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How do you tell a friend to log off?
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
In case you missed it yesterday, we introduced a new weekly edition called Sunday Scroll. We’re sending previews to everyone until May, after which the emails will go only to paying subscribers ... that could be you. —Kate
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Last week, Ryan Broderick wrote something in his newsletter,, that stuck with me. In an item about a Twitter user named Michelle Tandler (who is not important to know about other than the fact that she seemingly advocated for public hangings to combat crime), he wrote this:
Even I, at my most wild, would probably stop and reflect a little if I suddenly realized I had to convince people that I wasn’t advocating for public lynchings. At the very least, I’m pretty sure someone in my life would care about me enough to call me up and say, “Hey, you’ve been screeching about nonsense on the internet for two days straight. You gotta take a break.” And whenever I see someone go on a multi-day threading adventure like this one, I just wonder why someone isn’t telling them the same thing. Don’t you have like a family member or friend or, heck, a coworker, even, who could tell you to take a walk around the block and cool off?
This excerpt stuck with me because it’s something my friends and I have said in various contexts many times before. Whenever a person a few degrees removed from us is Posting Through It, we’ll wonder aloud why no one in their life has reached out to them to suggest they log off. “I’d do that for you,” we tell each other confidently.
Except there have been times that someone in my life was behaving erratically online, and reader, I did nothing.
I don’t think I’m a uniquely bad person. I tried to crowdsource other people’s experiences with this on Instagram—a method that’s elicited plenty of responses on other subjects before—and got a total of three replies. One was from someone who had to tell a parent to stop critiquing recipe videos on Facebook (lol). The second person checked in on a friend when wedding season was making them post despairingly on Stories. The third suggested to their brother that he stop posting so many selfies. These examples aren’t nothing, but I was surprised more people hadn’t dealt with truly unhinged posting, especially because I got other responses from people saying they were looking forward to reading what this post unearthed.
Instead, what I’ve unscientifically concluded is that while many of us are familiar with friends and family losing it online, when forced to confront it in our own lives, it’s just too awkward. We end up ignoring it, and I think there are three reasons why.
The first is the bystander effect, which I’d argue increases exponentially online. If no one steps in during a robbery being witnessed by, say, 10 people IRL, they’re certainly not intervening when troubling behavior is being witnessed by thousands online. There are so many more people who have just as much of a right to step in—and maybe they’ll have a better idea of what, exactly, to say.
That’s the second reason this is so difficult. There’s no script, and it’s hard to write one because of reason three: There’s no clearly-defined list of what constitutes intervention-worthy online behavior.
It’s important to note that anyone posting thoughts of self-harm warrants immediate outreach, and there are resources out there for that. But in more benign but still troubling scenarios, it becomes complicated. The online behavior being witnessed is often an extension of that person’s online persona. What are they doing because they’re chasing the high of engagement, and what’s stemming from a genuinely unsettled mind? Especially for the conflict-averse, it’s simply easier to assume the former.
But I’d argue—hypocritically, I admit—that being nuts in pursuit of likes is still worthy of intervention. But it’s actually harder to know what to say in that case. If the behavior is overtly hateful, that’s clearer-cut. But the acting-out that I’ve been faced with falls more under the umbrella of “just a little bit off-putting.” If I were to reach out, it would be with something like, “I don’t recognize the person you’re portraying in these posts, and I worry about how others who don’t know you are perceiving them.”
But I’ve never sent that message, partly because, well, who am I to be the arbiter of posts? But mostly because I don’t want to deal with the awkwardness. I can’t imagine a universe in which my friend responds, “Okay, thanks!” and takes the post down. It’s going to be a weird interaction, and I worry they won’t see where I’m coming from.
But I’m almost certain more and more people will face this quandary as generations grow up with their online and offline presences truly in tandem. Balancing them internally is its own kind of mind-fuck. At a certain point, I hope we welcome more outside guidance along the way.