Instagram is different things to different people. A cesspool, a dating app, a contacts list, a source of inspiration or self loathing or envy—sometimes in one fell swipe.
It is for all these reasons, and perhaps many more, that the internet collectively cheered when Instagram announced that it had released a mute feature earlier this week. Hitting “mute” on an account allows a user to stop seeing that individual’s posts in their own newsfeed without unfollowing them completely.
Similar functions already existed on Twitter and Facebook (it’s called “unfollow” there) but for some reason, Instagram was a hold-out, though it was possible to mute Stories. According to a statement from Instagram, you can un-mute at any time and the feature will be rolled out over the next few weeks.
While this will do little to the look and feel of your feed, it can do wonders to the thorny politics of having to follow people you do not actually like. While this may sound absurd, it is surprisingly common. While Instagram doesn’t notify people when they have lost a follower, there are apps that users can install to keep track of such things (why anyone would care enough to do this is another matter entirely). For that reason, users have been historically stuck in a purgatory of not wanting to unfollow people who might notice and hold it against them or worse, slide into their DMs and ask why.
But those days, blessedly, are over. Muting is a silent, undetectable way of taking a stand. Here are the ways you can strategically employ Instagram’s new feature.
Mute annoying people: People are annoying on Instagram—that is just a fact. While the more exacting among us might say: “Unfollow that person who posts seven pictures in seven different posts in seven minutes instead of using the add multiple photos feature,” not all of us have that luxury. After all, who hasn’t once unfollowed a former college roommate in the heat of the moment only to realize, six months later, that it would actually be quite useful to get in touch with them now that you happen to be in their city (or their industry). That leaves you in the tricky position of re-following—which would alert the person they were once un-followed—and having to say something to the effect of “Sorry I unfollowed you accidentally—weird! But anyway, I was hoping…” No more. Just mute them.
Mute people you just broke up with but don’t entirely hate: Whether it’s after a romantic—or worse, friendship—break up, Instagram can be a tough place to scroll. However, provided your ex didn’t do something to warrant being cut out of your life entirely, unfriending them can feel unnecessarily harsh. The mute option is great here: Your mental health remains in tact, but you don’t have to “refollow” them in 18 months when you’re totally over it emotionally and just want to silently judge their choice of new puppy (or partner!).
People who are annoying/make you feel bad/post too much but are important for your career: This is another surprisingly common quirk of our times. Maybe you are a blogger (which circa 2018 just means an Instagrammer who posts long captions) who needs to be connected with your kind. Maybe you work in an industry, like fashion or photography, where unfollowing a colleague or peer could be seen as a professional slight—even if all their posts make you feel inadequate. Or maybe you just don’t care much about your office-mate’s dogs. Whatever the reason, stay “professionally connected” as they say, without trying your patience.
But maybe don’t mute your mom: She will probably notice somehow. So you just should leave that one as is.