If a social media friend is toxic, what should you do?

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Human interaction is an integral component of life. Advanced technology has changed the way people interact and communicate with one another. I think we can make a logical assumption that the vast majority of adults in this country use social media. Whether you have a MeWe or GAB account or use Telegram, Signal or the more traditional forms of online social interaction, you probably do not personally know every person with whom you interact, meaning know them in person, in your day-to-day life. Still, I have friends that I met on social media more than 10 or 15 years ago. It irks me when people say that a social media friend is not a “real” friend.

I care deeply about these people. We exchange Christmas cards. I have spoken with many of them on the phone, and we know and care about each other’s families. We’ve just never met in person. When interacting with people online, whether you know them in person or not, it can be a pleasant experience. It can also be toxic, if you’re not careful. People tend to write things they might not otherwise say if speaking face-to-face. In the past couple years, I have made the decision on several occasions to “block” certain people online. I never thought I would do this, especially because I pride myself on being an openminded person who welcomes all forms of polite discourse, even if someone’s opinions, convictions, beliefs or worldview differs from my own.

But, you see? The key word there was “polite.” The people I chose to block on social media were not only not polite, they were being vulgar, vile, vitriolic and hateful. I ultimately determined it best to sever ties on social media. Sadly, I have done this five times, and in all five cases, I did know the person I was blocking in person, although have not seen four of them since high school. Toxic people can have serious, negative effects on your life. You do not have to allow that to happen.

What’s the difference between human fault or weakness and a toxic social media friend?

We’ve all been there. We get involved in an online thread of discussion and written words evoke strong emotion. We wind up writing something we wish we hadn’t. That doesn’t necessarily make someone a toxic person. Being able to recognize toxic behavior on social media can help you determine whether you might want to make some changes in your contacts. Consider the signs of toxic social media behavior included in the following list:

  • Often writes lies or twists the truth
  • Is constantly pessimistic or negative
  • Often uses profane, vulgar or insulting speech
  • Drains your energy and brings out the worst in you
  • Lingers in your thoughts as you go about your day, and not for good reasons
  • Makes you feel angry, sad, depressed, frustrated or gloomy
  • Is rude more often than not

You’re not going to like every person you meet nor every person with whom you interact on social media. Every person you meet or interact with is not going to like you either. A person whose personality greatly differs from yours doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is toxic.

I often interact with a social media friend who also happens to be my former high school English teacher. Our opinions, worldview, convictions and beliefs are diametrically opposed. Neither one of us considers the other toxic, though. We also have a lot in common, such as a love of crocheting, language, and recipes for healthy meals and snacks. While we might “call each other out” so-to-speak if either of us thinks the other is refusing to acknowledge a fact or to consider a perspective different from our own. However, we do not degrade, insult, argue with, demean or treat each other hatefully. It’s okay to interact with people who are very different from you as long as you’re both exhibiting good social media manners. If you believe a person is toxic, however, you might want to consider disconnecting from him or her.

How should you sever ties with a toxic person online?

In one of the cases where I decided it was best for my own mental health if I blocked a person on social media, I wrote a note to the person first. I explained that while I love and care for her, I believed it was best for us both if we no longer interacted online. At first, I thought the note would suffice, and I could merely “unfollow” her posts. Sadly, the person in question kept posting vitriolic comments in threads I was participating in and also kept sending rude and confrontational posts on Messenger, hence my ultimate decision to use the block option. Again, I wrote to her first and explained why I was doing what I was about to do.

I personally have never understood hatred or rude speech, whether in writing or in person or when interacting with a social media friend. It’s not a perfect world and people are not perfect either. Have I ever been rude to another person? Yes, but I have always tried to apologize and seek forgiveness for my rudeness. Discussions can get heated and emotions may run into overdrive. It’s okay to disagree, and it’s okay to have a healthy debate. Our key word this time is “healthy.” If someone you interact with on social media makes you feel UNhealthy, it might be time to sever ties.

If you don’t want to block the person, you might try unfollowing him or her first. You might even try forging an agreement as I did with another one of the people I recently blocked. For more than a year, we both agreed that we would not comment on each other’s posts or comments. It worked for a long time. However, we “run the same circles” on a particular social network, and her toxicity toward OTHER people began to have a negative effect on me. I finally decided it would be best if we no longer can “see” each other at all.

Be proactive in your connections and interactions

As a parent, I’ve told my children countless times that, just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD. Think of your time on social media the same way. You don’t have to accept every friend request that comes your way just as someone might not accept a friend request you send. If you feel down or upset every time you read a particular person’s posts, you can unfollow him or her.

If someone is being toxic, you can use the block option. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It means that you are not allowing a toxic environment to intrude on your social time. We all have to share the internet, and we’ll often find ourselves on the same networks as people we grew up with, went to college with or currently know in our daily lives. There is nothing wrong with protecting yourself from toxicity. Sometimes, it’s the best thing to do.

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