Internet Boundaries: What are they and how to create them

Boundaries are healthy things to have in your life. They help you create balance and maintain relationships. But how do we create boundaries with the internet that match what we want in real life? How does a person make sure their mental and physical health are protected while being constantly available on social media? That is what I have been trying to figure out over the last few years and I don’t really have the answers but I know how to tell what works for me and when.

Boundary (noun) – a thing (sometimes a line) that indicates a limit.

I love social media! Social media has provided me with education, friendships that span the globe, and work that I would not have been able to achieve without it (including a book deal). However, social media can cause a lot of excess anxiety which is why I am sharing with you how I have come to create boundaries with it. I am sharing this blog post not to show you that I know it all, because I don’t. I am sharing this because it is something I am forever learning and having boundaries online is something I think we should talk about more and pay attention to. I want to have a long lasting relationship with the people who enjoy my work and my online friends and to do that I need to have boundaries with my internet usage. While most people’s interactions are wonderful, kind, and harmless… a lot aren’t and once you share something online, it is out there for people to pick apart. It is important to know what you want to share and when to unplug. It is also important to recognize that all of our individual boundaries and needs from social media are different and varied, just like we are, and it is not always possible for some of us to be offline 100% or delete certain social media platforms. Obviously, I am writing this with a bias. That bias being I am a 20-something-year-old woman whose career has been greatly helped by social media (see how I got a book deal blog post here) and I have a small but sizable amount of followers online across a variety of platforms, which opens me up to plenty of (kind and unkind) strangers daily.

It is important for all of us, as individuals, to recognize that we are not entitled to other people, as individuals. We all are not entitled to each others information, time, or energy and not just online but in person as well. It is easier to establish that boundary in person though, because you can clearly say “I don’t want to talk about that” and smile, and it is more comfortable. Online, any phrase like that can make you immediately seem cold or callous without a face or real life human interaction… but here is the thing: what people share online is what we get and we should be thankful for whatever that is. It isn’t rude of people online not to answer questions, speak on personal matters they haven’t spoken on yet/before, or post constantly and consistently. We are all humans who need to be allowed to unplug, keep personal things private, and give ourselves space to be our own people. Every single person reading this has information they don’t want online for a myriad of reasons and that doesn’t make them bad or cold or callous… sometimes you just don’t need to share. And we all know people who overshare online (you might include me in that, which is fine). Acknowledging all of this helps in figuring out where your personal boundaries are, which then allows for a more balanced relationship with social media.

Boundaries in the things you share

I have shared my own personal story with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Endometriosis. Before I posted my comics/blog posts about these subjects, I figured out my boundaries in the months ahead. I get DMs, tweets, emails, comments, and more from people asking me to diagnose them with OCD and Endo, asking me who my
doctor was, asking me what my Obsessions and Compulsions are… all are things I don’t discuss online. I have given my stories in a way that I boundaries_lilywilliams_bubble02chose fully. They were designed purposefully to be relatable, empathetic, educational, and give people the tools to feel empowered, beyond that, my stories are personal, private, and fully mine until I decide otherwise. I know my boundaries, I chose them, and I do not respond to the feedback outside of my boundaries.

There are plenty of things I also don’t discuss online for a variety of reasons. I won’t list those topics here, because that is my boundary (but I know them in my head). Whether it be me feeling uneducated, unqualified, uninterested in drama, or unable to speak from a place of authority on certain topics… I don’t talk about them. I don’t need to talk about them because there are always plenty of other people with more authority discussing these topics and because I am uncomfortable talking about them, I don’t. These are perfectly fine reasons not to weigh in on something! It is okay not to weigh in on everything.

Boundaries on being plugged in

Everyone knows someone who has posted online saying they are “taking a break” or “on hiatus”, which is cool. Do you! But also know, you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you disappear from the internet. I disappear for days, weeks, and sometimes even months and truthfully, no one cares. Last time I was gone for a month from my boundaries_lilywilliams_bubble01social media, I came back to so few notifications that it made me feel really humbled. It truly didn’t matter if I disappeared from social media and I felt empowered by that: my tweets don’t matter in the big scheme of things and Instagram will go on without me.

If you feel like you need to log out but cannot find a way to block social media, delete the apps from your phone and check out computer apps like Self Control and Cold Turkey. Or have a trusted friend change your passwords on you! Find what works for you and use those methods. Unplugging and plugging into your reality can be a nice way to get out of the hustle and bustle of never-ending media feeds.

Boundaries with what you interact with

Mute words, block words, block people, unfriend people, mute people, mute conversations, turn off notifications… do it all! People who are boundaries_lilywilliams_bubble03being mean, rude, or entitled do not automatically deserve your time just because they want it. Your time is precious! Go out there and read a book or go on a walk with all the free time you can have from not engaging with entitled people. Some people enjoy hashing it out and
debating with others online and that is totally fine for them. I, however, do not. I have anxiety and OCD. My brain comes up with enough stressful stuff already for me without others, so I don’t need to sit here and take other people’s stress.

How to set up your own boundaries

  • Determine your goals
    • What do you want from social media? Who are you trying to engage with? Why is it important for you to be on it?
  • Does it drain you or fill you?
    • If it drains you, check how you want to proceed going forward. You don’t need to do something that drains you just because other people are.
  • Do you feel safe?
    • Safety is a huge issue online for marginalized people and it is a real worry that should not be brushed aside. Set your profile on private if you need to, eliminate the ability to send DMs, turn off commenting functions, and go to the police if it comes to that… make sure you are safe. Your safety is the number one priority when being online.
  • How do you know when it is time to create boundaries?
    • If you are drained, or stressed, or wanting to snap at people, or delete it all… might be time to recheck your boundaries!

It does not make you a bad person to set social media boundaries, whatever they may be. This world is a stressful place and we all have personal stressors in our lives that can make it hard to be plugged in on social media. It is hard to give yourself permission to make boundaries in person, let alone with social media, but you are allowed to and it doesn’t make you uncaring to the world or your followers if you take the time you need to be your best self. I like being online and interacting with people, but when I start to resent expectations put on me by strangers, or feel burdened by “responsibilities” to post content consistently for free, I get burned out. I don’t want to get so burned out that I end up deleting all my social media and disappearing from the internet. Maybe one day that will happen, I don’t know (who can predict the future?), but for now in order to preserve my ever changing relationship with social media, I have to have boundaries. Each day is different and each day I make sure I am creating and maintaining what works for me.

So go forth and make your boundaries, or don’t! But if you choose to, try to feel empowered in creating them and not ashamed. We all need to check ourselves sometimes and social media is no exception.