For the record, I will always assume that you have dirty laundry and that your life is not “perfect,” no matter what your social media feed looks like.

Life experience has taught me that it doesn’t matter how photogenic your family is or how beautiful your remodeled kitchen, that doesn’t mean you don’t have pain, disappointments, heartbreaks, unhealthy relationships, or real tragedies.

It doesn’t bother me if your social media feed is curated or “just the highlight reel.” Show me your highlights! I want to celebrate with you! It doesn’t bother me at all if you don’t share details on the internet about your kid’s diagnosis, your grandmother’s cancer, or so-and-so’s addiction on social media.

Some people have the interest, time, and skill to share about these types of life events on social media and I am often awed by how tenderly and powerfully they communicate about their grief and loss. For me, in this season of life, I’m not interested in sharing those things publicly when they are still raw. I prefer an in-person shoulder to cry on. I don’t want likes and emojis for the hard stuff. I want flesh and bones and imperfect responses because we all have to learn empathy and compassion face-to-face.

There’s a lot of things we can all agree are pretty terrible about social media. But, it’s not all bad. I have art hanging on my wall that brings me joy every day because I found the artist on social media. I have been able to listen to perspectives and conversations that broaden my understanding of the world. I have been able to find out when an old friend is in my town so we can meet up.

I don’t think there’s any one “right” way to approach social media, but I do think many of the common negative results come primarily from overuse. Over the years, I have collected some ideas that help guide me in my own social media use so that I feel in control of how I use it and how I allow it to impact me. I don’t consider this a complete “social media manifesto” because until I sat down to write this post, it was really more of a working document in my mind.

I should also clarify that I am approaching this as someone who is not an influencer and who does not use social media to get clients or build my business. One day, when I have a novel published that I’m really proud of I’ll certainly be shouting from the social media rooftops asking everyone to buy it. But, for the time being, I have a new baby, a business, and not a lot of free time. My perspective here is just a person sharing her life on social media without any kind of agenda or audience.

My whole approach to social media can be summed up in this quote from Jack Kerouac: “Rest and be kind, you don’t have to prove anything.”

My Guidelines For (My Own) Social Media Use:

1. Prioritize in-person connections always, always, always.

2. Know when to avoid social media. If you are not in a headspace to celebrate good things happening in other people’s lives, you probably shouldn’t be on social media. (For example: when grieving, sad, or even just tired! Know yourself.)

3. It’s okay to be someone who is not quick to process big events and does not comment on everything that happens in the world.

4. I am vulnerable and open-hearted in person. But, I don’t have to prove it or be that way on social media if I don’t want to.

5. It’s okay to be someone who doesn’t like to “talk” politics in digital spaces. It’s okay to prefer to have these conversations in person where you can hug after you disagree.

6. It’s okay to just listen. You don’t always have to chime in or comment.

7. You are never required to share anything. I’m not attempting to use social media to present a complete picture of who I am and everything that happens to me or matters to me.

8. But—don’t be afraid to share! There’s often a generosity in sharing as well. Share a lot if that’s fun! Share the mundane, share the cliché if you enjoy it. (I try not to overthink it or I’d never share anything.)

9. Protect your children’s privacy. (I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule for what this means, but it’s important to consider obviously!)

10. You don’t have to follow anyone you don’t want to. (Whether that’s an IRL friend or a famous person other people enjoy following.)

11. I prefer to share grief and challenges in person with people who can hug me and interact with me. I don’t want digital condolences.

12. Make no assumptions about someone’s life satisfaction, loneliness levels, relationship health, or character based on their social media feed.

13. If it’s draining, don’t bother.

14. Share after the vacation is over. Take pictures during the trip, but don’t interrupt the experience to see what people think of the experience. (Unless you need a recommendation from the locals, of course.)

15. I reserve the right to change or abandon these guidelines at any time.

Tsh and I had a great conversation for the podcast (coming Friday!) about social media and she asked me how I came to this perspective. At the time I wasn’t totally sure of my answer, but later I realized that part of it was my experience going through divorce about ten years ago. It cured me of trying to manage my reputation. People were going to judge me and make assumptions and it was worthless to try to “control the narrative” as they say.  

When it comes to social media here’s what I think is most important to remember: even though you can’t control the algorithms, you do have a lot of control over your experience. You choose who you follow. You choose what you share. And you choose how often and how much you engage.

What are your social media rules?

p.s. Listen to the podcast episode about this post.