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Reclaiming Facebook

April 3, 2012

Last Saturday, I spent over three hours ridding my Facebook account of nearly 350 friends. If that sounds apocalyptic, it was. I whittled a list of nearly 500 friends down to a much more manageable (and natural) 150 (give or take a few). It was an effort to simplify my Facebook account and transform it into what I think Facebook should be.

Inspiration – Why Would I Do This?

Facebook.

Earlier Saturday morning, I read an article by Dave Copeland about his efforts to cut his Facebook friends list by 90 percent (Copeland claims that the entire process, accomplished in short, 10-minute bursts, took 24 hours). Inspired, I applied the “unfriending” ax to my own account. Old college acquaintances? Gone. People I haven’t spoken to since high school? Gone. People I know but unrelated to me? Gone. In the short term, a few people made the cut who I suspect I’ll be cutting in the next year.

This process sounds cruelly clinical, but my goal of a better Facebook motivated me when my finger hovered over the “unfriend” button. I personally know and like nearly all of the people that I cut. But I saw little point in hanging onto acquaintances, no matter how nice, who I can’t imagine meeting ever again. If I ever want to contact these folks again, I can do it the old fashioned way: I will get their phone number of mailing address and call or write.

Facebook ought to be a place where I can find information about my closest friends. The news feed should provide me with news about the people I care about most. I don’t want to miss a friend’s announcement about his surgery because it got buried in a pile of stupid (if humorous) memes, political commentary, and some college acquaintance’s engagement announcement. Facebook should keep us up-to-date about the people we care about without making that process unnecessarily cumbersome and difficult (which it is if you’re not willing to cut friends).

Facebook Has Other Ideas

Dramatic.

Facebook wants the “unfriending” process to be as inconvenient and difficult as possible. To “unfriend” a person, you must first find them in your list of friends (or bring up their profile). Then you have to scroll through a list of options and click on the Unfriend tab on the bottom of that list. Then a box will pop up: “Remove [name] as a friend?” and “Are you sure you want to remove [name] from friends?” You have to click on the “Remove from friends” tab. Facebook thinks for a few seconds before popping up yet another window explaining that your friend has been removed. Just when you think you’re making progress, Facebook refreshes your friends page and shoots you right back to the top, meaning you have to scroll through your friends list again to find people you want to unfriend.

Facebook does this because it wants you to have more and more “friends”. The more friends that you have, the more data they can gather and then sell to marketers and companies. Moreover, Facebook sees itself as a grand social connector, the only social hub that you’ll ever need. Now that they’re a public company, Facebook does not want you to have some of your connections on LinkedIn, other connections on Twitter, and then a few “real friends” on their website. They want to dominate your social network.

The Result

As inconvenient as I found the unfriending process, I am thrilled with the result. When I open up Facebook now, I see only the status updates and stories of the family and friends still inside of my social circle. Their stories no longer disappear into the chaos of five hundred competing status updates, personal stories, news articles, and photos. This permits me to learn what I want to learn about my friends’ lives and quickly leave Facebook. I have transformed the website into something that I can actually use, just by cutting down my list of friends.

By thinking about why I use Facebook, I figured out to make it useful for me. Because I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, it never made sense to use it as a networking tool. I can use a website like LinkedIn to do that. So instead of hanging onto acquaintances and other people I peripherally know, I kept only my real familial and social connections. My Facebook profile now approximates my real social circle.

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