Sometimes ‘Unfollowing’ Isn’t Enough: Why I Have No Problem Unfriending People On Social Media

by Michaela Brown
A woman holding her phone and unfollowing someone.
Scary Mommy and John Tuesday/Unsplash

I can still remember joining Facebook for the first time. It was 2009, and it was all.the.rage. among my former college and high school friends. I was a new mom, struggling to find my footing in the stay-at-home mom world. The loneliness and isolation were crippling, and social media became the salve I needed.

Suddenly, I could share pics of my baby sitting up for the first time, eating food for the first time, and taking those first few crawls to friends and family — instantly, with a few clicks — and see their reactions. I felt like I was part of the world again, and it felt good.

Fast-forward 11 years, and the role of social media in my life looks vastly different today. Back then I didn’t even have a smart phone, so I could only access Facebook once or twice a day when I had a chance to sit at my computer. Instagram… Twitter… Snapchat… TikTok… those weren’t even blips on my radar yet.

Today, I’m tethered to my phone for my job (which actually includes managing social media) and I’m on several platforms. It’s accessible right at my fingertips 24/7, and it’s not just a place to share cute pics of my kids anymore. It’s where I find funny parenting memes, TikTok videos, online book clubs, and where I might find a link to a news article about the amazing work Stacey Abrams did, or how AOC helped the people of Texas during their statewide freeze.

Social media has continued to foster connections, friendships, and job opportunities for me over the years, and has provided endless fodder for laughter and support on my hardest parenting days.

However, as in all aspects of life, too much of anything is a bad thing. And while I do love the hilarity of TikToks and IG reels and appreciate the humorous quips I find on Twitter, social media has taken over the world and can be toxic. So, even though a decade ago, I used to love “friending” all the random high school people I found on the Facebook bandwagon… today, I’m finding myself “unfriending,” unfollowing,” or even “blocking” people instead.

I don’t feel badly about it, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation when I do. Neither do you.

Up until the 2016 election, social media didn’t seem to negatively impact my life too much. Sure, there were those gorgeous mom accounts with their perfectly imperfect mom-buns, fit abs, and clean houses with natural lighting and like one random toy bucket dumped out strategically in the corner as they laughed, “Haha! I’m a hot mess!” I, on the other hand, actually WAS a hot mess of greasy, unshowered hair and stained sweatpants. In my house, there wasn’t one cute bucket tipped over, but rather 952 buckets dumped out everywhere, and jelly was smeared on the curtains, and it always smelled like poop.

So yeah, sometimes those accounts made me envious and made me question why I didn’t have it together, but I had enough frazzled IRL friends that helped keep me grounded and retain a sense of normalcy. So even though I felt the occasional pang of jealousy, I didn’t feel it necessary to unfollow or block too many people all those years ago.

Then Trumpism happened. The vitriol that began making its way across Facebook and Twitter ever since his campaign, then election, then 4-year reign of hate and bigotry, made social media ugly and toxic and sometime during those years, the unfollows became more frequent than the follows. The “unfriend-ings” outnumbered the “friend-ings.” The block button got hot and never cooled down.

I had to — for my mental health.

I couldn’t bear seeing people I loved and cared about support his vile rhetoric. It was eating me up inside, and those “friends” had to go.

And in a way, I’m grateful that I forced myself to be accustomed to unfriending, unfollowing, or blocking people — even if I knew them IRL — prior to the pandemic. Because over the last year, it’s only gotten worse.

For a while, the only reason I was likely to hit that unfriend/unfollow button was due to some hideous “Lock her up/Go back where you came from” MAGA taglines that FB friends parroted from a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. But now, it’s COVID-deniers, or even COVID-ignorers, who are falling off my friend and follow lists in droves.

Because, again, like all of us, my mental health took a nosedive this past year. As my family holed up in our home, and as my children were ripped from school, from their friends, from sports and play dates, as weeks, months, a year went by without seeing cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, the gloom settled over us. And it was heavy.

But we knew it was temporary. We knew it was important for not only our own health, but also the greater public health, that we do our part. We knew we were fortunate enough to have a warm, safe home, to have a steady income, and to have each other. We knew that until this passed, it was our responsibility to listen to medical experts, wear a mask, and stay home as much as possible.

Even when so many around us did not.

And so began the next wave of social media blocking. Because I’ll tell you what. After getting off the phone with my parents and hearing the crack in their voice as we all decided there would be no Christmas gathering — because it’s not safe — and then seeing images on Instagram of friends hanging out with 20, 30 people, indoors, mask-less, it has taken all my strength to not chuck my damn phone across the room and punch a wall.

As the months ticked by and my kids hung their heads and quietly admitted to me how much they missed their friends, their teachers, their cousins, their grandparents, how much they missed going out to eat, going swimming at the public pool, and simply, just being out in the world, I’d continue to see families we know (and care about) still doing all of those things as if COVID-19 wasn’t killing thousands of Americans every day.

The anger and resentment grew inside of me, taking hold of my ability to find joy and appreciation in the fact that my family of five was here, with me, safe, and healthy. The bitterness festered in my heart, and I realized that I had to cut out the toxicity, and that meant changing my social media consumption.

As a person who manages Instagram and Twitter feeds for work, I couldn’t “take a break” from it all as so many do. But I could adjust what I was exposed to on my personal accounts. Anyone who consistently made my blood boil was out. Anyone laughing off mask-mandates and calling those of us listening to science “sheep” — goodbye.

And, after the president claimed it was a hoax for months as the death toll rose and then incited an insurrection on our Capitol, if somehow there was any support for that buffoon still popping up in my feed, the block button got hot.

But also, even some friends who weren’t necessarily vocal COVID-deniers, but rather, were clear “COVID-ignorers” per their behavior got cut too. Anyone hosting sleepover birthday parties for their 10-year-old with a herd of kids when my 10-year-old hasn’t seen a friend other than via Facetime in a year… I had to say goodbye, at least for now. For my wellbeing, and for my kids’.

I’m just done. There is zero room left in my life, my mental space, my physical space, my children’s lives, or my social media feed for anyone who thinks 500,000 deaths is a joke. Or not real. Or that mask mandates infringe upon our “rights.” Or that we don’t all bear some responsibility for doing our part. Or that Donald Trump is anything but a destructive, insecure tyrant who is literally abusing our country to feed his fragile ego.

Done. Exhausted. Depleted.

Each passing day of this pandemic is more tiring than the day before, yet there is never a recharge. There is never an opportunity to “fill my cup” as moms are always told to do. Six months ago, I felt like there was one drop left in my tank and I had to function on that. What’s left today? Nothing. I’ve been running on empty and will continue to run on empty, like moms all over the world, because we’re surviving a pandemic.

I accept that part. I accept that I must keep going, no matter how hard it is. But that doesn’t mean I can’t practice a bit of self-care in other ways. Sure, there is no “mom weekend getaway” on my calendar right now. Hell, there’s not even a “mom-hour” until my kids go back to in-person school.

But what I can do is clean house. And you can too. Just as much as we can scrub the bathrooms, we can scrub our social media feeds. Because nothing is prettier than a sparkling toilet and a phone full of images and messages of like-minded friends who are also doing their part to help fight COVID and are supporting frontline workers, getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and showing our children what true leadership in a time of crisis looks like.

Sooooo pretty. And so necessary right now as we ride out COVID-19 and recover from the damage and destruction of the past four years.

For your own well being, unfollow, unfriend, and block without hesitation. It’s the ultimate purge and will lighten the incredibly heavy burden that COVID has put on us. Do it, don’t look back, don’t feel guilty for a second, and don’t feel like you owe anyone an explanation. Because you don’t.