It’s I Think We’re Alone Now Week at Autostraddle — a micro issue dedicated to being on your own, whether on purpose or by chance, and all the ways we’re out here making it work.
In 2016, YouTubers Cammie Scott and Shannon Beveridge broke the (small, lesbian, YouTube-obsessed) internet with their breakup video, titled, simply, “why we broke up.” The 11-minute video has, in the last 3 and a half years, amassed over 3.1 million views, and its own wide range of spinoff videos, with other YouTubers creating compilation videos made up of clips from their Instagram Stories and Snapchats and rumor-filled vids with salacious titles like, “WHY SHACAM REALLY BROKE UP.” Despite the two being on apparently fine terms in the years to follow, and the fact that they’ve both been in new relationships since the breakup, this one breakup shapes almost the entirety of their social media presence. Even if the YouTubers want to move on, and don’t talk about the breakup much on their own accounts, their personal presence is almost less important, or impactful, than the presence surrounding and about them: Their tagged photos on Instagram are flooded with Shacam-stanning accounts with Instagram names like “cammiebeveridge” and “shannonscott” and other mashings of their names. In their lives, their identities may have little to do with each other, but to their online fans and followers, they’re seemingly forever linked via shitty photoshopped collages and screencaps and a plethora of gifs, doomed to kiss forever on the internet.
In 2020, breakups, especially queer and lesbian breakups, are so fucking messy — and social media is to blame. In a world where we’re all, kind of, influencers, and where queer influencers are almost more powerful than queer celebs, social media is a way to make things permanent whether we want them to be or not. As my own relationships have shifted and changed, both with friends and with partners, I’ve found myself with jarring questions to answer. On Instagram, should I hide photos with this person in them? Delete them, or simply archive? What about my Instagram Story highlights? Do I mass delete or just save for later? Bouncing from photo to photo trying to decide which ones you want to get rid of entirely versus which ones warrant archiving versus which ones to let live on in digital memory is such a baffling experience, and one (I assume) none of us want to have while we’re like, mid-vomit and sobbing against a toilet seat.
These questions didn’t even exist ten, fifteen years ago. Twenty years ago it would have been almost impossible to imagine a world where you have to decide which posts to archive, or which accounts to unfollow. But we’re in a world of the Facebook graveyard, a digital world where we fly toward more dead Facebook accounts than living ones, and our Facebook and Instagram Story memories love little more than to pop up in the literal worst moment possible to remind us of people we once loved, or thought loved us, or maybe a little bit of both.
When Instagram and social media first became a Normal part of our lives — something we pretty much all had, something we used to keep in touch with friends, something that we checked in on daily — it was something we felt like we had control over. I would post photos I was proud of and write comments that felt thoughtful and like pages because, well, I liked them. Now, it feels like that control has flipped. I take photos for Instagram, I write comments because the algorithm wants me to (and because if I don’t comment on my friends’ photos, I’ll never see them again in my hourly scroll) and I follow The Right accounts, not necessarily the accounts I actually want to follow. A lot more of us live according to social media, rather than social media acting as a simple tool for us to use to build our digital lives.
Breakups can feel just as impacted by this social media control. Because of social media, people have thoughts on our relationships, all the time. In my own breakups I’ve been confronted after posting an Instagram Story via DMs by eyeball emojis as people wait for an update, or make assumptions about who I am or am not sleeping with. People I’ve never met in real life DM me on Twitter and tell me my relationship is their everything. It’s not even about friends and their commentary; it’s about followers and fans and strangers. It feels gross and invasive, but it also feel strangely caring, and builds a sense that there’s this weird community that’ll come out of the woodworks when they notice your highlight with all of your favorite girlfriend moments has been deleted, or that your anniversary Twitter thread has disappeared. The content is meant to feed the platform, rather than the platform serving the content, so when you’re not doing couple photo shoots or tagging each other in memes or appearing in enough Stories, people have questions. And a whole fucking lot of them ask them.
Now, on TikTok, lesbian influencers and baby gays face a similar world, albeit perhaps and even more invasive one. While YouTubers might post one video a week if we’re lucky, on TikTok, gay influencers post almost constantly, filming upwards of five videos a day to stay relevant. When they start commenting on other gay TikTok accounts, we see it; when they start dating a new gay TikTok user, we see it; when they break up, we see it. The subsequent crying videos flood our feeds, and I find myself watching as 19-year-old lesbians sob in different ways to different songs on a loop that lasts, seemingly, forever, if only we let it keep playing.
Breakups are so often garbage and hard, and managing the social media that surrounds it is just another gross layer that makes them even more garbage and even harder. In April 2019, Shannon Beveridge posted a video titled, “Do I regret my public relationship?” In it, she says that she doesn’t regret the relationship, but that there’s a reason she doesn’t post as openly or publicly on social media about her relationships as she did about her relationship with Cammie. I don’t know that abandoning social media is the answer, but I also know that I don’t blame Shannon, or any of us, who choose to take a step back. Maybe balancing out the weird power dynamic so many of us have with social media means actively deciding not to post when we don’t want to post, even if the app (and the voices that live within it) are expecting it.