If you were to log in as me on any social media channel, you’d find something strange: the majority of accounts I follow are muted.
While most are infrequent posters, while some are well intentioned but grating presences, while some I’m leaning toward unfollowing, I do this to clear up my social feeds and give me “just the facts,” just the good stuff, just the necessary ingredients. I can always dip in and out of an account when I need to, the old “I’ll call you.” way of handling things. It’s hyper curation, a volume control for the casual user: whatever you want to call it, it’s a minor form of self-care that filters out too many hot takes and too many unnecessary fist shakings and too many selfies out of my life. It makes things quieter and fast tracks the pretty and the funny and the escapist onto my eyes.
Yet a reality lies beneath that feels to prickle beneath all of our muting habits: it gives you the sensation of having “done something” when you really snoozed an unfollow. This can be good in that “not following” something for a long time would yield you genuinely, honestly having no idea about a situation or person or place that you probably should have known. It’s being your own Kimmy Schmidt. That’s good! But in that same breath, in that little wheeze before you exhale? Someone you know probably has no idea that you’ve been ignoring their everything.
Is this wrong? I don’t think so. There is an acknowledging of a blinder being put up though. It’s a quiet gaslighting of both parties, the sort of squinted look you give or get at a party when someone tries tell you that “Yeah, I’ve been doing this for months.” You then nod as they giggle that “Where have you been?” sort of giggle. You both end up feeling dumb and, really, you should have stayed off social media to begin with, a much better excuse than constantly posting and then playing dumb. You can’t have it both ways, as they say.
Muting, both on Instagram and Twitter, are very kind ways to block someone. Blocking on most websites means you can’t see them and they can’t see you. It’s an extreme out-of-sight-out-of-mind scenario. The mute feels more vicious in that you’ve buried the act under a shade, tucking into the sentiment that, “I don’t have to tell you you are boring or annoying or posting too much or not posting enough because you already know that’s why my interactions have disappeared.”
It’s a theme that comes up again and again in Black Mirror, this idea that another person can be reshaped or “turned off” from another’s life. Take the war commenting “Men Against Fire” or the more directly applicable “White Christmas” which taps into the very creepy idea of real world muting. How fun does that sound? Extremely painful.
Does this mean my muting will stop? Probably not. Social media isn’t real life and, while it does bleed into the day to day, the power of the mute is at a neo-freedom of the speech variety, a showing enough respect to acknowledge and to somewhat listen. It’s baby ghosting, a “Let’s take this offline.” act, an act that suggests reality is missing from the online “reality.”
Think about this as you mute. It’s a mean little button packaged as “convenient.” But you know the best way to make it better? Get off the internet. If you aren’t online, it doesn’t matter who is muting who since you aren’t playing the stupid game that is fake life online.