Why And How I Deleted Half My Facebook Friends



It's been two weeks since I cut my number of Facebook friends in half.

In November I decided to take a social media break (I wrote a little about why here), but through the entire year of 2019, I've been slowly starting to question the role that social media has been playing in my life.  I knew I was on social media way too much, using it as a distraction from the boring moments in my day.  The last straw was when I started to find myself holding my phone, scrolling through Instagram, without consciously making the decision to pick it up.

So right before Thanksgiving I got off Facebook and Instagram, which I've never done before.  During my break, I read several really helpful books, and took a good hard look at Facebook and Instagram to figure out what role I really wanted them to be playing in my life.  Maybe I'll discuss Instagram another day.  I'm still figuring that one out, since like it or not, Instagram is kind of the place for bloggers to be.  But today I thought I'd share one thing I figured out about Facebook over my social media break, and it's this:

Facebook keeps people from fading from your life.




If you had mentioned this to me a few years ago, I would have viewed that as a good thing.  Now, I'm not so sure.  I have started to consider that maybe some people are meant to fade from your life, and that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

There are people who aren't really friends, just acquaintances that passed through your life for a time. There are friends that you used to have alot in common with, but over the years you've drifted apart.  There are people that you were hoping to develop a friendship with, but years have passed and nothing has ever come of it.

I've always had a hard time letting people go, and I do still think there is value in being a tenacious friend, in making the effort to keep in touch with people who mean something to you.  But it's a tricky thing to balance when social media now gives you the ability to superficially keep in touch with your cousin's-husband's-sister who you met once five years ago.  Or that one person you hung out with at camp, but really don't know at all.  Or someone you used to work with, but who you haven't seen in five years.

Fifty years ago, you would have gradually lost touch with these people, no harm, no foul.  I used to think that was sad, but now I wonder whether it was a blessing in disguise.  These days, the social norm is for these relationships to linger indefinitely on Facebook, because no one wants to hurt the other's feelings by "unfriending" them.  If you dare to unfriend someone, you have to be prepared for the possibility of a conversation when you eventually run into them...or drama behind your back.

It must have been simpler back in the day when people were just allowed to drift apart.



One day I woke up and realized that a majority of my friends list on Facebook were these kinds of relationships.  People I don't really know anymore, or never really knew at all, had all this information about everything that was going on in my life, and I had information about what was going on in their life too.  But without ever putting in the effort to be an actual real-life friend to each other.

Not everyone should have unlimited access to your life.

And some people are meant to be in your life only for a season.

As I contemplate all of this, I also fully resonated with this article about how we make unfriending too much of a "thing".  I actually think we have made Facebook interactions in general too much of a "thing". The article mentions that we have started "validating our real life friendships by our online friendships", as if we aren't really friends with someone unless we are also Facebook friends with them.  I especially liked the question the author asks:

"When we feel like we need to add someone as a friend or maintain their access on Facebook in order to substantiate our interactions in reality, haven’t we reversed the natural process?"

And yes, I think we have.  




Personally, Facebook's most valuable functions in my life have always been as a convenient platform to share multiple photos with my grandparents and aunts and uncles (and other people who care about my children and don't get to see them often), and as a tool to facilitate real-world, face-to-face interactions with people.  

So during my Facebook break, I really started thinking about how to make sure that Facebook was serving those specific functions in my life, and drawing the line there.  To a certain extent, I had allowed social media to fill other functions in my life without my conscious permission.  I don't want Facebook to be a boredom buster, a friendship barometer, a self esteem-booster (or conversely, destroyer), a platform for all my thoughts (that's what this blog is for), a tool for life-comparison, an acquaintance-spying tool, or a cheap substitute for meaningful friendships (more on this coming in another post I think).  

I want Facebook to be just what I said - a photo-sharing tool between close friends and family, and a facilitator for setting up my face-to-face interactions.  That's all.

In order to fit Facebook into the box I had decided on, I realized that I was going to have to unfriend some people.  That's a hard decision to make, because for a lot of people, unfriending is taken as a personal insult.  I was afraid that some people, people I still like and wish the very best for, would take it that way.  I know some people probably did take it that way, but I posted this before I started purging, in an effort to explain:


"Hi Guys! I wanted to let you all know that in the next few days I'll be whittling down my friends list. Since taking my Facebook break, I've realized that some people struggle with social media more than others, and I am one of those people. I knew when I came back to Facebook I was going to have to make some changes, and this is one of them.If I disappear from your friend list in the next couple days, I hope with all my heart that you will know that it is nothing against you at all! This is more about my own personal social media mental health (how's that for a made-up term?), in an effort to maintain a proper balance in my digital life. If you ever want to connect or get together with me, I would absolutely welcome interaction outside of Facebook, through a text, phone call, email, snail mail, etc!  I'm thankful for all of you, and what you've added to my life over the years! I hope we can connect in the future outside a screen.  <3"


And then I took the advice and encouragement from someone who has done this before, and I cut over half of my friend's list.



Time will tell if there will be unforeseen negative repercussions, but so far I've received mostly positive responses.  I'll continue to refine my friend's list until I've achieved the balance that I'm looking for, but for now, I feel lighter.  I'm satisfied that Facebook is now more functional as a tool that serves me, instead of the other way around.  And I'm spending much less time on it.

The hardest part for me in purging my friends list was deciding who to keep and who to let go. As I tried to make some hard decisions, I was heartened by this quote from Digital Minimalism:

"It's worth noting that refusing to use social media...to interact means that some people will inevitably fall out of your social orbit - in particular, those whose relationship with you exists only over social media.  Here's my tough love reassurance - let them go. The idea that it's valuable to maintain vast numbers of weak-tie social connections is largely an invention of the past decade or so...Humans have maintained rich and fulfilling social lives for our entire history without needing the ability to send a few bits of information each month to people we knew briefly during high school."
-Digital Minimalism, pg 155

Let them go.

So I held my breath and took the plunge.  I kept some people that I am hopeful will turn into real-world friends, but I may have to do another purge in the future if nothing comes of those relationships.  I let go of some people that I genuinely like and wouldn't mind being friends with - but I've been Facebook friends with them for years, and we never see each other anymore.

I hope those people will understand that even though we are no longer Facebook friends, that doesn't mean that I don't want real-life interaction with them.  I am hoping that anyone who really would  have liked to keep in touch with me will reach out to set something up, or send a note, outside of social media.

And for the ones that don't - well, I guess we were meant to fade from each other's lives after all.






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Emily Powell said...

I've wanted FB to be a place where I could share family photos with family and close friends but it just can't be that for me. Since I started my photography business about 90% of my clients come from my personal FB page even though I also have a photography FB page. So, I've just accepted it since it is my primary source of business. So for me, that person I knew 10 years ago that I worked with for one year is a possible new client for me and then their word of mouth business is huge for me. Strange to think about. Anyway, hope your new social media balance is working for you!

Emily Powell said...

Posted a comment earlier. Don't know if it showed up...and it was under my husband's account. Sorry!

Michelle said...

I love this! Isn’t it the most liberating feeling? Facebook is so much less stressful for me now.

Callie said...

Emily, I totally get it, it would be a totally different story with a photography business! Facebook would be huge for that, I know. I think the freeing part for me was just defining exactly what function I wanted Facebook to serve in my life, and then making it fit with that. I was wasting too much time eavesdropping on people's lives that I don't even know anymore. Your game plan would be totally different if you personal Facebook page is serving as your business promotion tool! And Michelle, THANK YOU for the encouragement to take the plunge! I feel so much happier about Facebook in general now!

Felicia said...

Callie, this is so great! I've sworn off Facebook the past few months because I didn't feel like it was adding anything to my life at all. And I'm still not sure that it is. I totally agree that you can still be friendly with someone and not want them as a Facebook friend. It was interesting that you mentioned people that you would have liked to have started a real-life friendship with, I can think of a few people that would be the case with me as well. I appreciate so much how well you think through these kinds of things!

Bekah said...

Really well written! I appreciated that you shared the note before you did the purge. I have a fairly large friend list, mostly because I speak at events and end up gaining Facebook friends from those interactions, but I still usually notice if I'm unfriended - because I miss getting to see the posts I used to read. And while I wouldn't go so far as to say I worry about it, I do sometimes wonder why. Did they just need to whittle down? Or did I say something that hurt them? I think it was so considerate of you to explain - for those who might wonder!

And in unrelated news - I loved your Christmas card! I sent one back, but it came back to me undeliverable. I'll have to email you to see if I somehow wrote down your address wrong!

The Lady Okie said...

So interesting that I was going to say the opposite of Bekah. I generally think that if someone is worth unfriending on Facebook, they won’t notice or care so I don’t see the need to call to attention that they might be unfriended soon. But anyway! I did this a few years ago right around the 2016 election, and it was great. It’s basically only family now or people I actually talk to in real life.

Elizabeth said...

I definitely think you hit the nail on the head with the issue of being in contact with too many people and disturbing the natural process. For example, I've contemplated going to a high school reunion (200 people in my class), but I pretty much know all the basics from FB already...not sure what we would talk about? I realized that for me the social media clutter is just like the clutter in my house. It's harder to let go of once it's there. It's harder (for me at least) to delete people once I've gotten used to seeing their news on social media. Whereas if I didn't know those details of people's lives, I wouldn't miss it. I use the various social media accounts in my own personal way, and it's probably different for each person, so it's good to sit down and think that over, as you mentioned. I have mixed feelings about announcing an exit or friend purge. Since I don't know you in real life, I appreciated knowing about it (Instagram break) as a courtesy. But I think if it were a friend of mine, it might hurt my feelings that they were removing one channel of communication, if you know what I mean. Or I don't know why they couldn't quietly pare down the list without announcing it. Same with doing a fast...I understand if someone needs to clear their head, but when they announce that they're doing a FB fast for Lent, it seems a little bit...self-righteous? Hopefully I'm not coming across too harshly, just my personal preference. The problem with leaving and not announcing anything is that you MIGHT want that contact info later on, and what if you didn't get someone's email address? Or is that the point of purging? So again, it's like decluttering...you get rid of something that you MIGHT need, but decide to risk it anyway?

Callie said...

Amanda and Elizabeth, I considered whittling down my list without announcing it, but I ultimately went the route that I did because of what Bekah said. I tend to notice when people unfriend me, even people I never talk to, and then I wonder if I offended them in some way. I didn’t want anyone feeling that way if or when they discovered I unfriended them - especially because none of my unfriending was a personal thing against anyone, it was just to get my own Facebook habits under control. I didn’t consider that announcing it might hurt someone’s feelings, and I kind of doubt the announcement itself did hurt any feelings - I think in the end it would be more hurtful to realize someone unfriended you and have no idea why. If it was me, I’d really appreciate knowing the person wasn’t mad at me or anything. So I explained as well as I could that this was purely to help myself get my social media habits under control, and that’s all I can do. 🤷🏻‍♀️

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