Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask email@example.com.
My girlfriend tweeted something that was clearly, from the wording and content, meant to be a direct message. The message was something like “yeah, but I don’t know how to tell her something like that.” And I mean…“she” could be her mother or her boss, but it could also be me. She deleted it immediately, and I’m not sure who it was meant for. We’re both active on Twitter, but she uses it a lot more than I do (I just happened to be looking during the half-second this tweet was up, I could easily have missed it), and she knows a lot of people I don’t. I guess she’s close enough to some of them to tell them secrets that she doesn’t know how to tell me.
I don’t even know how to feel about this, let alone what to do about it. Should I be mad she was telling someone else about our problems? Jealous? Worried? Should I tell her I saw it? Should I try to figure out who she was talking to? Or do I just try to delete it from my brain?
It can be uncomfortable to face up to the fact that you aren’t your partner’s only confidante, but it’s actually really normal and healthy. Whether the “she” here is you or your girlfriend’s mom or her boss or the coffeeshop barista—but especially if it’s you—it’s crucial that she have at least one and preferably multiple people who can offer feedback, perspective, or just a sympathetic ear.
We’re social animals, and not very good at figuring things out all alone. And for a lot of us, text-based social media is the ideal way to process. It’s like writing in your diary, but with feedback.
That’s a powerful combination, as anyone who had a LiveJournal will tell you. There are some pitfalls, such as accidentally posting a DM to your public Twitter stream, but it’s not like talking out loud doesn’t occasionally offer the danger of being overheard. I used to talk on the phone all the time in high school, for instance, and I shudder to think what my mom must have picked up if I occasionally forgot to whisper.
Anyway, all you really know from this DM misfire is that she has a confidante. You don’t know what she wants to tell you, or whether it’s serious, or whether she’s even talking about you. Your net knowledge gain from this is entirely positive: Your girlfriend has multiple people supporting her mental health, hooray! So it’s worth wondering why you’re considering being mad or worried or jealous. Are there existing fault lines in your relationship, existing reasons why you might jump to the conclusion that she’s talking about “problems”? Do you have a tendency towards anger or jealousy, and are you doing anything to address it?
This isn’t really about the DM. It’s about the feelings the DM brought up for you. Clearly it’s time to examine those and where they really come from.
I have a friend who’s really proud of his indie cred, which is fine and great. He posts stuff from Spotify to his Facebook all the time, which I really don’t mind and sometimes actually like. I’ve learned about some good bands that way. But I made the mistake of telling him that I also use Spotify, and now he’s insisting that I tell him my username so we can follow each other or whatever.
I really do not use Spotify for social reasons. I just use it so I can listen to music I don’t own (or don’t own anymore, or don’t own yet). And I am definitely no music snob, I just like what I like. If he follows me, won’t he see that I’ve just been, like, listening to the Lorde album 80 billion times? And then won’t he think less of me?
First of all, no, because Lorde is awesome. Second of all, who cares what this dude thinks? But third of all and probably most importantly, nobody gets to “insist” that you bring them into your social network, in any capacity.
If you used Spotify socially, if you were all caught up in collaborative-playlist fever, I think there would be an argument to be made for adding this guy and telling him to go suck an egg if he gets judgey. (Especially since it sounds to me like you’re just guessing that he would do that. Is he snide about other people’s music choices, or just really excited about the stuff he likes? The latter does not automatically imply the former.) As you’ve already discovered, it can be handy to have a music-obsessive friend, especially if your tastes sometimes overlap. I’ve had things show up in my Spotify inbox that I might never have listened to otherwise, but that turn out to be absolutely perfect. (Also, significantly: Unless you link Spotify to Facebook, the people following you won’t be notified about everything you listen to, or how often you listen to it. They’ll be able to see recent favorites and public playlists if they go to your profile.)
But if you don’t feel like inviting friends into your Spotify experience, for heaven’s sake you don’t have to. If this guy is being pushy about getting up in your Spotify grill, you’re fully within your rights to tell him to eff off—or, more politely, to say that you appreciate his enthusiasm about music and you’ll happily take recommendations but that you use Spotify as a jukebox, not a water cooler. He’s not your social media manager, and he doesn’t get to wheedle you into connecting up when you’d rather be private.
Basically, don’t shut this guy out because you think he may think he’s cooler than you. Unless he has a documented history of sneering at people with less indie cred, you don’t know that you have anything to lose, and you could gain some good music recs. But by the same token, don’t invite him in just because he insists. If you don’t want your music experience to be social, you don’t have to make it social, end of story.
Now I’m going to go listen to “Team” again.
I recently got a job as a journalist with a fairly big-name paper. It’s a dream job, but it means I’m supposed to be cautious about my political affiliations (I re-registered as an independent, even). I used to be very politically active, though, and one of my friends will not stop tagging me on Facebook in politically related stuff:college pictures of our activist group, Facebook posts where she rants about our shared causes or calls for people to sign petitions, that kind of thing. I’ve asked her to stop and she says the posts aren’t public, and then gets sad that I’m trying to “erase our shared history.” It’s probably true that nobody who can see these posts would rat me out, but I’m trying to be conscientious! What do I do?
First, learn to treat the symptom. In your Facebook activity log—you can find it by going to privacy settings—you’re able to change visibility settings for posts you’re tagged in. So you can individually prevent her posts from appearing on your timeline. That option is also available on each individual post (click the arrow in the top right corner), and on photos, you can hide them from your timeline and remove tags.
Treating the cause is clearly going to be harder, since you’ve already told her to stop and she’s ignored you. Even though she’s being a jerk, if she’s a good friend, it’s worth thinking about this from her perspective: What is she getting out of this? I mean, it’s possible she’s just a person who’s super-invested in her causes and kind of inconsiderate towards her friends, but it’s also possible that she’s trying to stake a claim on you; perhaps she feels like you’re drifting apart. That may mean that insisting she cut it out, even though you’re right, will only make her dig in her heels.
If this friendship is important to you, make some time for her—take her to lunch if you live in the same city, or make a Skype date—and reassure her that you care about her and about your shared experiences and causes. Tell her some stories about journalists who got in trouble for their affiliations or for opinions they expressed outside a professional context (Dave Weigel, maybe? Lisa Simeone?), and explain that you’re probably employing an excess of caution but you’re really excited about this job and don’t want to mess anything up. She may not understand how serious the consequences could be, or she may be worried that you’re trying to disavow your friendship; either way, giving her a little extra attention may help.
At that point, if she keeps doing it, she’s being passive-aggressive and, in fact, barely even passive. You may have to write off the friendship, at least online.
Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).