• Linda Burgess

A guide to surviving Facebook with your soul intact

“It is a great way to communicate with people that you don't get to see, to get events and a message out there.”

“It is very easy to take things the wrong way, which can be hurtful.”

“[What bothers me about facebook] is family trolling me, people unfollowing me, people telling me how I should use my personal profile”

(Comments from various people who responded to a question about issues with facebook)

When asked how they feel about social media, most people responded in a positive way, but many people have their doubts, and many more find social media to be a minefield, where random strangers or close family can troll you, people don’t filter their language or thoughts, and don’t consider how others feel about whether they are your facebook friend or not.

“My jokes [on facebook] fall flat too most of the time. Laughing at myself is the thing to do then”

What’s are the social rules around Facebook? Most of us have relatives who don’t want to add us, friends who delete our friendship, family who say mean things (followed by “lol jks”), and others who block us for no explicable reason. Then there are strangers who troll us on public forums, and facebook groups that don’t protect you from abuse. Facebook started as a social platform for students, there wasn’t a set of rules for behaviour, but there was probably an assumption that people would follow cultural norms on social media as they do in physical life. Unfortunately, facebook has become a place where people can say “wtf, I can be whoever I want here!” and forget that nanna is watching, or that their constant attacks will drive their classmate to suicide.

“I unfriended someone because they called my brother a [foul word] on a Facebook post… I don't think she would have said it to his face.”

What if you were at a party, all your family, friends and colleagues are there, then the grocer and postie turn up, your neighbour from around the corner, a dozen people from the next suburb over who you’ve never met, people from interstate, London, Tokyo, Bruges… This doesn’t happen in the real world, so we have no frame of reference for how to deal with this level of social interaction on social media. If you don’t talk to your cousin at a party, you’re being rude, so you make small talk and move on. But if you snub them on social media you can pretend to yourself that they won’t notice. Or maybe you don’t care. But people do care, people do notice.

“I've deleted all my family from my business pages, groups and email list because I don't want to feel criticised for what I do”

What makes some people affected by social media vs those who can let it roll off their backs? I have seen a lot of clients over the years who are deeply affected by what’s going on with their social media – friends doing things they can’t afford to, calling someone else their “bestie” at a party they weren’t invited to, seeing how truly bigoted people are, blocked by a family member with no explanation, and being disgusted by the language they use. But they feel trapped. If they’re not on facebook, they won’t know what people are saying about them, or doing without them. There is the fear of missing out (FOMO) that keeps them stuck. Often people lack the confidence to respond to nastiness, or to delete people that are trolling them.

“The problem is people think they are anonymous are therefore can write whatever they like and it doesn’t matter if they sit there and troll discussions”

But even strangers insult, intimidate, bully and harass for no good reason. Like the time I commented on an ABC article and was told (by someone I’d never met) that I was an idiot. I could’ve told him to bugger off, or explained my stance, but he had no right to know the latter, the former was a waste of my time, so I deleted the thread and blocked him. But not everyone feels comfortable doing that. People feel threatened, scared, which is a normal response to being attacked, the flight or fight response makes them either engage in an argument with someone who they have no attachment to, or give them more time and more information than they deserve, or delete their friendship.

“I look at most of it as the trash taking itself out”

Then there’s the lack of privacy – you’ve joined a closed group for incontinence sufferers, well people can see your name in that list. You comment on a public page and forget to check the privacy, now everyone knows that you have a problem, maybe something you didn’t want anyone else to know.

“I am selective about who I have on my personal fb page. It is only very close family and some friends”

Those who commented that they weren’t bothered by what people said on facebook, or whether they were blocked or unfriended, are generally not bothered by what people do in their personal life either. In the main, these people talked about it being important to them to keep some people off of their personal or business facebook account, that they didn’t worry about what other people think, and found it easy to let go of the hurtful people in their lives. Really, it comes down to how strong your self-esteem is, how confident you are, how good you are at coping in general – your resilience in essence. If you have a caring group of friends or family, feel generally liked and supported, them someone’s random facebook act won’t be as likely to bother you.

“I don’t have any issues but it might be because I don’t give a shit”

“Life is too short to worry about what anyone else thinks”

So, what can we do about it?

“make people accountable for what they write and the system would be greatly improved”

I would like to see people behaving as they should behave in real life. If you don’t like your uncle and avoid him at parties, maybe you could just say your facebook is a personal platform and you don’t like too many people on it. In other words, somewhere between being nice and being honest. If someone upsets you on facebook, send them a pm about it, instead of deleting them. At the extreme end of the scale, a few people are now realising that you can sue someone for slander. If we let abuse go, people are only going to feel encouraged to be their worst self. If we follow up with the legal system, the word will eventually get out there that you can’t get away with abuse on social media. And when it comes to bullies and school kids, the best we can do is to take a bigger involvement in our child’s social media – put rules around access, phones in the kitchen at an agreed time, have access to passwords (which will result in less inappropriate sharing), inform your children of the dangers of friend requests from unknown people, tell them that nude photos can lead to charges of child pornography for themselves and anyone who receives them.

Most importantly, we need to look at how to build or own and our children’s resilience. If you are part of a caring and supportive family and group of friends, then you are less likely to be distressed by someone’s actions on facebook. For example, I found out someone had blocked me on facebook, I sent a message to my sister about it, we talked it through, and now I’m all good. I realise that this is one person out of a very big group of family and friends, and it’s about them, not me. If you can see someone’s actions as being about them, not you, you are less likely to take it on board, more likely to move on.

“I worry that people become more interested in facebook than the real world”

What about overuse of social media?

This is a common issue that people complain about now. The rule of thumb for me is, if you were to go out with friends and read a book the whole time, would that be ok? Would it bother anyone? If it’s ok to read a book, then by all means, pick up your phone and scroll. If you wouldn’t read a book in that setting, then put your phone away. We are back to FOMO here. Social media isn’t time sensitive, if you don’t look at it for 2 hours, it’s still there. Sure, you might miss out on a joke, but if you are scrolling, you might miss out on a really good time with people who are with you here and now.

“When I see people out at dinner using facebook on their phones or people visiting others at home, but still feel the need to scroll through facebook, this saddens me”

“I want to see, not the backs of their phones”

Final thoughts…

Do you have problems with social media? Do you worry about what people are saying, do you feel compelled to check all the time? Let me know if you would like to talk it through.

“Life is too short for bollocks and rubbish”

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