Facebook can be whatever you want it to be. It's a promotional tool, a way to keep in touch with family members, a space for lifestreaming your every move, or a community forum for meaningful discussion about a specific topic.
But sometimes, it all just gets too overwhelming to deal with. You have 1500 Facebook friends from all walks of life - why? Those social ties expired long ago. So what's the point of holding onto that one last digital thread?
Last week Jenni Prokopy, a Chicago-based health care expert, freelance writer and founder of ChronicBabe.com, posted a status update that directly addressed this issue. With about 800 friends, Prokopy realized that her Facebook profile had become totally cluttered. "I started my Facebook a few years ago when there were no business pages," Prokopy says. "People knew who I was online from ChronicBabe.com, so they started to friend me on Facebook. And I was just trying to build my online community so I said yes - and everyone was like yeah, build your online community! And so I did."
Before long, Prokopy's Facebook profile had become almost useless. Checking it felt like a chore.
"I was going through tons of posts from people I didn't know, and I don't want to say that I didn't care about them but I didn't care to know the details of their lives," she says. "But the thing that got me a couple of weeks ago is that I missed two important party invitations." They had gotten lost in the flood of meaningless Facebook marketing 'events' that were actually just invitations to 'participate' in various non-important mass events."
Then there was that whole missing photos from family members thing.
"My sister would post photos of my niece, and I would miss those," says Prokopy. "It felt like my Facebook news feed was Grand Central Station."
A few days later, Prokopy spent 4-5 hours unfriending close to 800 people, decreasing her Facebook community to a mere 280 people. And since then, she's been able to catch status updates from family members that matter to her. "I found out that my brother-in-law and niece, who live in New Orleans, were in a car accident recently. They were dealing with the details so didn't call people individually - they just posted to Facebook. But I spoke with my sister the next day and got all the details."
Russ Starke, VP of Experience Design at digital design agency ThinkBrownstone, had a similar experience with his Facebook profile.
"It was starting to become more of a promotional tool," Starke says. "I wasn't really checking what other people were doing, and I was only occasionally posting photos of my kids. After seeing what Jenni was doing, I decided to try it, too."
What really pushed him over the edge was the fact that metadata is tagged to an iPhone picture that a user uploads to Facebook. It's easy to figure out where the user was when they posted the photo. "How is this going to affect my wife and I, and our daughter?" Starke asked himself. He also wanted to post about business trips, but then realized that there were people on his Facebook profile that he didn't trust enough to do that. And then there were those expired ties.
"There are people on Facebook that, when I look at our friendship history, I see that I've been Facebook friends with them for four years but haven't interacted with them in that entire time. It doesn't mean I don't have fond memories of them, but I don't need to be friends with them on Facebook."
When it comes to Facebook friends, Starke now requires a higher level of intimacy. If he wouldn't allow you in his house, he is not going to be your friend on Facebook. It's just that simple.
Instead of going through the painful one-by-one friend deletion process, Starke decided to shut down his account and start over in a month or so. For now, he's enjoying the freedom that not being on Facebook is giving him.
Should You Be Reading Stories Posted by People You Don't Know?
The Facebook news feed algorithm uses EdgeRank to detect which types of stories the user clicks the most, and surfaces those "highlighted" stories moreso than stories that users are less likely to clickthrough. Is it psychologically damaging to view posts from people who you have little to no connection to?
"While data has not shown that it's unhealthy to perennially view posts from too many friends with whom people lack authentic connectivity, it has been demonstrated that those who do, may do so because they already have lower self-esteem," says Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, the author of the study "Why Do People Use Facebook?"
She also found that sometimes having more than 250 friends isn't very healthy.
"It has been shown that those users with larger numbers of friends may actually be triggering negative impressions. A study conducted about 3 years ago showed that both profile owners with lower number of friends (about 102 friends) but also greater numbers of friends (about 300 friends) both created impressions of lower levels of social attractiveness."
In other words, having more or less friends than the average Facebook user may affect how other users view you, and how you feel about yourself. Too many Facebook friends might indicate that you're participating in a certain Facebook culture of adolescence hat focuses more on popularity (hello, junior high!) and less on authentic, trusting friendships.
But really, Facebook is about the information that you choose to share. "We need to be curating not only the information we take in but also the information we put out," says Prokopy.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
How many Facebook friends do you have? Are you planning to cut back or add more? Tell us in the comments.