollowed me online because what I say to them over a beer isn’t who I am on the Internet.

It’s Okay to be Blocked

For all the reasons above. Now, that might sting more, because it’s a more aggressive form of rejection, but that happens. The best thing to do is to write that dynamic off, rather than try to appeal or complain about it, and move on. Frankly, the truest way to restore the dynamic is by moving on, and maybe in the future you two will be able to connect.

I have some old friends who have blocked me on Twitter. That’s sad, but that’s also life — people change, schisms happen, and nothing lasts forever. I can’t say I haven’t done the same to some old friends, as well.


Not everyone is meant to get along with everyone else. As long as you’re not in someone’s face about it, cool. If you are, that’s unfortunate — and the reason people need reminding about these sorts of things.

– Ryan


8 Responses to Handling Social Media Toxicity

  1. Andy says:

    “Mute for a day”–that would be ace, in any form of social media. I think this needs to happen somehow. Is there anywhere that happens currently?

  2. Thomas Deeny (denagh) says:

    I love Twitterrific’s ability to muffle things. You can muffle screen names, hashtags, and domains: any tweet with the thing you’ve muffled shows up with just the name of the person making the tweet and the screen name or hashtag that you muffled. If you want to see the tweet, it’s just a tap away to expand it. This comes in great when I’m following someone going on a hashtag storm, has some third-party app that spams my timeline with board game plays or unlocking beer-related things, or is in a conversation with someone I don’t care to follow.

  3. Wayne says:

    I’m not sure who said this, but it’s worth thinking about for every fan who wants to get a glimpse into the personal life of someone they admire…

    “To want to meet an author because you like his books is as ridiculous as wanting to meet the goose because you like pate de foie gras.”

  4. pdunwin says:

    Ubersocial had a Mute option. TweetCaster has “zip,” which I don’t like as much.