There are many things to hate about Facebook. There isn’t much of a point in bitching about it, because we’re still on it. Most users probably aren’t on Facebook because they like or want to be, they’re there because they have to be. Family members are on there with pictures of kids and dogs and snow. Co-workers are on there knowing whether you liked their latest brilliant post. Your kids are on there, so you have to be sure they aren’t being creeped on. Whatever the reason, we’re pretty much stuck with Facebook. It’s like the mail. There are good things in it once in awhile, more often bad things, but it still keeps coming every day, even in a blizzard.
I made the mistake very early on in my social media history (2006) of completely whoring out my Facebook account. When I heard 5000 was the friend limit, I thought it was a contest to get to that number first, and set about friending everyone who didn’t look like an obvious serial killer.
Then I read an article that changed my life. Well, not really, but it made me think, which is rare these days since in a few short years I’ll be 50 and there are very few things I actually give a shit about in life anymore. “The Facebook Cleanse” by Dan Kois at Slate outlines a very simple method for purging your unwanted Facebook friends:
It turns out that the Facebook birthday alert, located at the top of the site’s news feed, doubles as an incredibly efficient way to cull your friends list. Every day I am presented with two or five or eight friends who have nothing in common with one another but the date of their births. One by one I go through them and ask myself: Do I actually want to wish this person a happy birthday? Would this person care if I didn’t wish him a happy birthday? Does this person mean enough to me to be worth engaging in the barest minimum of niceties?
If so, great. If not: unfriend.
Brilliant! I thought. He’s right! If this isn’t someone I’d even wish a happy birthday to on Facebook, to say nothing of real life, this isn’t someone who should be in my feed (and in fact is probably already hidden from it) or who should have my kids’ photos in their feed.
A strategy to reduce your number of friends is necessary in the first place because Facebook doesn’t make it easy to get rid of these strangers/dead people (I actually went to a birthday guy page one time and saw how many people were wishing him happy birthday, not even pausing long enough to realize he had passed away). Facebook wants you to have more friends, not less friends, and they don’t allow bulk unfriending. Since it’s in their policy agreement, bulk unfriending external apps don’t work. If you click on the “friends” list on your profile page, it lists them not alphabetically, but in some sort of priority algorithm. People you interact with most frequently are listed first, so you have to scroll and scroll to get to people you’d like to dump.
I read the Slate article and started doing the cleanse. It takes only a minute or two a day, and I definitely don’t remember to do it each day, but I’m down from 4800 friends to 4400 after a few months. I have a long way to go. I’d be happy with less than half that many. A few shortcuts I picked up along the way: if you click on the “mutual friends” of a birthday person, it’s the best way to figure out how you know them, but it also lists all those mutual friends with a “friends” button next to them that you can toggle to “unfriend.” Also, another good way to ferret out friends you don’t want is to check your live news feed and if you see someone you’d like to unfriend, you can click on them and do the deed without waiting for their birthday next July.
Unfriending people on their birthdays isn’t rude. The results are worth it. As Kois says, “I might be about to give you the greatest birthday gift I, a person about whom you don’t give a crap, can offer: the gift of never needing to think about me again…
Once (Facebook) felt like a stadium packed full of strangers yelling at each other. Now it feels more like a cocktail party.”
Who doesn’t love a cocktail party?