The Unofficial Rules of Posting

Etiquette for the social media age

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Dos and Don’ts

Social media is a wondrous, terrible place. Each platform is governed by an arcane, often unspoken, form of etiquette, and so it can be a disorienting realm for those who don’t spend every waking moment on the internet. Luckily, Gawker is here to help you navigate the do’s and don’ts of online in order to become the best digital content creator and/or shitposter you can be. Behold, a small selection — many of them unique to Twitter, the true poster’s site, but others applicable to other platforms like Instagram and TikTok — from the ever-expanding unofficial rules of posting:

Follow fewer people than follow you.

“Ratio” this, “ratio” that… the real ratio is your proportion of following to followers. If you’ve ever been randomly followed by someone with more than 100,000 followers and felt really flattered until noticing that the guy (it’s usually a guy) follows literally everyone, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Social media may be a numbers game, but quality still matters, too — and one quality that you want to cultivate is the appearance of having standards when it comes to hitting the “follow” button, whether you follow 92 people or 5,000. You’re allowed some leeway when you’re just starting out from scratch, but it’s best to eventually keep the ratio of following:followers to 1:2 at a minimum, and inversely proportional the more followers you gain. (This rule does not apply if your account is private or if you don’t care about clout, in which case, do whatever you want.)

The window of time you have to follow back someone with whom you are real-life acquaintances is narrow.

The first few days of not following back a coworker or a friend constitute a sort of grace period. For example, on Instagram (or Twitter), the acquaintance might think, “Okay, maybe they didn’t see me? Or they just haven’t opened the app in a while? That’s fine, they’re busy.” If you never follow back, the acquaintance may just assume you never check your followers list and/or notifications, which is sort of annoying but not worth mentioning. But if, say, six months pass, and you do suddenly follow back because the guilt of having them fire-emoji react to all of your Instagram Stories gets to be too much, they will know that you had to expressly look up their account, and that opens the floodgates to all manner of questions and commentary the next time you see them: “Well I see someone finally deigned to follow me back! What took you so long? You didn’t notice it? Okay, well then what made you decide to follow me now? You didn’t see any of my comments on your posts? You just happened to think, after six months of knowing each other, that maybe you should follow me? Sure, uh-huh, I definitely believe you.” This kind of follow-back is now or never; you have to really commit.

Politely avert your eyes when you see someone “juicing.”

“Juicing” is a term that I made up to describe the action of RTing your own tweet, or resharing your own Instagram post in Stories — to give it some more “juice” in the attention economy that we are all dancing in. It is an act of self-promotion that is both blatant and self-conscious, overt but also painfully self-aware. For that reason, I would kindly urge you to pretend you do not see it happening all over your feed. Whoever is juicing, they’re just trying to get a few more eyeballs on their fill-in-the-blank piece of content — a joke with too few likes, an article they have written, the Cash App username of a person in need displayed on one of those pastel-colored Canva graphics — without having to type more words or be super weird about it. Be the bigger person; grant them that grace.

(That said, please don’t juice the same post more than a few times. We get it.)

Stolen clout is the stuff of charlatans and schemers.

Stolen valor is a term associated with frauds who falsely claim military awards they never earned or military service they never carried out, often in an attempt to lay claim to some kind of reverence or hero worship. Not to compare oranges to camo-decked apples, but stolen clout is like that but for social media. If posting is a game, then these are the cheaters. Buckle up, because this section involves several subpoints of things to never do:

  • Knowingly ripping off other people’s jokes: Simultaneous invention is real, but come on, we’ve all seen the same tweets about rating Uber drivers five stars if they don’t talk. (This one may have been the original.)
  • Recycling the same viral posts each month/year/etc.: Don’t tell me you set a calendar alert to re-up these at a regular interval…
  • Exclusively posting content from another platform: TikToks on Instagram, tweets on TikTok, Reddit posts on Twitter — all equal-opportunity offenders.
  • Engagement bait: Not to be all “prompt Twitter,” but tell me about the moment you first knew you were a gifted child. (This format is also annoyingly prevalent on TikTok.)

Don’t post sneak shots of strangers — especially those in vulnerable positions — who aren’t even doing anything to hurt anyone.

Oh your tweet that goes “what’s up with this haircut lately?” isn’t complete without an accompanying photo of some stranger you saw sleeping on the plane? Your inspirational story about that time you gave away free sandwiches to homeless people doesn’t stand on its own without you shoving a camera in the face of someone who’s just trying to get some food for a YouTube vlog? This is not stolen clout; it’s just being a shitty person. Don’t let the prospect of fake internet points sway you into making society more of a surveillance state than it already is.

Don’t do Twitter threads that kick off with “Buckle up.”

The tone is just off-putting. Please pick a different way to talk down to people.

You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and taken out of context.

No matter what you post, or how you word it, or how many asterisks and caveats you attach to it, you will suffer the worst-faith readings you have ever experienced.

For instance, say you share a funny video on TikTok of one of your cats hitting your other cat. Nestled among the normal reactions of “aww!” and “cute!!,” here are some other kinds of comments you can expect to receive eventually on your clip:

  • “Why are you letting ur cat abuse the other one?? stop filming and go help it”
  • “wtf stop bullying him!!!”
  • “What kind of a cat mom are you? This is what happens when you don’t know how to properly take care of pets.”

Remember: never, ever take posting too seriously.

Sure, it can be a profession, a brand-building exercise, and allegedly an impetus for change, but it is also just posting. Separate it from any kind of emotional stakes and you will suffer a lot less. When people get mad at you, when you aren’t getting enough likes, when you feel wrung out from the buzz of constant activity — just say fuck it and do whatever brings you some small modicum of joy (as long as you’re not sociopathic about it). In the end, this is the only real rule you need.