How to Mute Friends & Not Alienate People

·3 min read
Photo credit: Getty/Michael Stillwell
Photo credit: Getty/Michael Stillwell


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Peak summer is upon us and with that come many delights: long rosé-fueled weekends out East, Yellowstone fantasies realized in Montana, villa hopping on the Amalfi Coast, debenture seats at Wimbledon, that Slim Aarons life in Newport. Of course, that also means bracing ourselves for the endless scroll of geotag brags and #yachtlife selfies playing out ad nauseam on social media.

It doesn't have to be this way, and we have a godsend little function on Instagram to make it bearable for the season: the mute button. Introduced in 2018, it's arguably the platform's most secretly valuable tool, a sort of Unfollow Lite that liberates one from keeping up with friends and acquaintances without dealing with the social fallout of actually unfollowing them.

"I only have seven close friends who I'd never need to mute because I love every keyhole into their lives," says the author Jill Kargman. "But I have tons of secondary and tertiary ones who I may like fine IRL but whose curated pictures chafe like a cheese grater on my soul." An Instagram power user herself, the Odd Mom Out creator has come up with a strict personal rubric for banishing offenders to Insta Purgatory: "Any private jet posts including oblong windows, thirsty bikini selfies in middle age, overly gushy bullshit about husbands or kids, memes I saw three years ago, the following hashtags—#loveyoutothemoonandback, #ThisIsUs, #AboutLastNight, #LoveOfMyLife—and the following captions—So This Happened, We Did a Thing, Fur Baby, Adulting."

Photo credit: Paul Bruinooge - Getty Images
Photo credit: Paul Bruinooge - Getty Images

Muting posts, stories, or both, is an anonymous move that serves a purpose more lasting than just weeding out annoying aspirational jet-setters. "It has secretly saved so many of my friendships," says New York magazine features writer Shawn McCreesh.

"This is an age of over-politicization. We are awash in outrage content, most of it ignorant. I'm always dismayed watching people I know to be curious and compassionate over cocktails transform on social media into loud, unthinking partisans who post 20 times a day," he continues. "There's no bigger turn-off than meeting someone at a party who you think is cool or sexy and then, later, discovering their Instagram page to be a conveyor belt of shitty opinions peppered with mundane selfies. I mute because I care."

A few tips to avoid being muted yourself:
Humblebrags are unappreciated, as is exceeding the acceptable quota of daily posts and stories. Save the diatribes for Twitter. And your baby is not that interesting—neither is your dog.

This indispensable function serves other less lofty goals. On the one hand, it helps maintain a veneer of quasi-respectability for the people you still see in real life, allowing you to remain blissfully unaware of their online personas. "Mystery is in short supply," McCreesh adds. "But at least there is mute."

On the other hand, for the people you haven't seen since, say, college, or met once at a party, or who you simply can't stand, it's like a one-way ticket to the Valley Beyond the Wall. Of course it's always possible to unmute someone—but people rarely change, do they?

"They're dead to me, social media-wise. Life's too short," says Kargman, about whether she has ever taken anyone off her list. And here is the marvelous thing: once the deed is done it's as if these people cease to exist, which may say a lot about how social media shapes our perception of reality.

Then again, if muting essentially deletes people from our feeds—and our minds—why even bother with the facade in the first place? Maybe we should be more like Bevy Smith, the TV and radio host and author of Bevelations.

"I don't have much to say on the topic of muting people," Smith says. "I only use the block button."

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