The Politics Of Social Media Social Climbing

When does enthusiastic support from a stranger on social media go from nice to... a bit weird?

Social Media Social Climbing

by Daisy Buchanan |
Published on

At the time of writing, I have 15,103 followers on Twitter. (And a paltry 765 on Instagram. This might be because my last post is a drunk selfie I took after I sat down on the loo at a party and discovered that the seat was up.) Twitter may be dying, but a lot of my life is on there. It’s where i met my husband, and at least 20 of my very, very good friends.

However, you cannot be very good friends with 15,000 people, or even five thousand people and ten thousand corporate accounts. And I’m hugely grateful, always, to anyone who takes the trouble to get in touch on Twitter and say something nice, and not just because quite a lot of people spend their time shouting mildly rude things at me.

So this is a hideous thing to complain about, but still, complain I shall. Sometimes people are too nice. Sometimes, they behave as though we are real life BFFs even though I met them once at a party for a new yoghurt launch - or not at all. And I’m not sure what to do. Friendliness is good, right?! What’s not to like? Yet I feel vaguely unnerved by the whole business.

My friend, a social media queen who would, for anonymity purposes, prefer to go by Ethel, says that it usually starts with some unsolicited joining in. ‘You’re chatting on Twitter, with your good mates who you know, and some well meaning person starts @ing, but it feels like you’re being yelled at. It’s usually a person who replies to absolutely everything I say but my mates don’t know this, and DM asking “Who are they? Are they trolling us?” It’s such a minor thing, but I feel quite embarrassed by it. How do you go to someone and say “I’m so sorry, but we have absolutely nothing in common and this is uncomfortable?” Especially when they’re not being mean, just a bit too enthusiastic?’

I know what Ethel means. I’m such an enthusiastic advocate of making friends online that I hate the idea of shooting people down, or ignoring them when they’re ultimately well meaning. Especially when it might be easier to speak to strangers online than at a party when you’re a bit socially awkward.

However, I think the most uncomfortable scenarios are the ones where you know the person vaguely - and they’re determined to transform that vagueness into a real life intimacy that you’re not really feeling. I recently told the world - or the internet - about the book I’m about to start writing. I had some lovely messages, but one weird one stuck out. It was a ‘So proud of you hunni!!! Can’t wait to be part of ur journey’ from someone I’d met once at a work thing, who at the time, kept calling me Deirdre.

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She even messaged me to say she’d be glad to ‘help’ with the launch. Instead of politely thinking ‘How lovely and generous!’, an evil bit of me resented this near stranger for trying to take some credit for my project. There were lots of amazing women who had directly helped me to get the project off the ground. I wanted them to feel proud of me, but I was cross that this woman thought she could partake in the pride.

Therapist Katherine Robertson says ‘In this instant, your instincts are on. To give an obvious example, imagine you’re in a pride of lions - and some other lion strolls over and says “Well done, we’ve all worked hard on this kill” and tucks in - when it wasn’t involved at all. It’s a way that lots of people deal with envy. Instead of directly shooting someone down to make themselves feel better, they demand a share of their victory.”

Another friend, a stylist who I will call Hortense, reveals ‘There’s a girl out there who was so rude to me when she met me through a friend of a friend - really dismissive - but as soon as I suddenly started running a big Instagram account, “Drinks soon, hunni?! It’s so obvious! To be honest, I think I would have had slightly more respect for her if she’d continued to be a bitch!’

The other side of the experience is that I’ve been put off contacting people on social media when I love what they do, for fear of looking fake, or as though I have some kind of agenda. Digital communications expert Rachel Hubbert says ‘If you’re a genuine fan of someone, it’s always nice to tell them about it. But you need to back it up - show that you’re sharing their work. Let chat happen organically, and join in if you have something relevant to say - but don’t start replying to them simply because you’re dying for a reaction. On social media, if someone you don’t know keeps tagging you it just feels like being shouted at, and no-one likes that.”

I will continue to hope that most internet strangers are just friends I haven’t met, but unfortunately a tiny minority are false friends who might be using social media to improve their social standing. Katherine adds ‘It’s all about energy - and if you think that someone you don’t know is about to be a big drain on yours, ignore them. It’s better to feel rude for five seconds than to spend weeks, months or more listening to the whims of a manipulative stranger.’ Ethel adds ‘It helps me to remember that Twitter followers can’t demand their money back. If they feel ignored, they can unfollow, but you’re not failing to fulfil an obligation. And if they don’t unfollow and keep making you feel weird, you can mute them.’ And as you rid your timeline of social hangers on, you have more time and space to meet the people you actually want to talk to.

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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