When it comes to my social media accounts, I don’t have many “Friends” and I am very happy about that. I even encourage my kids to be the same way. Here is why I am OK with not having too many “Friends.”
In every aspect of our lives today, all of our experiences are being scored. All our business, social, physical, and emotional interactions are quantified by some number in an app somewhere. How happy we are, how much we enjoyed our lunch, how pretty we are, and how many friends we have are all numbers set arbitrarily in some app or platform that we can’t control, but we do listen to it. Our kids measure their self-worth by the number of likes their last Instagram photo got, how many friends they have, how many followers or how many views. I feel that this is unhealthy and science backs up that thought.
So what do I do to combat it in my own life and my family? I have some simple rules, I teach these to my kids, then I let them live it out their own way.
My rules are:
First, only “like” things you actually like. Sounds simple, but oh the drama and explanations it saves me. This means that most of the time, especially on social media, I just remain silent. I don’t click anything. If I see a photo of a friends vacation or a neighbors child, if it really strikes me as a moving or meaningful photo, I will give it a “like” a “thumbs up,” or whatever is appropriate for the platform it is on. As long as it is not connected in any way to my child or anyone else’s, I may even comment. If it doesn’t move me at all, I just don’t click anything. Why? Well, too often I was clicking a like on everything under the sun only to notify the other party that I saw it. Then later, that same person would see me in person and ask me a question regarding it. “wasn’t that so funny/cute when Jonnie did X” and I wouldn’t remember what they were talking about because it really didn’t matter to me and it didn’t make an impression. They would then be hurt or feel the need to elaborate on a subject that didn’t gain my attention before and still didn’t have it now. Often, this would end with the interaction being less than favorable for both of us. With my “like only what you really like” rule, if I do like something, it is memorable, and later, when we talk in person, if they mention it, I do remember and can interact honestly because it actually was significant to me. Some of my friends think this honesty is rude, and that is OK with me because I would always prefer to be honest than sweet. It is easier to stand behind.
My second rule is only “friend” someone who I have or would share a meal with. BOOM! That is a shot to most people. “Hey, I sent you a friends request on Facebook, and you didn’t accept, Why?” said one acquaintance whom I had not interacted with in over twenty years. Well, simply put, I train myself and my family to not keep score on social media. How many friends or followers I have doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is that anyone who I do click the friend button on is an actual friend who I won’t mind sharing details about my life with and who I would trust in my home and around my kids? Making someone a social media friend is an easy way to find yourself oversharing potentially dangerous personal data with complete strangers just to get a higher score. To explain this to my kids, I use the analogy of “what if there were a game in which the only way to get more points was to leave the windows and door of their real world home unlocked or to give the address and key to random strangers or leave them on public bathroom sinks? Would you feel safe playing that game?” In every case, the answer to that question has been a resounding NO, but these same kids are happy to do just that when accepting a friend request on Instagram or Facebook, which then sets that person inside of most of your content filters and gives them access to much more private data if you are not ultimately careful. For me, the test of a “friend accept” on social is: Would I go to lunch with this person in real life? More importantly, HAVE I gone to lunch with this person in real life? If the answer is NO, then don’t accept the friend request. This has hurt feelings and upset some people, but frankly, if I don’t interact with them socially in the real world, do I really care what they think? Rude? Maybe, but again, more comfortable to defend, easier to remember, and easier to stand behind safely.
What is more important to me? Keeping myself and my family safe and private. Security matters way more to me that the feelings or opinions of some casual acquaintance. All too often in society today, we are ruled by what is best for other people’s feelings, what is hateful or hurtful, and while that has its place, that place is not, in my opinion, social media, or the safety of your self or kids.
Another reason that I find this kind of selective “friending” to be important never existed when I started it. It is becoming evident now that at borders, checkpoints, and airports we will be more and more expected to give over our social info as well as our ID info. Face recognition is making waves at a record pace, and many discussions are happening at national levels regarding the gathering, linking, and storing social media data to better judge who is a threat to security. If I and likewise my kids have been trained to be highly selective of who we accept friend requests from then some agency having our social profile is less threatening or potentially dangerous to us and our ability to safely travel. Countries like China already use a “Social Score” to affect all sorts of things like creditworthiness, employability, and access to public services. While this is a very frightening concept to me since my family has been trained since day one to be highly selective of who they connect to online, this type of profiling would have a much lower effect on us. Conversely, if you accept every friend request sent your way on all the socials, then some shadow agency’s ability to wrongly link you to some dangerous person, in effect, the Kevin Bacon effect, can much more significantly, and negatively, affect you and your freedom. The same is true for the first rule, not “Liking” every post just to acknowlege its existance. If you only click the like button on things you truly are moved by, then some random post or pic which is deamed controverisal for some unknown, unthought-of reason later in life will never come back to haunt you. Again, I never thought of this when I started, I was just a very private person and trained my kids to be the same, but the effect is still one everyone else can learn from.
It isn’t too late to take action. It isn’t too late to unfriend and remove all those contacts on all the social accounts that you really don’t know. Will it cause some frustration for some people? Yes. Can it cause you to answer some difficult questions? For sure. But this is worth it on so many levels, and we all need to grab control of our own digital life, our digital ID or digital persona if you will, and wrestle them back around to being something safe. Something that we can each be accountable for, and before tech companies, or worse governments, force us too or start holding us accountable even without our knowledge. Stand up for yourself, be an example to your kids, and have those hard conversations. This is a scary world, but the worst of the fear is that of the unknown. Learn it, own it, and control it for yourselves and your family, you will be glad you did in the long run. “Bring up your child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”