In my early writing days, I used to participate in “follow for follow” or “follow trains.” Like many freelancers, I wanted to build up a solid following because I felt it would increase the readership of my work, help me get more commissions, and gain a platform.
Several groups I was in often invited folks to participate in “follow for follow,” (F4F) where others would drop their Twitter and Instagram handles (among other forms of social media). At first, I used to drop my handles as well and follow other writers without question.
Usually the rules of these F4Fs were something like this:
- Don’t follow just to unfollow
- …. and that was pretty much it
For the most part, the fellow writers and comedians I followed were respectful of the rules and interacted with me and others in a considerate, thoughtful way.
However, during the pandemic, this also meant having to deal with things I didn’t sign up for:
- Conspiracy theories
- Entitled behavior
- Racist, homophobic, or other bigoted behavior (generally or directed at others)
These experiences were few and far between, but I realized that as writers and creatives, we can’t let just anyone into our space—even digital ones—without vetting them first. It’s also the reason I don’t follow all of my social media followers back. A lot of people are great, post affirming content, and are perfectly harmless and doing their best.
For creatives of marginalized backgrounds, blindly following people has mental health consequences. I much prefer to see if other people’s presence resonates with me first from now on.
Now, I have made some exceptions to this rule from time to time. In 2021 I took many online classes and was part of a support group. We wanted to keep in touch, so a lot of shared our social media handles at the end of class. However, I had the chance to get to know my classmates and even speak to them for a few weeks before deciding to follow them. I’ve also participated in quite a few zoom hangs, but again, talking to someone for a bit before following them is different, and we were often in courses or events based on shared interests or goals.
Does this mean everyone should stop doing F4Fs? Not necessarily. If you don’t spend much time online maybe this won’t affect you, but as someone whose job and occupation requires me to be Very Online, I made the choice that works for me.