Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Facebook "defriending"

A reader asks,

“Dear Ed: What do you think about the practice of defriending on Facebook? Has anyone ever defriended you? Have you ever defriended anyone?”

The short answers, in order, are: It’s really no big deal, yes, and yes.

As I’ve noted before, my Facebook account is for my personal friends and contacts. It has nothing to do with my online writing or the promotion of my books. So it isn’t necessarily a matter of the more the merrier. I’d be thrilled if 10,000 people showed up at this blog everyday. But I wouldn't particularly want to have 10,000 Facebook friends—even if that were possible.

I’ve never been involved in a defriending situation that was preceded by an argument or other personal rift. Most of the time, defriending occurs for me when a.) I haven’t talked to someone in a long, long, time, and b.) the relationship was never really that close, anyway.

Defriending has occurred in both directions for me with people whom I technically “knew” at my previous job, but at a very superficial level. In the context of 2009, it might have made perfect sense for us to be Facebook friends. But in 2013, Facebook has long since become the only link between us: We’ve both moved on from our previous jobs, and those jobs were our sole source of camaraderie.

Here’s an example: In 2009 (when I first opened a Facebook account) I became online “friends” with a young woman who was one of my supplier contacts at work. We were very friendly (not in a romantic way—she was newly married at the time), and we talked everyday. We got along swimmingly, as the British say. So we became Facebook friends.

I stopped working with her in 2010. (Her company moved her to another account.) After that, there was very little contact between us. She was located in Michigan, and my office was in Kentucky. There was no longer a business reason for us to communicate at work (though we did exchange email birthday greetings that first year). And it would have been awkward and inappropriate for me to contact her after-hours. So the relationship, such as it was, dwindled. There has been absolutely no contact between us since early 2011.

While reviewing some of my old message archives on Facebook recently, I happened upon one of her messages from 2009, and I noticed that she is no longer on my friends list. So she must have defriended me.

I don’t consider her to be “stuck up”—because I’ve done more or less the same thing myself. I had collected about twenty Facebook friends at my last corporate job. I recently defriended about half of them. This wasn't because I had any issues or grievances with the defriended folks, but simply because they were superficial work acquaintances—not people whom I’d bonded with in any significant way. And I’m fairly confident that none of them will notice my absence on their friends lists, unless they are among those Facebook users who compulsively track such things.

The work-related Facebook friends I’ve kept, on the other hand, are people who I connected closely with at the time, and I still talk to all of them more or less regularly.

At the time of this writing, I have 136 Facebook friends. Not all of them are really close friends, but all are at least people with whom I have a good rapport and something in common. About half are old classmates. The rest are people I’ve met at various jobs and other miscellaneous places.

I’ve never understood the advantage of having 500 or 1,000 Facebook friends (or even more). Facebook isn’t a popularity contest.

It also makes sense that some online friendships—just like offline ones—will survive and flourish, while others will fall by the wayside. Not everyone you meet and like at some superficial level is going to become a long-term friend. Some relationships are limited to a particular time, a specific context. That’s the way it is in real life, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that that’s the way it is on Facebook.

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