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Time for a social media spring clean?

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“I tried to spend less time on social media. I did a deep cleansing of my social feed. I muted a lot of people. It wasn’t in a mean way, but when I was opening my feed, I felt bombarded; I didn’t feel like I had ownership over my Twitter feed or my Instagram feed anymore, so I unfollowed a lot of people that frankly didn’t bring me joy or made me anxious or made me feel bad about myself. With social media, a lot of people feel like they have to do it in one way or they have to follow this person, and it’s like … you don’t. Mute the person if you don’t like them. Unfollow them if you don’t like them. For what it’s worth, Instagram has a lot of issues, but the one thing they did give us is this mute option so use that.”

These are the words of Nikki Ogunnaike, in an interview with The Cut published this week. Referencing last year’s Black Lives Matters debates on social media, Harper’s Bazaar digital director opened up on social media and how she felt she had no control over her social media.

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Incidentally, it was only a couple of hours before I saw The Cut interview, I’d seen Blessing Omakwu’s post – a glamorous photo of herself against a lush tropical backdrop with the caption:
“Trying to decide if I want to come back.
Enjoying:
* The privacy.
* The documentation for self only.
* The clarity on real friendships vs. social media enhanced proximity.
* Doing it for purpose vs. the gram.
* The free headspace.
* Being fully present in moments vs. feeling pressure to capture them.
* Sharing my feelings with my journal, my therapist and my peoples.
* Preserving my energy for things that pay me.
Missing:
* The escapism/distraction.
* The community.
* The visual journal.”

Nigerian-American women’s equality advocate had posted 26 weeks ago with what she captioned a break-up post, and clearly she was pondering whether to make a return to social media. It was going back on to her previous post I realised I had missed her break-up. Just how many people was I following on Instagram that I hadn’t realised the absence of someone whose posts I find inspiring?

A quick look at my Instagram showed a whopping 5,406 – doubtless a thousand bots, a few hundreds of people I have no idea how I ended up following, another thousand I followed back in the day – I was after all an early adopter in 2011 – and never got around to unfollowing when our paths diverged in different directions, probably hundreds of influencers who at one time or another influenced me, a few scores news accounts to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world, and a few scores of dog and cat accounts and funny meme accounts to lighten up my feed and my mood after doom scrolling headline news.

Unlike millennials who disable their social media when they feel overwhelmed or have a deadline coming up, I believe I have enough will power to stay away from social media when I have to, despite the fact that my daily screen time is around seven hours, and I’ll freely admit a good three of those would be spent on social media. However, much like my cluttered email inbox, I seem to find it a challenge to summon the willpower required to spring clean my feed.

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Setting up my Facebook in 2008 and initially using it for networking, last year was the first time I had a proper cull – amid the Covid-19 conspiracy theories and Black Lives Matter debates, many people I know did much the same. It was during this cull I realised the ridiculous number of people who were invading my feed and therefore my mind – from the model we’d worked with once who was now criticising the BLM movement in the UK, to the intern who had quit after two months who was using his Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about the ‘plandemic’. Occasionally I’d see a post and wonder how on earth I’d ended up having this person as a ‘friend.’ With 3,000+ people, you can imagine the cull continues.

And while Facebook is more a private platform, Instagram is quite different; instead of ‘friends’ we have ‘followers’ or a ‘following’ – even in itself it’s not a reciprocal relationship. Hence, Ogunnaike’s words resonated even more. Over the years, I have stopped following accounts that were fun but now I find problematic, like fashion pages that perpetuate the culture of ‘more is more’ – as the world is cracking at the edge, climate crisis is writ large, while many of us a trying to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle from our food to the clothes on our back, I realised seeing square after square of designer wear or make up goodies wasn’t filling me with joy.

Yes, I enjoy seeing other worldly images of far-flung destinations, but equally I’d like to follow accounts that inform me and give me tips on how I can work towards sustainable travel. Like anyone else I might have one or two ‘gossip’ accounts I follow, but for each one I follow another ten bookstagrammers to feed my mind. Above all, like Ogunnaike I have unfollowed those that no longer bring me joy.

If like Ogunnaike you feel overwhelmed, or like me, you’ve found yourself stumbling on a post from someone you have no idea how you ended up following, do yourself a favour and start your spring social cleaning today. Free your feed; free your soul.

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