We all have that friend on social media: The one who can’t go a day without checking in at the gym (Day 432 ― yep, they’re still at it! #nodaysoff).
The one that can’t pass up sharing the umpteenth #tbt photo of their wedding (#takemeback).
The one whose Instagram stories are 43 slides long. (And uh oh, they went to a concert last night, so be prepared for some blurry, loud-as-hell footage of that lo-fi rock band you loved in college.)
The one who virtue signals every chance they get. The one whose whole feed is selfies. (You love their face, but at this point, you’re kind of sick of seeing it.)
Sometimes, this is all the same person. Ugh.
In the social media age, every one of us is a content machine. It’s not just influencers who do it; we’re all our own personal brand, strategically revealing bite-sized parts of our lives and personality that, in the aggregate, look really, really impressive (or at least seem so).
Unfortunately, sometimes our friends’ online selves aren’t nearly as lovable as they are in person. What do you do when you adore your friend IRL, but find them a little bit obnoxious online?
Lest you think I’m sub-writing (or whatever the journalistic equivalent of subtweeting is), I wouldn’t be sharing this if I didn’t fear I was becoming that friend: Am I over-posting my articles on my Instagram story, when maybe I should just keep the work-related stuff to Twitter? Posting too many food pics?
I was even one of those Grainy Concert Video People last week, sharing a few zoomed-in clips of Elvis Costello performing deep cuts at the Greek Theatre on Instagram. (“Very niche flex but OK,” an internet friend replied, which, yes, ouch, accurate.)
Sam Higgins, a comedian in Brooklyn, has been on both sides of this admittedly first world, Seinfeldian problem, too: “I post and then my inner monologue goes, ’What if no one actually cares?’” he said.
“I mute but I like to think of it in the same light as avoiding bringing up irreparable climate change at a wholesome family event ― good for everyone involved,” he joked. (How many friendships do you think the mute button has saved?)
Ryan, a 27-year-old who works in communication in Chicago, avoids Facebook altogether because of the things his family and friends post. He considers the site the “epicenter” for his “least favorite kind of content.”
“It’s hard to put into words, but Facebook is like a steady stream of the least self-aware content on the internet,” he said. “Emotionally manipulative, long political screeds, incessant FOMO pictures. The worst part is, considering I know most of my network IRL, I can’t unfriend them.”
If we’re all semi-aware of how annoying we can be online, why are we still posting what we do?
We’re social animals. Sharing on social media doesn’t just allow us to package ourselves in a way that shows off our best, most “likable” angles, it bonds us, too.
We like the performative nature of social media ― that with each carefully composed food pic or vacation photo, we have a say in how people perceive us ― and we like watching others document their lives and self-create, too.
As Danah Boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft, wrote in 2009, it’s not much different than how our parents and grandparents would bring out photo albums when friends were over. We just took that inclination and ran roughshod with it.
“We know that there is the notion of Too Much,” she said. “There are only so many baby photos you can see of a baby that’s not related to you before you scream Too Much. There are only so many home videos that you can see until you scream Too Much. And there are only so many vacation photos you can see until you scream Too Much.”
The problem is, “Too Much” is relative. Your friend who’s a new mom might think her near-weekly #unfiltered photos of motherhood are a breath of fresh air, while you think they’re a little attention-seeking. Your cousin’s 34 hashtags on his ab-baring thirst trap might bring in the followers and rows of fire emojis, but it also gives you secondhand embarrassment.
As a good friend, you “like,” anyway. And since most of us feel obligated to “like” everything our inner circles post, there’s really no way to know if you yourself have crossed into Too Much territory.
“That’s the thing,” Florida-based psychotherapist Amy Morin told HuffPost. “When we initially post about something, we get positive reinforcement through likes, comments and shares. That sends the message to us that people enjoy what they see and it signals our brains to keep sharing.”
Unlike our grandparents showing off their photo albums, we’re not privy to the “eye rolls and head shakes people give our photos when we post too much.”
And unlike our grandparents’ day, in some industries, hustling on social media is essential if you want to make a dent. If your friend is self-employed, freelancing or otherwise trying to make a name for themselves in a field where online networking is expected (entertainment, tech, journalism, even researchers and professors at universities), they’re expected to share their work to some extent.
Given that, if your pal is gearing up for a book launch and posting about it every other hour, you might consider (lovingly! kindly!) muting them for a bit. Or grin and bear it, like Eli Savage, an artist and college student in Pennsylvania, tries to do.
When his friends in arts-adjacent fields get intense with the self-promotion, he stays supportive. If their attitude starts to bleed into their actual offline interactions, though, he’s out.
“Sometimes, people start to think self-promotion is acceptable to any extent and in any form and in any place,” he said. “In one instance, I just cut my losses and stopped being friends with the person, because I was starting to get the sense that their willingness to hang around me was entirely dependent on what I could do for their brand as an artist.”
Ultimately, that might be a solid test for dealing with your oversharing friend: Does it impact your real-life dealings with them? If not, live and let live and move on.
If you’re wondering if you might be the offending party, balance your more self-involved postings with content people are genuinely interested in. A 2016 study on social media etiquette suggested it’s not open-book authenticity we value most in who we follow, it’s a person’s ability to contribute something to cultural conversations. In other words, your friend would rather hear your thoughts on the new season of “Stranger Things” than the strange thing your toddler did yesterday.
“Most people would rather that someone post about how they’re sad they have to wait a whole week for the next ‘Game of Thrones’ episode than post about how they’re sad about being romantically rejected,” said Hannah Schacter, an assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit and one of the study’s co-authors. (Thanks for revealing how cold-hearted we are, social science.)
Post more about TV shows and other cultural phenomenon, and recognize that the performance of our online selves isn’t the complete picture. As New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino has said, in real life, there’s a performance and then a backstage — but the internet doesn’t have a backstage area. Even in 2019, there are certain things we keep hidden.
“The internet wants us to be attached to it all the time, but plenty of us are like, ‘Well, I refuse to do that,’” Tolentino told Longreads recently. “Plenty of us still do have a backstage that we have insisted on in our personal lives, which is kind of heartening.”
When your friends get a bit obnoxious online, relish that you’re one of the few people that has access to their true selves, their backstage. You get to see the moments that aren’t polished and Facetuned for their social feed: their laughs that give way to snorts, the shitty moments in their lives that balance out the “I have some personal news…” braggy posts about their careers.
All this being said? By all means, skip through their crappy concert videos on Instagram. You’re their friend, not a saint, and no one wants to watch those.