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Heavy Meddle: The Trouble With 'Un-Friending' Family

Navigating the rough virtual seas of social media. (woodleywonderworks/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
Navigating the rough virtual seas of social media. (woodleywonderworks/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,

Steve

Dear Steve,

How do I address the fact that I recently un-friended several family members on social media sites? Their constant updates started to showcase certain aspects of their personalities that really bothered me (racist, NRA-loving, angry). At the time, I just decided to delete them and move on, but I am now worried I'll be called to the carpet as to why I’m out of the loop.

Signed,

Unfriendly

PHOTO

Dear Unfriendly,

Can we just take a big, collective step backward and confront how strange social media are?

Especially when it comes to situations like this. To summarize:

1. Some relatives of yours are posting updates that offend you.
2. You don’t want to have to read them.
3. You remove them from your feed.
4. Done.

You are now worrying that you’ll be “called to the carpet” for being “out of the loop.” I confess to being a bit confused. Who, exactly, is going to call you to the carpet? Is there a faction of relatives that monitors the friending and un-friending activities of other relatives, specifically to make sure that relatives who post racist updates are not blackballed? Are there important family events or milestones that you’re missing by deleting their feeds? Births or birthdays or engagements that you feel you should know about? Or will be quizzed on later?

I don’t mean to be flippant. I do understand that these on-line relations sometimes complicate relations in the real world. A pal of mine, for instance, decided to “un-friend” an uncle of hers on Facebook, because he kept posting belligerent responses to her posts — one compared Ted Kennedy to Hitler — that all her other friends could see.

Sounds reasonable enough, right? But then my pal’s uncle died. My pal didn’t wind up going to his funeral. But she told me that she would have felt uncomfortable if she had, because her last “interaction” with her uncle was to “un-friend” him. And he was, in real life, quite a beloved guy. The sort of guy who might have made an offending wisecrack at a party, but one that would be treated as a throwaway line.

To a greater extent than we like to admit, the Internet has become a playground where negative attention is always trending.

This is what’s so disheartening about the online world. For some people, it becomes a very public way to broadcast dogma, or vent spleen. Not having to look people in the eye often allows the meaner and more confrontational parts of our personalities to emerge. To a greater extent than we like to admit, the Internet has become a playground where negative attention is always trending.
The irony in all of this, of course, is that social media are supposed to bring us closer to other people, especially folks we might not see as much in person.

Okay, so what are possible solutions?

You could let your actions speak for themselves and stop worrying about what the rest of the family thinks.

You could re-friend these family members and simply ignore the offending updates. Treat them like spam.

You could change your settings in such a way that you don’t have to un-friend these folks to eliminate offending posts.

You could actually reach out to these family members (preferably not through social media) and let them know that you do want to stay in the loop when it comes to their lives but don’t want to deal with their politics. There are obvious risks here — the blowback might make this option untenable — but it’s a more honest approach.

Finally, you could decide that the anxieties and hassles of “social media” aren’t what you signed up for and shift your time and attention to other forms of interaction. I realize this is unlikely, but it felt worth mentioning. Social media isn’t an obligation, after all. It’s just an option.

Good luck!

Steve

OK folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast "Dear Sugar."

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