Why I’m Still On Facebook

Yesterday, I received an e-mail notice of yet another change to Facebook’s privacy policy and finally decided to pull the trigger on something I’d been itching to do for a little while. Around mid-day, I posted the following status update…

Once again, I’m reducing my presence on Facebook and trimming the Friends List. If you find yourself dropped from it, don’t take it personally – it just means that I decided there wasn’t a specific reason for us to be connected on Facebook. You are welcome to contact me through other means or through my sites at …

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Okay, that sounded a little colder and more backhanded than I intended but it got a number of likes and a couple positive comments. I can never really tell what’s going to resonate anywhere online.

Like most people on Facebook, I’ve accumulated “friends” there from various sources – work, old classmates, actual friends who I see on a regular basis in real life. I used to play a couple of games and once had a few dozen game friends until I dropped most of them in previous list prunings. I’ve also gone looking for old friends and acquaintances; I’ve probably looked up everyone I’ve ever known on there at one time or another just to see if it was worth reconnecting or sometimes just for the challenge of discerning from a few profile details whether it was that person I hung around with 20 years ago.

Over the past few years, though, I’ve realized that the connection Facebook offers is a very tenuous one. With a very few exceptions, most of my contacts on Facebook are only acquaintances with whom I have no real personal connection, who wouldn’t recognize me if I was suddenly standing right next to them and who probably wouldn’t notice if I suddenly stopped posting. That’s not their fault since each of them has anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred other “friends” of their own. The site is much like the class reunion I attended last year which combined a couple hundred former students from different graduating classes. After realizing that I barely knew anyone there and couldn’t take the crowding and the noise and the overpriced drinks long enough to talk to those I did know, I quietly slipped out and went home.

When it comes down to it, of more than 150 people I was connected to on Facebook, there were maybe 12 who I interacted with on a regular basis – a couple more who have occasionally told me offline that they liked my postings. The rest were just there, listed as Friends but never really communicating.  For all the warnings I’ve delivered over the years about online privacy, it probably didn’t hurt to maintain all those dormant connections on my profile but it had just started to feel wrong. I didn’t like seeing status updates I didn’t feel I had any business replying to because the author was just someone who I worked with several years ago but barely knew. It bothered me to click on the name of that one political junkie and tell Facebook to hide all of his or her posts but not be forthright enough to just disconnect my profile from theirs. For all I knew, some of them might have hidden me from their feed.

The irony is that I have profiles on other sites like Twitter and LinkedIn but have never felt the unease from silent connections that I do on Facebook. Maybe it all comes down to Facebook’s use, and cheapening, of the word “friend”. I have followers on Twitter, colleagues on LinkedIn and people in various circles on Google+ but none of those sites attempt to co-opt the actual relationships the way Facebook does. Combined with the way the site encourages users to put so much of their lives into posts and online photo albums, Facebook manages to create the illusion that the connection with someone on the site is actually a relationship in itself, especially when the other people start relying on the site exclusively to pass on important information like event news and big life changes like engagements.  The illusion is so strong that to disconnect from people you don’t see offline or to simply walk away from Facebook feels like walking away from the people themselves, even though they were never really there. Whether or not it was initially by design, it all achieves one important purpose – to keep people using Facebook and entering more and more of their information that the site can use for the targeting of ads.

“…don’t take it personally – it just means that I decided there wasn’t a specific reason for us to be connected on Facebook …”

So what did that slightly snarky-sounding reason actually mean? A lot of things depending on which of the 40 or so people I removed we’re talking about.

  • There was the woman I worked with at a previous job but didn’t really know. I connected to a lot of people at that job when I was new to Facebook and didn’t realize it was sometimes best to separate co-workers from online friends. She was a nice enough person but I never felt right reading updates about her life or presuming to respond to them.
  • The true believers and the activists went quickly. I don’t care what political party someone belongs to or what church they go to, if they post nothing but political and / or religious messages or are only on Facebook to promote their causes, I’m tuning out.
  • Finally, there were the rest of the people – former unknown classmates, casual acquaintances, the odd person who might have connected to me thinking I was someone they knew way back when, people who obviously never used Facebook and the others with whom it was just time to let go.

There were exceptions to all of these groups and people I decided to give a little more time. With some, I just didn’t want to face the potential drama … yet.

The people who remain are mostly the ones who really add to the conversation for which I stay on Facebook. There’s the former classmate who I never actually met in school but got to know online years later and inspires me with her excellent photography and other creative skills. There’s a select group of other classmates who have become interesting, accomplished people over the years and who I’m glad to keep in touch with. A couple have even visited me while traveling here to Florida. There are the real-life friends who I see offline but am glad to follow on Facebook, too. My brother and his family are all on Facebook and it’s a great way to keep up with his kids now that they’re all in the military or college and travelling all over the place. I’m glad to be able to share the news and pictures they post with their grandfather. Those are the people who would keep me using Facebook even if it wasn’t for the two pages I manage for my business and a local networking group that I run. For all of its annoyances, Facebook is also a necessary promotional tool and a very effective one for those who respect the other users.

So for all of its flaws, I remain on Facebook while posting a little less than I used to and with a smaller, somewhat more genuine, group of Friends.