Katie Nguyen, a 33-year-old content creator from Los Angeles, mutes people on Instagram with a quickness.
She mutes people if they overpost on Instagram stories, or if “they’re chaotic or all over the place” in their postings. (“Generally these aren’t my close friends, so I don’t feel bad about muting them,” Nguyen told HuffPost.)
She mutes people she doesn’t have the heart to unfollow yet.
She mutes people she met through friends or at work events, or co-workers who followed her even though they’re not that close.
“In those instances, you can’t exactly not follow back. But I will mute because I just don’t feel the need to see their stories after just following them,” she said.
It’s nothing personal, Nguyen said. Quietly muting just allows her to streamline her feed and see content from the friends, family members, celebrities and brands that matter most to her, she said.
“When it comes to personal well-being, muting is like a mental health tool in your pocket.”
In these high-stress times, when our attention is divided in far too many directions, muting is one of the best ways to maintain your online sanity, said Kristin Zeising, a clinical psychologist in San Diego, California.
“Muting allows you to create a boundary without severing the entire connection,” she told HuffPost. “It’s a digital breather without completely cutting ties.”
Best of all, unlike blocking or unfollowing someone, muted accounts will not know that you’ve muted them and you can unmute them at any time. (Sick of bad political takes or conspiracy theories from your high school bestie? Mute! Tired of Minion memes from your aunt? Mute! For all your friend and aunt know, you haven’t viewed their stories because you’re cutting back on screen time.)
“I see muting as a gentle way to stay connected while also looking after your mental and emotional health,” Zeising said. “When it comes to personal well-being, muting is like a mental health tool in your pocket. It helps you to minimizse your exposure to drama, negativity or triggers that may affect your mental state.”
For Estée, a 26-year-old from Toronto, muting just feels a lot less negative than unfollowing or unfriending. (She joked that she prefers her feed to be composed of cats, memes, and occasionally Paul Mescal.)
“To unfollow or block someone might be seen as a public acknowledgment of dislike or disinterest,” said Estée, who asked HuffPost to use her first name only for privacy reasons. “Muting is private and reduces outward impact. You can curate your feed without making a negative statement.”
Muting is sometimes about protecting your feelings. Sergio Emilio Gamez, a 27-year-old from Southern California, told HuffPost that he’s mainly muted people he’s had a falling out with in cases where it wasn’t deep enough to block or unfollow them.
“Muting them just helps keep distance but we’re still connected if we really need each other for something,” he said. “I definitely say muting people helps preserve my mental health because it gives me the ability to control what I see on my feed.”
Muting is especially worthwhile if you’re going through it romantically; maybe you don’t want to see what your ex is up to since your still-fresh breakup, or you don’t want that Hinge match you went on a few dates with to know you’re still thinking about them.
“Some of my friends mute people that they dated but it didn’t work out but they didn’t end on bad terms,” Gamez said. “Muting them helps with the healing of the heart.”
Here’s how to mute.
Muting is relatively simple to do. On Instagram, go to the person’s page and hit the “following” button under their bio. From there, you’ll see a number of options, including “mute.” Tap the button and specify if you want to mute their posts, their Instagram stories or both. (In the example below, we’ve just muted stories.)
To temporarily mute someone on Facebook, scroll through your feed and find a post from the person you’d like to mute. Select the three-dot menu button on the top-right corner of their post and specify that you’d like to “snooze” them for 30 days.
X ― the social media platform formerly known as Twitter ― also allows muting. The easiest way is to go directly to the profile page, hit the three-dots button and click “mute.”
Then go about scrolling, sans guilt (and a few annoying posts).
When might muting be a sign of something problematic?
Zeising, the psychologist, doesn’t think muting a friend necessarily indicates deeper issues in a friendship; sometimes, people are just particular about the kinds of content they want to see. Maybe you love your friend, but hate their social media presence. Maybe endless photos of people’s babies are triggering you during your in vitro fertilisation process. Or maybe you’re a new parent who’s sick of feeling jealous over your single friends’ adventurous travel pics.
If muting a friend is combined with a sense of discomfort or avoidance in your offline interactions, it may be time to examine what’s happening underneath the surface, Zeising said.
“If you’re frequently resorting to muting instead of engaging in honest conversations, it can limit the opportunity for empathy and understanding,” she said.
Take the example of muting someone because of their political views. You may be triggered by what positions a friend holds on certain topics, and it’s OK to not agree or engage, Zeising said.
“But if it’s become a situation where you don’t ever want to hear their POV, then maybe there are some limitations to the depth and closeness of the friendship,” she said.
Muting also might get a little thorny if the person you’ve muted suspects you’ve muted them. Nguyen said she’s sensed that she’s been muted two times: first with a crush, and then with a friend.
“I remember feeling hurt when it dawned on me that the guy I had a crush on ― and he had a crush on me too ― muted me, because I thought we were friends,” she said. “It was partially like, ‘Oh, no, my thirst traps aren’t going to work anymore!’”
Nguyen said it was painful to realise he was deliberately putting distance between the two of them when she wanted to get closer.
“It also made me feel like I had done something wrong, and also when you mute you cut off access to that person,” she said. “You’re saying you don’t want to know what’s going on in their life and you don’t want to become closer.”
Later, when Nguyen suspected her friend had muted her, it bothered her so much that she decided to ask about it. If she had offended the friend, she wanted to know.
“It turns out it was the content that I was posting that had triggered her, and she explained, ‘It’s less about you and more about me and how I react to content,’” Nguyen said.
“She said it was healthier for her to create that boundary for herself, and I really respected and admired that answer because it takes strength to turn away from something that makes you feel a certain way or upsets you,” she added.
Even after those prickly experiences, Nguyen is still pro-muting.
“Muting freely allows me to see the IG stories I want to see,” she said. “It gets me closer to the information I actually want from friends or certain business accounts, and I appreciate that.”