Essays on Technology and Culture

KonMari for Social Media

Your social media feeds are a mess, and it can be super-stressful. Like PTSD-inducing stressful. There’s always something new to see, comment on, like, favorite, retweet, get outraged about. Especially the outrage. It’s enough to make you wonder why the hell you agreed to friend your Sarah Palin-loving cousin who you only see at weddings and funerals. When Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and all the rest have you frustrated and annoyed, it’s time to go all KonMari on that shit. I’m here to teach you how.

Okay, I’m not saying that, like proper KonMari, every single thing in your feeds has to bring you joy. You want to know about the bad things too, at least when it’s people close to you. And you’ll never be truly free from all the sheer frustrations and annoyances of social media. What these steps will do is just help make your feeds a place that’s just a little less anxiety-inducing.

It’s way too easy to add someone to your friends list on social media, so the best place to begin is to unfollow and unfriend as many people as you can get away with. Take your time on this. The friend of a friend of a friend you met at a party whose posts you see and never comment on? Unfriend him. Your aforementioned Sarah Palin loving cousin? Unfriend her, but only if you’re sure nobody’s going to guilt-trip you about it.

There is a better way, at least on Facebook, to deal with the guilt-tripping family and friends you have to be friended with, if you want to keep up appearances. On most services, you have a binary relationship with the people in your feeds: you either follow them, or you don’t. I’m no fan of Facebook, but one of the few things they do right is let you “Unfollow” someone while still being friends with them. What this means is that you don’t see anything they post, share, like, comment, or whatever in your news feed, but they can still see yours—but there’s a way around that, which I’ll explain later.

Another way to tame your Facebook News Feed is to set your friends as either “Close Friends” or “Acquaintances” instead of merely being Friends. Close Friends shows you more of their posts, Acquaintances less. Another wonderful benefit of these lists is that you can set posts to only be visible to certain groups. To go back to your Sarah Palin-loving cousin, if you assign her to Acquantances, and set any political posts you make to “Friends, except Acquiantances” you won’t have to worry about drowning in a sea of angry notifications as a flamewar erupts on your profile page.

On Twitter, things can be a little more complicated. There’s two ways to get your timeline in order, beyond just unfollowing people, and they both work best when you’re using a Twitter app that isn’t the official one. (I love Tweetbot.) The first is Twitter Lists. If you want to keep up with certain accounts, but don’t want them clogging up your timeline all the time, you can set up a list and check it whenever you prefer. I keep lists for the bands I like, technology news sites, apps I use, and for local stuff.

The second thing Twitter lets you do is muting. Twitter offers basic muting features, but some apps, especially Tweetbot, let you mute with more ruthlessness and effectiveness. You can mute key words, hashtags, and even entire accounts for a single day, a week, a month, or for eternity. Tweetbot also lets you mute all retweets from a particular account, so if someone cool is retweeting a lot of stuff you’re not interested in, you’re only two taps away from a quieter timeline.

If only all the other social networks were as flexible in how well you can manage your feeds. For things like Instagram and Tumblr, where it’s just a binary, follow or unfollow, the only way out is to just up and unfollow anything that’s causing you more angst than it’s worth. Even if it’s your Sarah Palin-loving cousin. Especially if it’s your Sarah Palin-loving cousin. Don’t feel guilty about it.