Instagram Now Has a Mute Feature, but Do We Really Need It?

Instagram may have taken a while before joining the party, but they’re finally here! The social media app will soon be launching its own version of the all-around favorite social media feature. Instagram first introduced the mute button on their Stories. Users were given the option to filter out story updates from another user without having to unfollow them. Last week, Instagram announced that they will be adapting the feature on actual profiles. This means that users can now completely stop receiving any updates from persons of their own choosing.

Facebook was the first to launch a similar feature in 2013, in the form of the unfollow option. This was followed up in 2015 with a tool called “Take a Break.” This feature supposedly has more benefitsspecifically recommended for former partners after a break-up. In 2014, Twitter adapted the idea and added the feature on the platform. Snapchat also released their own version earlier this year.

What’s the deal with the mute button?

The mute button was created to help users manage their feed. It blocks updates from other users that they no longer want to receive notifications from. Its selling point is that users can do all this without having to go through the mess of cutting virtual ties with the people they mute.

Muted accounts do not receive notifications about being muted, so no one will actually suspect the activity. So long as they do not interact with you directly, leave a comment on your posts or send you a private message, muting them will be as as if they no longer exist in your slice of the social network.

Not so surprisingly, a lot of users find the feature handy. It really may be a delight to get to remove people from their everyday virtual lives while also avoid the hassle confrontations that direct blocking would likely bring about. Based on users’ response, the mute button is a much-needed feature. However, let’s set this apparent convenience and necessity aside. What does the mute button really say about modern society?

The Internet has drastically become an extension of ourselves. Many theorists reportedly see this development as double-edged. Social media is now the most common medium of self-presentation. Even employers utilize social media platforms in order for them to evaluate an applicant’s personality and credibility. The social image that we build online can be easily and carefully curated, even altered if deemed necessary. If one plays their numbers right, their social image can be squeaky-clean in a matter of a few clicks.

The mute button gives us a sense of control.

Social media platforms such as Facebook even provide users the option to manage privacy settings for every post they share. Because of this, social media generally offers a safe distance that give users a sense of liberty over their personal platforms. Profiles or specific posts can be either made private to or accessible for specific accounts only. This makes users feel more able to share intimate thoughts and life events to a thoughtfully tailored audience. Simply put, people have the freedom to control what they show and not show on their own networks.

Through the mute button, people are also now given the freedom to choose what they see and not see. This feature is especially significant for individuals who want to moderate the content they consume for the sake of self-care. If the content or user being muted is triggering or generally unhelpful to one’s self-esteem or mental well-being, why not? Some users, on the other hand, utilize the feature simply to filter out updates from individuals that they deem unbearable or annoying.

The supposed most obvious and frequently used reason for settling for such resolution is the consequence of unfollowing an account. People apparently value the number of followers that they have so much so that they would rather mute accounts than to risk losing a follower. Another reason is to avoid any possible confrontation with the people to be unfollowed.

The mute button is essentially just a means to avoid confrontation.

Muting people that we still follow for whatever reason is a key manifestation of passive-aggressive behavior. Essentially, the only difference between direct disaffiliation (which can be in form of unfollowing the account or even soft blocking) and muting is that muted accounts will not realize that they have been muted, since records will reflect that the accounts are still connected to each other.

Practically speaking, what would be the use of still following an account if you are no longer interested in viewing their content? In the age of interconnectivity, is it really that hard to disconnect? Similarly to how maintaining actual ties with people you no longer have a healthy relationship with in real life, relationships on social media should also be filtered and managed effectively. Since social media has become an inevitable part of ourselves, we should reserve the right to moderate our connections.

Photo: Luke van Zyl 

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