Stop being a masochist online

Social media is full of painful behaviors -- so avoid anonymity and don't keep track of those who unfriend you.

Story highlights

  • The urge to hear nasty truths is powerful -- as is the urge to be nasty online
  • The loss of followers or friends is easier if not taken personally
  • Never, ever let people say (or ask) things anonymously
If anyone should be thanked (punished?) for making masochism a household word, it's E.L. James. But if anything can be blamed for really stoking our masochistic sides, it's the Internet -- and social media in particular.
Look, the urge to hear painful truths about ourselves runs deep. In one experiment, 87% of subjects opted to view a transcript of others making fun of them -- even though 39% admitted that reading said nastiness would do more harm than good.
Equally deep-seated and formidable is the urge to be incredibly nasty online. Scientists point to a variety of reasons for this: The anonymity the Internet affords, the inability to see the other person's wounded face (and thus allow your guilt instinct to kick in) as you slip in the knife, and/or the breakneck speed of communication that discourages reflection and encourages rude, shouty, often error-riddled missives.
All contribute to an Internet that's often a mean, dusty, bloodstained frontier. WWW might as well stand for Wild Wild West.
If you have an Internet presence, especially a relatively hefty one, people are going to find ways to insult you, via anonymous comments, mean e-mails -- really, their reproach knows no bounds.
So, given this, we ask you, dear readers: Why the heck would you invite invective from the yawning maw of your high-speed connection? Millions of people do just that, laying themselves out to be flayed by the digital masses.
Here are three stupid ways people are self-flagellating, plus some more fun alternatives:
Putting a date's ambiguous texts up for mass voting
Who's up for some girlish hand-wringing of the kind "Fifty Shades of Grey's" Anastasia would have appreciated? The weirdly addictive site, on which users post confusing missives from past, current and future swains and then ask the anonymous community to vote on their future together (He's Into You; He's Not Into You; The Jury's Still Out). Has the Ask the Audience lifeline on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" taught us nothing? Crowds are stupid. You shouldn't need to consult one to carry on in your very private pas de deux.
The kinder option: Overanalysis of text messages is best left to your squawky henlike girlfriends.
Letting the masses say (or ask) anything -- anonymously
We're all obsessed with ourselves, and we'd all kill to get a subjective take on ourselves. This does not mean that certain sites (such as, sites that allow anonymous strangers to tell you what they think of you, are anything other than a terrible, terrible idea. (And here you thought the trend ended with, which incidentally still exists and is sort of a creeper dating site these days).
The odds that you'll get an ego boost from unexpected compliments are about the width of tracing paper (which is to say, slim). And unrestrained cruelty really can hurt in a sticks-and-stones kind of way.
The kinder option: If you're just looking for some compliments, start offering them up to friends, even strangers. The jolt to the brain's reward center from making someone else's day will cast a glow on you as well. Or make a deal with a buddy to text each other compliments every day for a week. Warm-fuzziest game ever, so long as your ego doesn't reach bloated-as-a-rotten-peach proportions.
Tracking who unfollows/unfriends you
Unfortunately there are many programs available to keep an eye on your friend or follower count and blow an air horn when one of them tries to slink silently and politely into the night. Hey, your former devotee isn't doing anything wrong by cutting ties -- unfriending is practically a doctor-approved practice. The issue is how personally you choose to take the tiny snub.
In short: You look like a narcissistic navel-gazer when you monitor such things -- and when you actually post about using them ("@MyBiggestFan just unfollowed me :( :("). By shining a spotlight on your self-absorption, you look like a bigger chump than the former fan with his finger on the Unfollow button.
And frankly, you just totally reminded him why he had to get out of your quippy typewritten head. (Yes, he did just close the door on the possibility of DMing. But DMing is one of the lowliest forms of communication, dragging along the ground near scrawls on a dirty napkin, so really, this isn't a huge loss.)
The kinder option: Tweet or post on in blissful ignorance. If you really must know, you can politely ask the defector if you were doing anything to bother him. You might not like what you hear, but if E.L. James taught us anything, it's that sometimes pain is pleasure.