Geoff’s Unfriendly Facebook Manifesto

Don't read the rest of this Note if you're feeling vulnerable. A few weeks ago, I posted the following status update:

Just unfriended 6 people -some for useless political spewing and others for excruciating inanity on my news feed . And I'm only to letter "i". Try it. Purge a few. I feel so much lighter.

I was surprised by the anxious responses I got to this. Most were from worried friends whom I wouldn't consider unfriending. I felt both flattered and bad because the people who were concerned were never at risk. They made it seem like being my friend had become some sort of contest. Ha, I should be so lucky.

Eventually, my friend Curt Harris posted a reply, saying that because my criteria was vague, I risked dissuading people from being themselves. He suggested that my update might leave me with nothing but a bunch of "sycophantic followers". My gut reaction was that Curt far overestimated my influence, but he did have a point. Was I swaying people? After more thought I wondered if my friends had misunderstood my reasons for reducing a friends list when most people only want to grow it. So I'll explain. If you're interested, read on. Otherwise, now is a good time to click out of here.

Donald Trump said, "Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score."
I think that for many Facebook users, actual, meaningful friendships aren't a big motivation, but quantity of friends are a way to keep social score. Tell me I'm wrong.

My criteria for "friending" someone on Facebook is fairly lax. In general, I need to remember you, where we met and that we talked enough to establish some sort of familiarity with one another. If we've got that going for us, I've got no problem confirming or making a friend request. Maybe we'll get to know each other more on screen - maybe not. I'm not a snob. I'd like to have as many friends as I can, but it's got to be real. We all get our little equi-sized apartment of screen space on Facebook (you're sitting in my Notes room right now) and I reserve the right to evict uncomfortable guests from my place. That's all.

At the time of this posting I have 286 friends. I'd be well into the 300's by now if I hadn't had a bad day and... let's just say my friends list was in the wrong place at the wrong time -more on that later. To some, my 286 friends is a big number and I seem like Mr. Social Butterfly. By comparison to others, I'm practically a loner. I get that; some people are terribly shy while others "friend" everybody and their brother's girlfriend's nephew who mowed the lawn once. Every click of Confirm is a point.

I was only about a month into my Facebook experience when I realized that my friend-count wasn't so much a measurement of my popularity. It only appears that way. Facebook friends are more a function of how many places I've lived, schools I've attended, jobs I've had and, most of all, how long I've been on Facebook and how willing I am to confirm friend requests. Sure, friendliness factors in there somewhere, but it's not always key in attaining a big score -er, I mean a long list!

A few weeks ago I was having that terrible day I mentioned earlier. Okay, I'll admit it, I needed a hug. Fine. No, you don't need the details, trust me. My wife eventually got home and cheered me up, but not before I had ceremoniously unfriended a dozen or so friends whose postings had become tiresome. Are you nodding? You've been there.

I know what you're thinking: "Isn't 'unfriending' a little overkill, Geoff?" I don't think so. These people had it coming. I wasn't reckless. This act was premeditated and I had patiently laid in wait for a strong enough reason to grab my Facebook pruning mouse. Be honest, you've had the urge, right? Maybe you've done it. Maybe you should.

Is unfriending someone cold-hearted? Naaaa. Actually, it can be a practical, harmless way to maintain your enjoyment of Facebook while preserving any remaining esteem for friends that have become annoying in their cyber-forms. Friends aren't notified when you unfriend them. Your name and cute little avatar just go "poof" from their friends list. However, you might show up the next day in their Suggestions, so you have to be careful about that. If you get a 2nd friend request from someone you've escaped, you may want to get more extreme and block them. But to me, Facebook blocking is a more severe exile reserved for stalkers and ex's (if there's any difference for you). Anyway, most of my "unfriendeds" were loaded with friends so they weren't likely to notice my exit -an inconspicuous downtick of 1 on their bloated friends list. Even if they did notice, they'd have to remember every friend they had yesterday to deduce who was missing today -tough if you have more than 20 friends. Kudos to Facebook for making desertion so covert! So, my point here is that I didn't hurt anyone. I didn't send a message saying, "I don't want to be your friend anymore," because that wouldn't have been true. I was simply tired of their Facebook drivel. I just disappeared, that's all. If they notice, maybe they'll just rationalize that I left Facebook.

Q: But Geoff, why did you "friend" them in the first place?
A: Fair question. The truth is I didn't know what I was in for when I clicked Confirm. They were, and are still my friends in the physical world, but I had no idea how they would behave on Facebook. They went nuts on my News Feed, posting all sorts of whatnot that made my eyes tired from rolling. You're nodding again.

Now that I've explained the effect, I'll tell you the causes (the sins). I've divided them into sections for easier reference. Although I use the pronoun "you", I'm not talking about you -because, obviously, you haven't been unfriended if you're reading this. "You" means "them" in this case.

Geoff's Facebook Friendship Manifesto

Offenses against Facebook humanity

Section 1: Political Rants and Sniping
99% of your happiness, health, prosperity and the health and prosperity of your children, their education and how comfortably you retire is determined directly by what YOU do or what YOUR PARENTS did, not what Barrack Obama does -okay? So why are you about to burst a blood vessel yelling about this man? Same goes for Bush, Pelosi and Palin. Why whine? That's just my opinion. Say what you want, but I believe most people log onto Facebook with their politics solidified. A politically venomous status update isn't going to change anyone's political opinion. If you want some good like-minded company, turn on Fox News or MSNBC -whichever's your preferred flavor. I'd much rather see your family vacation candids -if you're willing to share. I want to see some new photos of your kids and smile at how much they look the way I remember you years ago.
Exceptions: If our friendship has been deep & lasting OR if you've ever saved my life, then I've probably only hidden you and imposed a quota on my visits to your wall. If you are a shallower, peripheral "acquaintance-type" friend, "political bitching" is an egregious sin and you shall be unfriended forthwith. *gavel slam *

Section 2: Inanity
Gosh, if I had a dime for every fragmented, unintelligible, cryptic Facebook status update that means nothing, I'd buy myself a really nice steak dinner. Here's an actual example: "ops here I go." (Yes, "oops" is misspelled.) What? Take that crap over to Twitter. I don't get it and it frustrates me. I want to understand. Post something fun you did or achieved today -I'm so itching to click Like on something you posted -please help me scratch the itch. (Okay, it's late and that was probably the 2nd worst metaphor I've ever used in my life, but it illustrates my yearning so I'm leaving it.) Your status update doesn't have to be deep or profound, but please make sense. Otherwise, why not just private-message your weird codes to some of your sharper friends who understand the way you people talk?
Exceptions: If our kids enjoy playing together or if you've ever bought me a good gift, I've probably only hidden you for this sin. If you are a lighter, peripheral "acquaintance-type" friend, posting the mysterious and inane shows wanton disregard for my feelings and you shall be unfriended forthwith. *gavel slam *

Section 3: Applications
Browsing Facebook can be fun and almost always ends up being a real time-bandit. So I don't need to spend half of it hiding Farmville, Yoville, Cafe World, Wild Ones, Mafia Wars, Fishville and a zillion other FB games. If you like these games, great, play on and have fun. But your game updates are hogging my News Feed and pushing my friends' interesting personal status updates off my screen. This is totally unacceptable. Sure, I can hide individual games one at a time, but I resent the chore. Why not post a review of a book you liked?
Exceptions: If a song reminds me of you and an era when we shared fun times together OR if you've ever paid me a big compliment that I remember, I've probably only hidden you for over-stuffing my News Feed with your game updates. But if you are a lighter, peripheral "acquaintance-type" friend, game-status-encroachment on my feed is an avoidable tragedy and our Facebook friendship is the price. You shall be unfriended forthwith. *gavel slam *

Section 4: Religion
I'm going to be very gentle here because I believe in God. It's His followers that get way out of hand. If you have the uncontrollable urge to extend your religious ministry to Facebook Status Updates, perhaps refine your messages a little so that they can be understood and appreciated by more than a sliver of the population that share your red-hot, religious zeal. I'm not suggesting that you hide it under a bushel, NO! Go ahead and let it shine, but I guarantee that your audience of receptive readers will quintuple if you say, "I'm happy God loves me," instead of, "Jesus shed His blood for you." (I looked at your friends list and at least 30% of our common friends are Jewish.) I believe people can be respectful of other beliefs without stifling enthusiasm for their own. It requires tact, and if you can nail it, it's a beautiful thing.
Exceptions: Nobody gets unfriended for this because I know you mean well and it's a reverent topic for me. I just hide you after 3-5 lapses in your evangelistic judgment. *soft gavel tap *

Section 5: "Facade-ing"
One of the beauties (or possible shortcomings) of Facebook is that you can make your life look however you want it to look to your friends. Did you know that at least 65% of status updates are completely untrue?* I'll keep this brief because it will inevitably embarrass the guilty and that's not my goal. Faking a spectacular overbooked life teeters on the cusp of "annoying" and "amusing". I know you haven't been living the life your wall portrays. (I saw your new vacation photos on Google Stock Images a few months ago.) Next time you type an update that's unbelievable and have the nerve to click SHARE I want you to visualize my sympathetic smile while I read what you want me to believe.
Exceptions: If you ever loaned me money that you seem to have forgotten about OR If we've taken baths together (before we were age 5) I'll probably tolerate most of your Facebook PR campaigns. For others, although it doesn't warrant unfriending you, I just want you to know that I'm hip to your tactics. And if you go too far over the top, you shall be hidden forthwith. *gavel slam *

*65% is an unverified statistic that suddenly came to me really strong in the shower yesterday.

Well, that's all I've got right now. If you have a bazillion friends, most of whom you really don't know (C'mon, let's be honest) you might consider lopping a few for whichever sins diminish your Facebook experience - I'm sure you have your own pet-peeves. My friend Curt is annoyed by lurkers who never post anything and he posted notice of his displeasure with them on his wall. That's cool -it's his rule, in his home. I hope this note buys me some time on his friends list!

Wow. If you've read this far, you must be a good friend of mine.

Now I think I'll find and write someone I haven't talked to in a long time. And as I browse my slimmer & trimmer friends list, whatever my score -it's fine.

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