This month, it has dawned on some people that it's possible to be rude on the Internet. Don't care for tenderly served personal revelations on Twitter1? Ticked off by an eager attempt to amuse you with a timely joke? Unfollow with impunity, these monsters advise, citing a sense of euphoria or "joy" after hitting the mute button on a human being (or its parodic equivalent).
But what if you're not the executioner—silencing avatars with an insouciant tap of gorilla glass. What if you are The Unfollowed? How do you process this unburdening when the burden is you?
Step 1: Be vigilant.
Stay alert (by getting alerts). Not one lick of this matters, not for one taste bud's length on one tongue. But if you wanted to spend your time wisely, you wouldn't keep shoving your face in a stream. So be insulted. Care deeply. This is your life now, wallow in it. Sign up for a service that lets you know the moment your profile pic got flicked. Some thumbnail you don't recognize deemed you unworthy? A bot has moved on to another spam victim? How can you take it personally if you don't know it's happening?
I use an email service called Nutshell, scheduled to update me once a day. It tends to show up in my inbox just as I'm exiting the office into the echoing darkness. While I'm on the subway ride home, I scroll right past "New Followers"—who cares, you already won that round—down to "Lastest Quitters," a section Nutshell illustrates with "running dash" emoji. I stare at their pixelated faces and question the choices that got me here.
Step 2: Retaliate, swiftly.
If you were unfollowed by someone you know, respond in kind immediately. This is a very chilled out way to react. A cool game grown-ups play, but don't like to talk about so just zip it okay. The unfollow keystroke sequence should be in your muscle memory. Chances are, this freewheeling unfollower, joyed out of freaking her mind, also subscribes to a notification service. And has there ever been a better conduit for passive aggression than email? Sit back for a moment, settle into the curved plastic of the B train. Boy, will they ever think twice about re-unfollowing you!
Step 3: Reverse Psychology.
Perhaps you were just unfollowed by someone who exists on a higher Internet echelon than you. (There are levels. If you don't know which one you're on, it's the lowest.) Maybe their micro-famous ego was hurt that you didn't bow down with a follow back. In this case, wait a beat, then, real casual like, throw 'em a follow. Fave a recent tweet if they're one of those fragile Nathaniel P types. That byline will follow you back in no time. (Are you slowly realizing that I've done this to you? Because I have. And you fell for it.)
Step 4: Public shaming.
Post a maudlin message. Feign disbelief. Let @literallywhomever know that this unfollow—this unclick too far—has ravaged you with self-doubt. Beg, tease, flirt, subtweet. There are no rules except my rules. This is transparent and desperate. It will never work. But the mild discomfort scratching at your Unfollower is its own reward. Pity is just another form of respect (in the form of pity).
Step 5: Look within!
Ask yourself, am I being the best content provider that I can be? How's my curation spread? Are my links fresh; am I adding value or just a #valueadd? Would I unfollow me?
Step 6: Be a leader, not a follower.
Think about all the times you have wanted to silence these cretins screeching at you from TweetDeck's ceaseless rivers. The thirst traps, the apologetic self-promoters, the unabashed ones, the mansplainers, the ideologues, the echo chambers, the basic bitches, the banal bros, any stripe of journalist at all. Realize that all their faults are inside you, too. Wish them well as they glide by on their Twitter canoes.
1For the purposes of this guide, my advice is limited to Twitter. President Obama has already issued a blanket pardon to stop caring about Facebook. And if someone unfollows you on Instagram, it just means they had a sex dream last night and you were being really weird in it, Brian.
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[Art by Jim Cooke]