Kindness, selective blindness and what pushes our buttons ~ how to stay calm when the internet intrudes

Kindness, selective blindness and what pushes our buttons ~ how to stay calm when the internet intrudes


The internet is a wonderful thing ~ it brings all manner of things into our homes

The internet is a dreadful thing ~ it brings all manner of things into our homes

Both of these statements are true. You can’t deny the impact that the internet has made on almost every life, even those who choose not to use it. Social media is something that divides people into very different camps; some refuse to use it at all, and others are pretty much addicted. The opponents claim that people are living their lives too publicly and that they ought to be more discreet, and that internet friends are not ‘real’ friends. Those who love Facebook, Twitter and the like claim that they are careful what they put up and that internet friends have been more caring that their so-called real life ones.

It’s not a subject they’re going to agree on any time soon.

One of the things I have noticed recently is a rather interesting phenomenon. When a person on a social media site does or says something that another person disagrees with, a number of things often follow. The first is a real humdinger of an argument, where the offended party tries to make the offender retract their position. Others wade in and if this were Saturday night outside a pub, fists would be flying very quickly. The other thing that usually follows (either before a fight starts or immediately after) is an unfriending, unfollowing or a blocking. The reason usually given that they don’t want to see THAT sort of thing/person/opinion on their page/time-line.

The most common reason for this sort of spat is ideologies (religion being a prime one) conflicting. I found myself hovering over the hide button on Facebook when someone I know only slightly was constantly posting about militant vegetarian issues. Then I stopped and asked myself why I wanted to NOT see what she was posting. Answer: because it made me feel deeply uncomfortable about my occasional meat eating. It reminded me of an existing conflict that I had been trying to ignore.

I read a couple of blog posts recently about writing that wound me up. Someone used the metaphor of the Build-a-Bear franchise for how to write a novel, likening the process of creating your own unique teddy from pre-designed components to the process of creating a novel. It made me shriek with outrage, and then I found myself laughing at my own anger. If that’s what works for someone else, fine, let it work for them. No one is forcing me to follow that method, or directly castigating me for not using it. It simply doesn’t matter that another writer has a very different method of being creative to my own. It doesn’t matter if they declared their method to be the only valid method. I am allowed to disagree. This might sound incredibly obvious but it’s quite meaningful for me to say this, because it shows to me that I am beginning to allow that I am allowed to have an opinion that may be counter to everybody else’s; that my opinion has value, whether or not anyone agrees with it. So I didn’t launch into a comment on that blog, explaining patiently how wrong they were. I moved on. Progress, for me, anyway.

Twitter is a place where opinions abound, as do arguments, but I hear quite often the line about unfollowing someone because they are clogging up your time-line with their stuff. This, I confess, baffles me. I have about 1.6k followers/followees. They’re a diverse crew, from many nations and walks of life. Some I follow because I simply find what they say funny or thought-provoking or interesting or sometimes downright rude (and funny); some don’t follow me back, which is fine. I interact with probably only a relatively small number because a good half are in the USA or elsewhere in the world and time-zones away. Among them are a good number of writers. One of the commonest reasons for an unfollow is what is dubbed shameless self-promotion. Now, I see another writer has the right to use Twitter as they wish, so I’ve learned to tune out tweets of this sort, unless they are about books I’ve read and loved, or by an author whom I like and respect (and may have read but not always. Some folks write in genres I cannot bring myself to read, but I know them to be good writers nonetheless) in which case I may well retweet their promotional links. However, what will get me annoyed is someone who follows me, and when I follow back, sends an automatic direct message trying to get me to buy their book. This to me is just bad manners and poor business practise. Depending on mood, I may reply, pointing this out. If there is a response, I base my decision whether to unfollow on that. If they’re humorous but apologetic I may continue to follow; if they ignore my message, I unfollow. If they argue I unfollow. These days, I am very cautious about following other writers. Many collect followers but as soon as you follow them, they unfollow. I also am reluctant to follow back anyone with a vast horde of followers on the principle that I strongly suspect they have no interest in me as a person but rather as a possible customer. Reading their time-line shows whether they chat with others or not, and how.

There is a lot of unkindness in social media, and that saddens me. There is also a great deal of kindness and care, for folks one has never met and never likely to. Sometimes this kind of cyber kindness can make a massive difference to people who are unwell, isolated, lonely and in pain. I’ve met some wonderful people who have been unremittingly kind to me, but I’ve also met plenty who push my buttons. There was one guy, a self-styled guru, who made a claim that depression doesn’t exist. That blog post got so much flak he was eventually obliged to take it down. He’s still out there, with over 80k followers, gaining a flock. I got so angry about the things he was saying, I made an exception to my own rules and unfollowed him. On one occasion he was exceptionally rude and nasty directly to me; I saw him say callous and unkind things to others on many occasions. I considered whether I had a chance of making any sort of difference by opposing him and realised I didn’t stand an earthly hope of it, so stepped back. There’s only so much crap I can take. But I am aware of the buttons he pushed in me and maybe I learned something.

When someone does or says something on social media that upsets, disturbs or enrages me, I’ve begun to learn that there are stages I need to go through. Step back, is the first one. Then I try to understand my reaction and ask myself if there is something I need to learn or change; this is tough because it rides that fine line between compliance to others and authenticity of self. Then I need to decide if I must take any action. By this, I mean, is a response required; would doing or saying nothing be more appropriate? For some, unfriending on Facebook is a small thing but for me, it’s a huge one. If someone does it to me, it hurts. Usually, after much thought, I realise that very little is required. Often nothing at all, in fact, for a good reason: it’s not really about me at all. Other people’s stuff is, well, their stuff. I am allowed to turn on my own selective blindness and ignore it. If I find I can’t ignore it, then it’s time for some deeper soul searching to find out why .

28 thoughts on “Kindness, selective blindness and what pushes our buttons ~ how to stay calm when the internet intrudes

  1. A wise and profound post, Viv. I have come to all of these conclusions myself but could never have articulated them as well as you do here Thank you.


  2. A lot of very good and thought-provoking comments made here about use of social media. And of course it reflects – to a certain extent – the way people handle relationships, conflict and difficulties in real life. I would make a plea for less egotism and more genuine caring for other people – online as well as in the real world.


    • It does indeed reflect the way people react in real life; I am thankful much of this goes on online, or there’d be serious injuries and death the way some struggles play out.


  3. I unfollow on Twitter because of clutter. (What I mean when I say clutter is automated “Buy my book” tweets and a high volume of tweets that consist only of links to that person’s blog/book, and very little else.) I used to unfollow temporarily if someone was generating a high volume of traffic, like sometimes happens with the #hashtag games, but now I’ve got a Twitter client that will let me filter out a hashtag or mute someone temporarily.

    Like you say, other writers are allowed to use Twitter how they wish. By the same token, so am I, and I prefer to use it for conversations. When someone else’s use of Twitter interferes with how I want to use it, I’m allowed to unfollow them.

    It’s an interesting topic. I once unfollowed someone temporarily, just because they were “noisy” and I was trying to pay attention to other things in my feed. Then I followed them again later and there was this giant passive aggressive thing, and eventually she said, “If you unfollow me again, I might not follow you back…”

    And I thought, “Um. So?” and clicked unfollow because I don’t need that kind of bullshit from some casual Twitter acquaintance.

    Just like you’ve begun to realize you’re allowed to have your own opinion, I’ve realized I’m allowed to control the flow of information directed at me. I don’t have to listen to everything people want to say. I can’t, even. There aren’t enough hours in the day. So I choose what matters to me, and I refuse to let anyone make me feel bad about it.


    • yes, very much so. It’s a balance between emotional interdependence and emotional autonomy. We ARE all connected, on some level, but we can dictate how much that affects us.
      And yes to the passive aggressive thing. Am thinking of inventing a new board game called Passive Aggressive where you get cards with scenarios and the most effective use of passive aggressive strategy wins most points!


  4. Thank you – that is the most balanced assessment of the whole social media situation I have come across. I very rarely post comments on anything, especially to someone I do not know, but had to compliment you on this blog. I read your blog regularly and while I do not agree with everything, it is a source of great comfort to hear that I am not alone in some of my experiences with depression. Please keep posting.


    • Thank you Julia. It is nice to hear from someone who reads regularly but doesn’t comment. Helps me feel it’s worth the hard work it sometimes takes to keep a blog like this going.


  5. What a lovely distillation of just about everything i’d want to say about social media and the ways it affects me: from anger to joy…sometimes in the same hour. grin.

    You always say it just the right way. the base line: don’t let it get to you. YOu may not have written that, but that’s what I’m taking away. A very useful lesson.


  6. Good post, Viv. You’re right about people pushing YOUR buttons. It’s up to you to choose which you’ll listen to and those you’ll ignore. I guess the other thing is, most of the people on Twitter especially, we’ll never meet. They’ll never have a real impact on our lives – unless we let them.


  7. I’ve only ever unfollowed a couple of people, simply because they followed me only to call me nasty names 😉 short of that, I can ignore almost anything. I really don’t worry about it much (or pay much attention, I have no clue who unfollows me or why – nor do I much care).


    • I am learning not to worry. It does discombobulate me when someone I have previously chatted with decides to ignore anything I currently say to them, but it’s their problem not mine,
      And as for the name calling…..horrid and childish.


  8. Okay – here goes and hopefully wordpress won’t eat this comment. 🙂

    Interesting blog post. I’ve been mainly extremely lucky with my online interactions on social media ie twitter and facebook and my blog community. I’ve found mostly people who will discuss things in a civilised manner and even when I’ve disagreed we’ve been friends during and after the exchange of views.

    I’ve cut a few people loose just as in real life I’ve felt it necessary to do so. The places I find truly aggressive diasgreeable people are on forums. There is something about a forum that brings the nasties out in force. I think it might be because there is less incentive to get along with people in a forum.

    I’ve had my blood pressure put through the roof on various forums – but thankfully only once or twice in many years on twitter and facebook.

    I don’t follow back anyone who seems to be ‘collecting’ me for no good reason and I sometimes unfollow people when they get on a seemingly permanent book pushing jag – but if it is someone I know I’ll probably refollow them when the fever has passed.

    Sorry this is an extremely boring comment – which probably means word press won’t eat it – unlike the last comment I made on a previous blog post of yours of which I felt particularly proud – wordpress yummed it up and left not a trace. 🙂


    • Not boring at all, very astute and balanced. I’ve stayed away from forums for a long time now. I belong to a shamanic forum, which is mostly inactive now, but it did some eyeopening for me, to see how nasty people could be.
      And yes, one does sometimes need to cut people loose, but I know having been cut loose by several people lately from Twitter, I’d rather it were done in an adult manner, rather than the passive aggressive way I’ve seen it happen.
      Thanks for commenting, Michele, much appreciated.


  9. a thoughtful post – as ever!

    I’ve had more difficulties on facebook than twitter with arguments, within groups I might add, as it takes a long time for me to add someone as a friend on facebook that I don;t know in real life, or who isn;t a friend of a friend that I seem to get on with. Most shockingly disagreeing and saying something different in a non hostile way seems to be viewed with great suspicion, there is such an inclination for people to be polarised and decide that if you are against A you must be against B and if you are not then you are not real. SO I have left a few groups on facebook. got deleted from one for a bit for being an extremist hunt supporter [even though others were not and I am not] or a troll/fake person/another id for an existing banned member. Some people just want to have slanging matches, now I’ve leart that I don’t engage! Not to let my buttons get pressed! But yes it is very good to look at why buttons are being pressed. Vegetarianism is one of them actually. I don’t like militant anything. If we really know that we are doing our best it’s a start. It’s no good leading the horse to water then then shoving its mouth in – let it gaze awhile

    I’ll happily follow someone just for their blog posts if their blog is something that interests me – can’t subscribe to all otherwise email inbox gets filled up!!

    I have received a lot of support and friendship from people online, enough so that I would call some friends and aquaintances, the same as people I know in “real” life.


  10. Yes, good sense here and having just come from a writing retreat where I was able to step back from the online thing, I must say it’s great to take a break from all this and have a new perspective when returning.


    • I find each time I go away for work, I seek a new perspective. Did the retreat go well, hope so. I saw Marc Nash in London at the weekend and he had a paperback of Housewife with a Half Life in his pocket, just so’s you know!!


  11. This is an interesting post. I can only add that Twitter and a number of ‘e-friends’ have really helped me over the last two years since the death of our son, perhaps even more so than the majority of my family. Kind words of support arriving from all over the world, just when I have needed them, have basically kept me alive.

    Facebook is reserved solely for family and close friends. Gone are the days of ‘collecting’ long lost school friends who I haven’t spoken to for over 25 years, ex-pupils of mine and even some family members who had a charming habit of spreading my news to people I’d rather not know.



    • Hi Greg,
      thanks for visiting. Kind words are vital to us, all of us, but most especially when terrible things happen. I am never failed to be moved by the kindness of strangers.
      We live in an age of unprecedented social connections, and it’s going to take a while to get used to it and find our own ways of coping with the new stresses this brings.
      I use FB in a different way to the way I use Twitter, and it’s hard to explain how and why. But since people I work with I am connected to via FB, I am generally more chary of sharing stuff there I wouldn’t share at work!


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