Social media users are ubiquitous, but sociable media users are rare birds indeed. It seems that the greatest flaw in social media is that people have been allowed to use it. In principle, we’ve never been more connected; in practice, we’ve never put more effort into alienating each other. The statistics are well documented: the more time spent on social media, the lonelier you feel; spend more than two hours a day there, and your likelihood of feeling isolated doubles. Ol’ Machell aches for the simple times of head-to-head and hand-to-hand engagement, but they’re unlikely to be ‘on trend’ any time soon. Here, then, are Machell’s plaintive rules to make social media a less unbearable experience. But in a world where ‘likes’ are the currency that counts – and even spouses exchange them – they’re doubtless destined to fall on many a deaf ear and hollow eye. To those out there that are still sound, the glass is raised.

  1. Never forget that each social media platform has its own particular remit: Facebook is for real friends, Instagram for fake friends, Twitter for humour, Snapchat for flirtation, LinkedIn for people who wink in the bathroom mirror, and YouTube for those can’t escape the black mirror. This leaves, of course, real life for real words and real deeds. Don’t blur the lines.
  2. How would you describe yourself? Do you perhaps style yourself a ‘lifestyle vlogger’? If so, you should be made aware that this is not a thing . What you need is a ‘job’, for which you can (I understand) apply online.
  3. If you spend actual portions of your life ‘trolling’ anyone, you must be a preternaturally unhappy individual. This really is arch-tragic stuff. Try going outside and giving the local folk a taste of your trademark talk: the results will be striking.
  4. Have you been served a meal in a restaurant? Is it visually appealing? Well, you’re not alone in this. Most establishments have twigged that there’s limited mileage in serving dishes that resemble plates of excrement. As such, there’s no need to alienate everyone around you by giving so outstandingly unremarkable an event the full-flash studio treatment and posting it abroad with wide eyed amazement.
  5. Don’t neglect Machell’s Law. If you’re compiling for online publication an album of holiday photographs, the number of images should not exceed three times the number of days spent in vacanza , and in no circumstances whatsoever should more than a dozen be posted.
  6. ‘Followers’! ‘Followers’!? What stuff! If you happen to have any, don’t let this misnomer delude you that these are real people trudging forth in the hallowed footsteps of their dear leader. In this post-truth era we are all Pied Pipers unwittingly heading straight back to Hamelin.
  7. Hashtags. Oh my, where to begin? Yes, these do a job when they invoke specific events and real objects. And there’s much fun to be had with sporadic wit and Soamesian inventiveness. But when increasingly opaque acronyms start to surge forth, and even osmose into the names of people’s accounts, the writing’s very much on the wall. Such a practice can only be excused if accompanied by a photograph of the account holder’s similarly tattooed forehead. And, lest we forget, a ‘promoted’ hashtag should never be deployed; instead, I recommend using #letsholdhandsandcry
  8. Politics is complex. Single-sentence posts aren’t. Therefore don’t touch upon the P-word in the world of social media unless you’re making a jaunty observation or reporting a poignant historical fact.
  9. Stop ‘slacktivism’ (yes, there’s another portmanteau to put in your suitcase). This is the vacuous, inconsequential attachment to online campaigns of any kind: retweeting a jpeg with a tenuously relevant emoticon does nothing to change the world. It doesn’t even do enough to count as ‘virtue signalling’. This sorry behaviour jars most insensitively in the wake of terrible events: what victim gives a fig for your profile update? And yet, if you put your phone down for half an hour, or opened your wallet, you could quite easily do something to help those in need.
  10. The celebrities of the world have, of course, formed ‘followings’ larger than most of the world’s countries. From here they have the freedom to speak, without filter or fragmentation, to their devoted entourage. There has never been such scope for broadcasting instant and wide-reaching messages across the planet. And what do we find? Inspirational messages, socio-political critique, age-old wisdom? No chance: in lieu of opinion and ideas, we get the same old greedy sales and grubby self-promotion.
  11. Tweet-writers, photo-caption-writers, personal-update-writers: no ligature or shorthand is acceptable other than the ampersand. Oh, and stop employing semi-cola to undercut the hard-pressed colon industry: they’re designed to introduce a development of, or contrast with, the preceding thought, not an explanation of it. (I concede, with lachrymose despondence, that the split comma is a battle lost.)
  12. If you haven’t read a controversial story and thereby satisfied yourself of its probably veracity, don’t share or retweet it. Otherwise you’re just as culpable in these ill-starred information wars as the original author. Facts (remember them?) matter.
  13. What a thing, eh – taking and posting photographs of yourself, and then waiting in trepidation for others to give the Jovian nod of approval! Well, if you have somehow made the perverse mistake of using your photographic device when orientated the wrong way round, the situation is rectifiable. Such unfortunate ‘selfies’ still only exist as files within your control: you’ll be delighted to learn that they need not be posted!
  14. Don’t create a Twitter thread: if you need to string together paragraphs that can’t naturally be related through the medium of Twitter, then why not try… Oh forget it.
  15. Whether social media platforms be legal publishers or no, they do remain unmediated conduits for you to speak your own thoughts to the world. And there’s no credible right to be forgotten when you alone have been doing the talking. So let’s stop sneaky ex-post curation or deletion of past posts that no longer sit so pretty. Live by the pen, die by the…

Reader(s?), there’s no need to waste time forming your own barbed criticism about the foregoing list. Feel free to use the following cut-out-and-keep complaint: “Really now, what’s the point of writing this stupid list of ‘Rules’ when the writer clearly uses social media – and even has the gall to post links to it on Twitter!!! <bemused octopus emoji>”