Preserving Your Mental Health
Social media and your mental health
There are many articles available online about social media, general online engagement, and mental health. This document is going to focus on a subset of these and focus on helping you use the Mastodon tools to uphold your personal needs and boundaries.
- Moderation action and individual action
- Mastodon tools at your disposal
- Patterns for a better Fediverse experience
- Control what content you are exposed to
- Control access to your posts and account
- Collective action requires a collective
- Create and maintain interpersonal boundaries
Moderation action and individual action
As you navigate the Fediverse, you will frequently run into situations where you need to decide if a situation can or should be handled by you individually, by the moderation team, or both. When you are deciding which action(s) to take, the main question you should ask is:
Is the discussion / interaction that I encountered something that I need to avoid for my own mental health, or is it something that poses a community risk that needs to be handled by moderation?
A couple examples of discussions or interactions that would have a negative impact on the community:
- Any posts that are supporting or perpetuating racist, homophobic, transphobic, and other *ist / *phobic viewpoints.
- Any interactions where a user or users is targeting an individual or group for stalking and/or harassment.
A couple examples of discussions that can have a positive impact on the community as a whole but can have a negative impact on individuals:
- Posts sharing and discussing news cycles around individual or state violence,
even if they are condemning that violence.
- Individuals and communities that are the current or historic target of that violence may be triggered.
- Posts about individual exposure to, or recovery from, various forms of trauma.
- Individuals who have been exposed to the same, or similar, situations may be triggered.
The above examples are not comprehensive, but do show situations where you may need to protect your own individual mental health even as communities across the Fediverse discuss and interact in ways that show collective growth.
Mastodon tools at your disposal
Being online is a bit like being in a crowded room or stadium, depending on the audience size. That means when you go to take a step back, you may need to use some of the Mastodon tools to help you maintain the space you’re trying to create for yourself either temporarily or permanently.
These are the features that Mastodon built and highlighted for dealing with unwanted content:
- You can filter by hashtag and/or keyword
- You can filter permanently or set an expiration date for the filter
- This feature is most useful when you want to completely opt-in or opt-out of content.
- opt-in: perhaps you want to follow all Caturday posts in a separate panel or follow cat posts generally.
- opt-out: you do not want to be subject to the unpredictable news cycles around events that impact a group you’re a member of. Even if people are expressing support for you, you just do not want to see any of it at all ever.
- Other users
- Following: explicitly opt-in to another user’s posts, boosts, etc.
- Unfollowing / not following: a passive opt-out. You will still see posts / etc. if a user you are following interacts with them.
- Muting / Blocking
- Mute: You will not see another user’s posts, boosts, etc. but they can see and interact with yours. (Note: you will not see them doing so.) Users are not notified when they are muted.
- Block: You will not see another user’s posts, boosts, etc. and they cannot see yours. Users are not notified when they are blocked, but as your content “disappears” for them most users can tell if they’re blocked.
- Hiding boosts
- Less commonly used tool, mainly helpful if you feel another account’s boosts are “noisy” but their content is otherwise fine.
- Other instances
- This is the only action available to individual users. Moderation tools allow for more nuanced instance-level implementations including allowing posts but hiding media. (Please see Mastodon’s instance moderation documentation page for the complete list.)
- When you block another server you will not see any activity from any user on that instance. Instance admins and other users are not notified when you have blocked their instance.
How to implement all of these features are on Mastodon’s Dealing with unwanted content doc page. Please refer to the documentation page for the implementation detail for each.
There are many more Mastodon features that you can use to help improve your experience of the Fediverse, in particular in your account profile and preferences settings. These features mostly control the visibility of your profile, your posts, and the posts of others.
- Limiting how other accounts interact with yours (or not)
- Follow requests
- When enabled, you need to explicitly approve a potential follower. Only approved accounts can follow you.
- Hide your social graph
- When enabled, other accounts cannot see your followers or who you’re following.
- Suggest your account to others.
- Disabled by default. When enabled your account is suggested to others to follow, increasing your visibility.
- DMs, important notes:
- DMs cannot be disabled and you cannot restrict who is able to DM you (e.g. Followers Only).
- When you include a new user to an existing DM, they can see the DM entire DM history. This is more like adding a new user to a private Slack channel than the way other tools handle DMs by creating a new group thread with no history.
- Follow requests
- Limiting post / account visibility (or not)
- Posting privacy
- Can be set to public, followers only, or “unlisted”. The latter means that someone can see your activity by going to your profile, but cannot see your activity in any of their individual, local, or federating timelines.
- Opting out of search engine indexing
- Important note that there are limitations to this feature. Treat all of your data as public data.
- How media displays
- Can be set to always show, always hide, or to only hide when marked sensitive. If you find that media such as static and/or animated images, video, etc. have a negative impact on your mental health, you might want to enable Always Hide.
- Disable content warnings
- If you find that content warnings create more barriers than access, you may want to enable “always expand posts marked with content warnings”.
- Slow mode
- Enabling this feature means you will need to refresh for new posts to be added to the timeline you’re currently viewing.
- Posting privacy
The above are all set in your profile and preferences. We have documented how to configure these settings on our our Mastodon User Profile and Preferences doc page.
Patterns for a better Fediverse experience
Here we are detailing patterns that you can implement and iterate to improve your Fediverse experience. The tools that can assist are directly referenced in each section. For how to implement, please see the docs linked in the above Mastodon tools at your disposal section.
Control what content you are exposed to
The mental model that helps the most here is to realize that social media by design opts everyone into all content by default. Additional tooling constrains this default opt in, either by creating a new default of opt-out or by creating situational opt-outs.
Deciding which opt-outs you want to implement will inform what tools you choose to use for your benefit.
Proactively filter content
There will be times that you will want and need to filter content. This might be permanent or temporary.
- Active opt-in
Following keywords and hashtags can provide relief when you need to decompress. Cats, math, stomatopoda - anything that helps.
- Active opt-out
You can filter out keywords and hashtags to either temporarily or permanently remove yourself from certain content and discussions.
We recommend filtering out words, phrases, and/or hashtags that:
- You do not want to be exposed to, for any reason.
- This includes not wanting to be exposed to messages of support, which can have the unintended, added consequence of reminding you why support is needed. “For any reason” is for any reason.
- You do not want to be exposed to even via reference in a content warning.
Filters will filter out posts with content warnings as well. When you filter out content you will still be able to see other posts from other users you do not actively block in your follows, local, and federated timelines.
Note that you can choose to filter or block content as a separate choice from choosing to report it to the mods. We will still see the report.
Proactively obscure media
When changing the default opt-in for media, you can either:
- Opt in to all media
This will display all media, regardless of whether the media is parked as sensitive.
- Obscure media marked as sensitive
This will only obscure media if the person posting it marked it as sensitive.
- Obscure all media
This will obscure all media, regardless of whether the person posting it marked it as sensitive.
We recommend obscuring media:
- If images and other media are a frequent trigger of any kind.
- If you do not want to be exposed to media that you do not explicitly opt-in to.
Control access to your posts and account
The mental model here is: anything you post or include in a public facing space should be assumed to be public. There are ways to reduce how public it is and how long the information is available. Tactics here are particularly useful if you find your account attracting a disproportionate amount of “trolls” or other types of malicious activity. (You should also report this behavior to the mods.)
Protect your personal information
The usual advice about not disclosing personally identifying information for yourself or others still applies here. Beyond that, you can also:
- Hide your social graph
This will hide your followers and who you’re following. If you have reason to suspect that someone may use your account to find others to target, you should definitely enable this feature.
- Change the default visibility of your posts
By default all posts are public, but you can limit your posting reach by unlisting your posts or restricting them to followers only. When you unlist your posts, that means they are still public and visible if someone navigates to your profile, but your posts will not display in any local or federated timelines.
Combining “followers only” for your posts and enabling “follow requests” so you can control who follows you is a way to maximize how private your account is.
- Auto-delete posts
This is enabled and configured via the “Automated post deletion” option on the left nav menu. You can set the threshold from as low as one week to as long as two years. You can also choose types of posts to exclude from the auto-delete like pinned posts, polls, and so forth.
Limit how and who can interact with your account as needed
By default, everyone and anyone can follow your account from any other Fediverse instance that your home instance is federating with. To restrict that behavior, the main feature is to enable follow requests for your account. This will require you to explicitly approve everyone who follows your account.
Be aware of how the DM feature is implemented
There is not currently the ability to do much to constrain DMs, so you will need to be aware of how they work so you can choose how you want to engage with them (or not).
- You cannot currently limit or disable DMs
This means that any account that you have not explicitly blocked can DM you.
- When you add someone to a group DM, they see the history of that group DM
This means that the group DM feature functions more like a private Slack / Discord channel: when you add a new user, they can see the entire history. To change this, you’ll need to create a new group DM with the new user(s).
Collective action requires a collective
It is common to feel the impulse to respond to content that we see that has a negative impact on ourselves and/or others. When these engagements go well, it is/was an opportunity to help others grow on their journey to be better humans. When they do not, however, they can be a source of stress at best or result in harassment at worst.
Improving the experiences of yourself and others on social media is a form of collective action. There are many, many articles about maintaining or improving your mental health while taking part in collective action of some kind.
While the research around self-care in that broader context exceeds the scope of this article, what everyone should remember is this:
It is important for everyone to do their part to create and maintain safe communities (and build a better world). The reason this is called collective action is because it takes more than one person to accomplish group-level and societal changes. As with any effort to build something better, individuals that are doing their part for others must also remember to do their part for themselves.
Give yourself permission
Questions you should ask yourself when you are deciding whether or not to engage in a thread / conversation that has a negative impact on yourself and/or others:
- Do you, specifically, need to engage at this moment or can another member of the community (collective) do it?
- If you need to be the one that engages, either due to expertise or some other reason, do you have the capacity to do in the current moment? If not, can you defer until a time that you do?
- The Fediverse is vast and if you see an issue, especially one that the community commonly catches, it is likely someone else will say / do something.
- Even if you do not have the capacity at the moment and no one else does, protecting your mental health will ensure your ability to continue to sustainably help others while growing yourself.
Being able to make contributions over long periods of time will almost always yield more and better results than doing short bursts of high volume.
- You can leave conversations at any time for any reason. You do not need to justify or inform when you do, especially if doing so will continue to inflame the situation.
- You can opt-out of any content at any time for any reason. You to not need to justify or inform when you do, especially if doing so will be negatively impactful to yourself.
- You can also opt-in to content at any time. Any time you feel the need to opt-out of content, the ability is always there to opt back in when you’re ready.
Opting in and out of topics, especially those that might be personally relevant and soul straining for you, is a very useful tactic for creating personal boundaries. It limits when and how you are exposed to that type of content, especially if / when there is a news cycle or other event increasing the discussion frequency.
Create and maintain interpersonal boundaries
First and foremost: it is not ok for someone to violate your boundaries or for you to violate someone else’s. To be clear, this section is not referring to stalking and other forms of harassment. If you are experiencing these, please report it to the moderation team.
The common patterns you’ll see here:
- When someone is asked to stop engaging in a topic of conversation, thread, or with someone else overall and they do not. e.g.:
- “Please don’t talk about TOPIC in this thread.”
- “Please don’t continue to engage with this conversation.”
- “Please don’t continue to engage with me.”
- When a person who is a member of a community posts and clearly identifies an in-group
thread and non-members / out-group persons respond. e.g.:
- “Black Mastodon users…” -> If you are not Black, do not respond.
- “Non-native English speakers…” -> If your native language is English, do not respond.
Both of these patterns involve having a healthy understanding of public spaces and consent. A conversation thread being on social media does not necessarily mean it is for everyone to engage with. This concept should feel familiar: if a group is going for a walk and talking together in a park it does not mean that their walk and conversation is for everyone in that park at that time. That said, there are also public performances that happen in public spaces which are intended for everyone. Similar to the examples just provided, there are frequently communicated boundaries and expectations around private and public engagements happening in public spaces.
When someone violates your boundaries
If you have asked someone to stop engaging with you and/or your thread, the main tools at your disposal are:
- Mute the user
They will still be able to follow you and see your posts. They will not be notified they are muted.
- Block the user
They will not be able to follow you, see your posts, etc. They will not be notified that they are blocked, but they will be able to tell that they are blocked.
- Report the user
Remember you can always escalate to the moderation team.
Which of these actions you take is entirely up to you. Your account is how you navigate the Fediverse and you are the one that will need to decide which of these are warranted for the situation you are in.
Note that we do not recommend announcing when you have muted / blocked someone, as that defeats the purpose of removing yourself from the conflict. There are reasonable exceptions to this involving the safety of others and/or the overall community. In this case we request that you report the situation to the mods, whether you post about it or not, as it is the job of moderation to handle instance-level policy such as this.
When you violate someone else’s boundaries
- Step away / adhere to the request. This is true regardless of who is “in the right”. The conversation is not effective and should cease.
- Apologize, as appropriate. You will need to use good judgement here and should only apologize
if and when you are not emotionally charged in a way that prevents you from using good judgement.
- Depending on the impact to the person setting the boundary, if they’ve asked you to stop engaging there are going to be times when an apology results in further corrective action from them including muting, blocking, or reporting to the moderators.
- If this happens this is not a flaw in them or necessarily a flaw in you. Allow them to meet their own needs without judgement or further engagement.
- If you are a Hachydermian, refusing to let someone walk away regardless of whether they accepted or rejected your apology, or if/when you don’t have clarity on whether they’ve accepted or rejected your apology, is a violation of our Don’t Be A Dick policy at a minimum.