How to Handle 5 Super-Awkward Social Media Snafus
Dodge explosive political opinions, discourage indiscriminate tagging, and evade uncomfortable moments—all while keeping your online friendships intact.
Social media platforms try to help: They allow us to “unfollow” someone without unfriending, to “block” their posts from our feed, even to “report” on something we find offensive. But when you’re staring at a social flare-up from the comfort of your own glowing screen, it only takes a few keystrokes to upend a relationship that you value. “When things are posted in real time, the inclination is to respond in real time,” says New York City psychoanalyst Rachel Blakeman, “and it becomes this urgent, not-well-thought-out situation. But usually when you take a step back to think, the urgency to deal with it falls away.” And calmer heads prevail.
Follow our expert advice for some of the most common scenarios. You’ll be able to dodge social media land mines and take control of your feed at the same time—without unfriending anyone online or IRL.
1 Your feed is blowing up with hard-core political talk—and you really just want to see funny links and clever wine-drinking references.
Just can’t stand to scroll past heated political commentary? Etiquette expert Elaine Swann says it’s ok to filter them right out of your feed. “If the platform will allow you to unfollow without unfriending, do it,” she advises. “Once election season is over and there’s something else to talk about, you can go back to following those people.”
Of course, there is a less passive way to manage your pals. “Shoot them a quick email or direct message and tell them what you really like to hear from them, rather than what you don’t like to hear,” says Swann. “Encourage your friend to share more of her Scandal live tweets. People love to be complimented, so stroke their ego and get them to talk more about something you know they enjoy.”
2 You just got tagged in party photos from Saturday night—but you told other friends you were staying in.
Remember life before tagging? In high school, if you lied to a friend about attending a party and someone else told them you were there, you’d know you were busted only if they confronted you. “Today, you might see pictures online before your friend does, and you have to make the choice to pre-empt her discovery,” Blakeman says. It’s all on you—and that’s always harder.
To start, says Swann, untag yourself, or contact the pal who uploaded the pics and ask her to remove the ones of you. Then, follow Blakeman’s advice: “Deal with the situation the way you would if you’d gotten caught in real life: Call your friend and tell her you’re sorry, that you wanted to go to the party but didn’t want to hurt her feelings by saying so.” And once the apology is out there, says Swann, change the subject to bring the focus back to your friendship. “Ask her, ‘So are we still on for next week?’ or ‘How did your painting project go on Sunday?’” says Swann. “The best thing you can do is apologize and quickly move on.”
3 One pal’s well-lit prime-rib food porn is another person’s (yours) stomach-turning reason to go vegetarian.
Sometimes we unwittingly offend, sometimes others unwittingly offend us. “It’s important to realize that at any time, the way you’re writing something or reading it may be completely different from what’s intended,” says Blakeman. Your foodie friend thinks his mealtime snaps look mouthwatering and artful—he has no idea that you feel morally assaulted by the images.
If you’re really bothered by the photos, Swann suggests using the platform’s settings to filter them—but proceed with caution. “When we unfriend or block people and they notice, it can become a bigger issue,” she says. “They get insulted. So if you can, ignore the images, and encourage him to post more of something else.” Like, say, his crave-worthy homemade desserts.
4 You’re staring at 33+ uploaded pics from a coworker reunion you weren’t invited to.
There are many reasons you might have been left off the guest list: it was an oversight; you worked there from ’13-’15, but that was really the 2012 gang; they didn’t think you’d make the commute. No matter the reason, Swann says, “It’s awkward, and that sting of not being included hurts. But ask yourself, ‘Is this something I really would have wanted to attend?’”
If you realize you wouldn’t have gone anyway, leave it alone. Heck, go ahead and like a few of the pictures. On the other hand, says Swann, if you do feel left out, get in touch with the host. “Say, ‘Next time you all get together, I’d love to be there. Keep me posted on any future events,’” she says. Give her the benefit of the doubt—and hopefully you’ll be included next time around.
5 You posted a seemingly harmless link that set off your mother-in-law — right there in the comments section.
Yikes. Who knew your MIL would have such strong opinions on global warming? You were just posting a funny commentary on the unseasonably warm weather. Now what?
Whatever you do, don’t engage online. “It’s not about whether you’re right or wrong,” says Swann. “It’s about her feelings and how she received it. Delete the offensive post. If it—and her comment—stays there online, the sting of the offense will stay there as well.”
Next—and you might not like this—apologize. After all, says Swann, isn’t that what you’d do if this interaction had happened over the dinner table? You didn’t mean to offend anyone, so say so. “Shoot her a direct message after you’ve taken it down,” says Swann. “When we put others at ease, we’re not always comfortable ourselves, but right now this isn’t about how you feel. Besides, once you apologize for offending her, it’s done.” And everyone can get back to liking cute pics of cats doing wacky stunts.