Instagram Etiquette: Can You Unfollow Someone and Still Stay Friends IRL?

Instagram Etiquette: Can You Unfollow Someone and Still Stay Friends IRL?

As digital drama comes off the ‘gram and into reality on Summer House, a therapist weighs in on how the cast can maintain their friendships.

By Stacy Lenz

Life is not all inflatable pool floats and frozen rosé on the new season of Summer House — this year brings digital drama (and also an industrial grade Jell-O shot machine). Gone are the days where the gang’s biggest problem was loose tea clogging the pool filter: There’s tension dividing the group stemming from social media.

It all started with social media slights. As Kyle Cooke tells in the clip above, he found out fellow housemates were doing him dirty digitally by unfollowing him and girlfriend Amanda Batula on Instagram, cropping them out of pictures, and purposely not tagging them in photos and posts about “Boss Babes.” Spurred by the rising list of Instagram injustices, Kyle aired his grievances in a lengthy missive that shall now be known as the 17-page email heard ‘round the world.

The Instagram unfollowing and subsequent email made waves through the friend group. It’s hard not to see everyone’s side in this mess from Kyle and Amanda, whose feelings were clearly hurt, to Lindsay Hubbard who didn’t want to see pictures of Kyle and Amanda pretending to be a happy couple while knowing full well that Kyle had cheated on her. Then there’s Danielle Olivera, who didn’t realize the Insta-drama would cause WWIII: The Battle of the Beach, stating if she knew it would cause so much anguish she would have never unfollowed them in the first place.

Luckily, the housemates have more options than rolling out a line of masking tape dividing the house and making everyone pick a side. (Although, I would like to watch that.) According to psychotherapist Alyson Cohen, LCSW, the hurt feelings everyone involved has are justified. She stated, “People yearn to be liked. Social media is a very specific arena where we perceive that we can measure how liked and loved and acceptable we are. This is a distortion of truth but for some people, it can be the only way they are able to receive validation in their lives. If this is how they are living, then it makes sense why they would be so hurt to be unfollowed.”

What to Do When You Want to Unfollow

According to Cohen, “I think it is appropriate to unfollow a person that you wish to unfollow without telling them. It is very likely that they will not notice.” She followed up that if that isn’t the case, as it was with the Summer House crew, “It would be respectful to have an honest conversation about why this is the choice you are making while also asking for their respect for your ability to make your own decisions. Before having this conversation, think carefully about why you are deciding to unfollow them and without BLAMING the other person, identify what their posts are making you feel and why you do not wish to have this experience any longer. It may or may not be personal and/or related to the friendship. Use ‘I Statements’ to help avoiding blame, i.e. ‘I feel uncomfortable seeing this post,’ ‘I feel upset because it reminds me of etc, etc etc.’”

What to Do if You’ve Been Unfollowed

Cohen also has advice for people on the other side of the unfollowing drama, stating, “Your feelings are always valid and it is OK to feel hurt if you are being unfollowed by a friend. You can decide on your own if you ‘need to know’ why this has happened or maybe you are OK with just accepting that this person needed a break or some distance from you. If you feel very moved to know why, then ask the person if they are willing to engage in a mature conversation about why this has occurred, but again, be curious about it instead of accusatory and angry. Check in with your feelings before this conversation and try to calm yourself down before you work on solving this problem. The calmer you are able to communicate, the better [chance] you will receive an honest and respectful answer. “

What to Do if You Are Pressured to Pick Sides in Someone Else’s Digital Drama

From awkward first dinners to group conversations on the beach, the new housemates have been thrust into their roomies’ fight. Cohen weighed in on how these newbies should proceed, saying, “Asserting your needs and boundaries is important in all relationships. The best part is that the more you assert your needs and set boundaries with others, the more they will be respected. Sometimes you may need to repeat the fact that you are your own person who makes decisions for themselves and while you may respect someone else's opinion, it is just their opinion and should not dictate your life.”

How to Navigate Friendships That You Want to Maintain in Real Life But Not on Social Media

Per Cohen, “Some people have different online personas then the person that they present to be in real life. If you prefer only one side of this person, then that is the side of the person you should engage with. If their online presence disrupts you in some way, then stay away from it. Don't like or comment on any posts, disengage. If you prefer the person in real life, then pursue their in-person friendship — call them, Facetime, text message. Do not use the apps to communicate with this person. Set a clear boundary for the communication and the friendship boundaries will follow.”

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