On Friday, I read a post on my friend Dyane’s blog that reminded me of a life-altering experience my friend, Tara, had several years ago.
I do a lot of thinking about social media — the connections, behaviors I see, the benefits, the drawbacks. I ponder how I prefer using various platforms, both personally and professionally, and often find myself weighing the pros and cons of meshing my professional life and personal life within virtual spaces. It’s a tricky thing. I have no firm answers, but I’ve determined that so much of it is a highly individual decision that varies depending on the situation.
I find myself frequently having these conversations with real-life friends, often after they’ve had negative experiences and need to talk through them.
I commented on Dyane’s blog and shared that I wanted to add more but was pressed for time and would do my best to come back.
On Sunday evening I sat down and began typing out my comment only to find that it was LONG. Dyane loves open dialogue, and never minds lengthy comments, but the more I wrote, the more I recognized that this comment would be better as a blog post.
Dyane is a prolific mental health advocate and writer. Her work is her passion, and she works tirelessly to speak for those whose voices have been dismissed and ignored. Dyane candidly shares her own story of postpartum bipolar disorder as well as her daily life raising young children in the process. She’s engaging and inspiring, and her writing is laced with intelligence and wit, and I learn something from every post. I’m proud to call her my friend.
I encourage you to read her post in full as I feel it’s important to fully understand my response here. Dyane tells of a recent situation where she was featured in a Huffington Post article. She was on hiatus from Facebook, but in order to respond to comments on the piece, she had to use a Facebook profile. During this time she was unfriended on Facebook by someone she considered a friend and confidante and was extremely hurt (understandably!) by this “friend’s” action.
Dyane’s experience and response reminded me of something a dear friend went through eight or so years ago:
Tara had recently taken a job and moved her family to a town that felt like another universe. She was learning a new position, helping her children adjust to a new school, new friends, renting out a house thousands of miles away — you get the idea. She was under a ton of stress.
Tara is a talented, go-getter, who does everything with a depth and passion most can’t fathom. She’s high-functioning, intelligent, and very sensitive — and I absolutely believe that some of the most talented people are often the most sensitive. She was having to hold everything together in her job and with her family while navigating a climate vastly different from her home of origin. At night she couldn’t sleep and would often turn to social media to connect with her long-sustained support system, now geographically far far away.
She would pal around with her friends on Facebook, and that got her through numerous hard times in her daily life. At the same time, she would post articles and have discussions pertaining to her career — a career she chose because she loved the field and wanted to make the world a better place. She was talented and deep, and she was great at her job. She was changing lives, making an impact and a name for herself.
As she grew more renowned in her field, her Facebook feed held more work-related content (articles, links, discussions), and often became host to lively discussions drawing friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. The majority of her Facebook friends shared her passion and were outwardly supportive and congratulatory of her success, and were also quick to support her on low days when she shared her disappointments.
Unfortunately there’s an asshole (or a few of them) in every group, and nowhere is this more evident than in these intimate online spaces. Tara got unfriended by four or five colleagues — people she had always sensed didn’t like her and were jealous of her success, when the reality was that her being better and drawing attention to some of the things she was drawing attention to only bettered all of them. But…their egos got in the way, and they couldn’t see that.
However…they had choices in how they chose to handle those ego-filled moments — human moments. None of us are immune to feelings of jealousy and envy, and none of us go through life never having a bad day. Perhaps I could chalk Tara’s situation up to the newness of social media, but I still have a hard time defending her unfrienders.
I learned a lot about the depth of pain inflicted through what might seem like a ‘hey-that’s-life’ situation with Tara. This mass unfriending brought her to her knees. It made her question every conversation she’d ever had on Facebook. It made her swear she’d never show any vulnerability in a public place again. It was the beginning of her career undoing and sent her into a deep depression that she had to fight and claw her way out of with the help of meds and numerous professionals. And the worst part was how the unfrienders used her reaction as ammunition, causing her further pain.
They called her unstable; unfit to handle the pressure of their field and basically everything other than crazy, when in reality, she was suffering from a common mental illness that she had been forthcoming about with these people.
I’m being vague here to protect identities, but the field that these colleagues — so-called experts, unfrienders were in — is very much a field where they know better, but they chose to not do better.
They could have unfollowed her or chosen to not participate in certain discussions.
They could have tactfully suggested she start a different page or group independent of her personal page that could serve to facilitate some of the very discussions taking place on her personal page — though Tara was doing nothing against policy and only these few seemed to have a problem with what she was doing.
Instead they acted out with some passive-aggressive bullshit by choosing to collectively unfriend her.
Tara is not passive aggressive. She lives out loud. She called them out on the unfriending — questioned them — and these were people unaccustomed to being questioned. They made proper, avoidant responses — ‘We felt you were using your personal Facebook page to further your cause.‘ Pardon me, but the very cause to which they were referring was supposedly the same cause their entire organization claimed be furthering. But because Tara was the one actively working to further this cause in a unique public space and gaining good attention because of it, rather than jumping on board and saying — ‘Hey, this is something you’re awesome at. We never considered Facebook a place for this, but it’s amazing. Keep doing your thing. We’re behind you.’ — they made her life miserable, and caused her to doubt herself.
Tara developed a phobia of speaking out on social media — something, I believe, she truly had a gift for. These unfrienders had different strengths but weren’t interested in progressive change — certainly not when they weren’t the ones pioneering the idea.
Eventually, Tara’s depression went into remission, but she was told that the organization wanted to go in a different direction. They insulted her with a pay cut inviting her to stay as an intern — an ‘opportunity’ to mold herself into their more traditional way of doing things, even though they originally hired her for her ‘innovation and ability to creatively share the company’s ideals.’ She politely told them to go f*@# themselves and is now successfully freelancing, effecting change, and kicking ass on her own terms.
I actually consider Tara’s story to be one of my greatest life lessons. I say that now that she’s moved past most of the trauma — and call that an exaggeration all you want — but that’s what it was. Many of my thoughts on social media and the way I conduct myself there are because of the profound effect Tara’s experience had on me. Stay tuned for part two of this post for more of my personal thoughts and conduct on social media.
It’s so easy to forget that behind every social media profile is a person. I want to believe that the person who unfriended Dyane is someone struggling in her own life and made an impulsive decision that wasn’t well thought through. My hope is that she’ll read Dyane’s post and choose her future social media actions more intentionally — with more compassion, directness, and empathy. Unfortunately for her, she lost a good friend in Dyane.
The flip side, and anyone looking for a debate can certainly attest to this, is that we don’t have all the details and that people have every right to unfriend whomever they choose.
We also have to the right to tell the barista making our coffee that their creation tastes like shit and that we’re never coming back to their stupid café again.
We have the right to ghost people we’re in relationships and friendships with by cutting off all contact with no explanation.
I hope we all aim for more civil and mature ways to handle our dissatisfaction.
Social Media has a way of shining a light on people’s character — a bright and far-reaching light.
I hope it’s encouraging people to work to be better. Kinder. Even if the only reason is to prevent being exposed as an ass.
Online social spaces are still babies — or maybe we’re in elementary school by now. We’ll have to ask a more tech-y expert for an accurate developmental phase. Let’s just say it’s young, evolving, and we’re all still learning.
So often we read articles touting the benefits and/or drawbacks of social media, but I rarely see personal stories illustrating people’s experiences — especially the expression of feelings after instances of something hurtful like being unfriended.
These stories are important. I’m sorry Dyane was hurt, but I appreciate her for boldly sharing this experience. I hope it will make us all examine our actions on social media a little more carefully. Here’s the link to her post. I encourage you to check out her important blog and the work she’s doing in the mental health community, specifically drawing attention to Postpartum Bipolar Disorder — a lesser known disorder impacting many, possibly someone you know.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on social media. Have you been hurt by someone unfriending you? What are your thoughts on unfriending and social media etiquette in general?