Hello and welcome to our advice column, “Ask MR,” where we answer your burning questions in the hopes of being the ointment to your life rash. Ask us questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “ASK MR A QUESTION,” or leave yours in the comments.
I’m just going to come out and say it: One of my friends is SO EMBARRASSING ON INSTAGRAM. And Twitter! She is always posting photos of LATTES and her shoes. She uses so many hashtags and her captions are so basic. She also posts way too many PDA photos of her and her boyfriend, and when she was single, it was just so much skin all the time. Does she not know it’s embarrassing or weird? She’s not a blogger! (She’s not private, either, so it’s like…) On Twitter it’s just useless life updates or letting everyone know that she posted a photo to Instagram. I love her as a friend and don’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her, but I have heard other people make fun of her for it and I don’t want her to not know that what’s she’s doing is embarrassing, you know? So what do I do? Do I tell her, and if so, how?
Oh boy. Okay. I first want to commiserate and acknowledge that I do know what this feels like: to be embarrassed by a friend’s actions, whether they be online or in-person or by third-party association. I suffer from severe second-hand embarrassment; I used to have visceral reactions watching those episodes of American Idol where they focus on the bad singers, and those are strangers. So know that I’m with you here, emotionally, as I get a little harsh (because I’m also speaking to myself):
What your friend does on social media — so long as it does not involve your photo, handle or information directly — does not have anything to do with you. You have got to let her do her thing.
Your friend seems tech-savvy enough to post a photo, hashtag and tweet about it; she knows what she’s doing. She likely sees the accounts of others, both those like and unlike hers, and acknowledges the differences and similarities. Though you may have no fucking clue what is going through her head when she posts 20 photos in a row, I guarantee that she does. She knows. Maybe she’s thinking, “Welp, this is going to be painful but I gotta get these babies up, so here we go.” Or, maybe she’s thinking, “A gift to the world!”
Whether her reasoning is arbitrary or deliberate, she does not blackout and then post a sunset photo. (Unless you think she does. My friends know to contact me immediately if I post a drunk Snapchat, and I them. This is a prior arrangement we’ve made in agreement, similar to booger alerts and stuff-in-teeth warnings.) Your friend knows what she uploaded. She’s proud of it, and her caption. You know how long a good caption takes. You may not agree with her tune or paint color, but she is expressing herself.
As for others “making fun of her,” people are dicks. Ignore them. Or tell them to lay off and change the subject. Maybe they’re jealous of her filtering skills. What they’re definitely not doing is associating her actions online with you or yours. If you don’t like how she acts on Instagram, don’t act like her! It’s not up to you to police her.
If she asks you for your opinion, then fine. The situation changes. You’ll have to make a judgement call based on how strong your relationship is, how honest you’ve been with her in the past and how honest you feel comfortable being. A good measure is to ask yourself how you would feel if she said X to you — then check that against whether or not you think she really wants the truth, or simply wants a friend to co-sign her behavior. My gut is that you should tread lightly and kindly here; rather than shut her photo down, ask to see a few others for comparison. Ask what other kinds of captions she had swirling in her head. From there, choose your favorite. I know this isn’t always an option.
Whatever you do, remember that friendship is way more real than social-media personas and followers’ perceptions. Actually, start there, then make your decision.
Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.