Yesterday, an interesting conversation began on Reddit about the role an individual’s social media account should play in our shared lives.

It began with one user, MaximumTruck, complaining that a family member had “hijacked” his social media accounts due to his “depressive posts.” He was wondering what to do next.

Initially I was inclined to agree with one Redditor who pointed out that, simply, that if the user was over 18, they (the family) have “no right to compromise your accounts and treat you like a kid.” He (the user) should contact Facebook, the police, or whoever he has to go regain control.

“No matter” their motivations, this person continued, they were overstepping their bounds. Social media was the user’s own personal space and should be treated as such. Just because they don’t want to “read your shit,” he says, they don’t have a mandate to stop you from posting it.

I think this falls in line with many of our notions about social media as a platform where individuals are free to create their virtual selves as they see fit. This is the reason why we change our Facebook names during our senior year of high school (so perusing universities can’t find us) and why I was particularly dismayed at my relatives’ decision to friend me (Is it worse to say ‘yes’ and have them see what I write? Or to say ‘no’ and have them know this is a place where I’d rather not run into them?)

However, MaximumTruck’s case introduced a twist: his relatives, it seems, had been “getting a lot of texts and calls from concerned people” in response to his posts, and they no longer wanted to deal with the distraction. Obviously, this complicates things. As personal as his profile may have been, it is having effects—detrimental ones—on those around him.

Another tact was also taken up by Redditors: tell MaximumTruck to stop using social media. Noting studies linking depression to social media use, they argued this could help with his depressive thoughts. Further, it would probably make his profile more popular. As one Redditor detailed regarding his own travails on depressive posts:

“…I actually took a hard look at my social media. Every post was negative and some people who interacted with me a lot had stopped doing so, meaning they had hidden me from their news feeds. Some later confirmed this.”

If the poster could simply refrain from posting—or attempt “faking positivity” in his posts—he could get his social media accounts back AND be more popular than ever before. It may even “[lead] to slowly feeling real positivity.”

At this point, MaximumTruck burst their bubble with a plaintive plea [emphasis mine]:

What outlet do I have any more to voice sad thoughts, though? My third therapist in a year is worthless and uncommunicative, my family always gets upset if we try and discuss my nihilistic/apocalyptic world views and self hatred, and suicide hotlines are worthless. Attempts to keep the thoughts bottled in have resulted in immobile emotional paralysis for hours, lack of sleep, and eventual breakdowns too.”

And here’s the central tension: social media was billed as a place outside of the public sphere, where users could (among other things) have an “outlet” to vent their frustrations with reality. But as its popularity has grown, and personalities have become integrated among the various platforms, the divide between being in social media and IRL has become less a reality than a shared myth.

It takes extremes—like concerned followers calling someone’s relative in response to their worrisome posts—to expose this tension, but it’s always there nonetheless. If the above conversation is any indication, our thoughts on the matter vary widely.

Perhaps it’s times we talked about it.


Feature Image Courtesy William Iven