OFF TOPIC: The great unfriending of ’22

Like many of you, I got onto what we now call “social media” in the late aughts. I was social online before that for about 20 years, but like you all I joined Facebook and Twitter when they started to get hot. It’s hard to remember now, but those sites seemed like safe, harmless ways to connect with old friends whose names still resonated in the far recesses of our memories. Twitter, especially, seemed like a novel way to get to know celebrities in a way that seemed impossible otherwise.

I’ll admit, I don’t much visit Twitter anymore. This blog has a few million readers, but that’s nothing compared to the power of the influencers and their publicists. I’ll take my “big fish in a small pond” status anytime over being lost in a tweetstorm. I’m out there on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, but not very active. There’s something of the art of posting on those sites that’s lost to a greybeard like me. When I get on social media, you’ll generally find me on Facebook. Yes, even after all these years. The site has its obvious flaws, yes. Given that, it’s still possible with some work to use Facebook just to connect with friends, family, and people with similar interests.

A little out of hand?

It occurred to me the other day that my Facebook feed was beginning to get out of hand. I welcome people with all sorts of political views, but I don’t let toxicity into my life (not from the left, not from the right.) I belong to a lot of groups, but most seem to be largely dormant. I did something I’d never done on Facebook recently… I looked at my own profile and started to prune.

I realized that I had well over 500 “friends.” Of course this is 2022, we all know the difference between “Facebook friends” and real friends. I’d connected with old coworkers, people from social groups I was part of in real life, business associates, that sort of thing. I’m sure you’ve done the same. I felt like it was time to walk away from some of them. So, I looked at my friend list. And I made some tough choices.

The first thing I found genuinely troubling was that I was friends with about 50 people who had passed away. I remember most of them fondly, but still that’s a large number to have to face (no pun intended.) There are procedures now for people to take over or memorialize the social profiles of the folks who’ve moved on, but it seems most people don’t do that. These profiles just stay there, ignored but for the once a year when their birthdays come up.

I’ll remember those folks in my own way, but I unfriended them. All of them.

The less savvy and the barely memorable

A lot of folks joined Facebook with the promise of keeping in touch with their kids or grandkids. That dream didn’t really come true. Kids moved on to other apps and most of those hastily created social profiles just sat there. I looked at about two dozen profiles without even a profile picture, and… unfriended.

As I dug in, I looked at quite a few profiles of people I didn’t even remember. Met, perhaps, at a trade show or business trip I would imagine. Some were former coworkers whose faces I couldn’t even conjure. Folks whose posts had never graced my feed, or if they had, sometimes they were in a foreign language. I struggled a bit, but then unfriended quite a few. I’m connected on LinkedIn with most of them if I really need them, but truth is I don’t go on LinkedIn much either. I don’t think anyone does unless they’re looking for a job.

And finally, the obnoxious

After filtering out the people I didn’t remember and those whose permanent change of location meant no more new posts, I then had to dig into the hardest group. These were the people I cringed at seeing. I’ve avoided unfriending some of them for years.

Consider, for example, the distant cousin I haven’t seen in 40 years, who only contacts me once a year for a fundraiser. Imagine, if you will, the generally amiable fellow I met online whose politics are just dissimilar enough that he still thinks he can convince me with his comments. The acquaintance fond of posting birthing videos, the sisters obsessed with their kids to the point of distraction. The merely misinformed. The serial posters, those who drop 15 or 20 memes but never anything interesting about themselves.

And of all, I had to carefully consider the idealogues. There are folks out there I genuinely agree with. But, their “one issue” is all they ever post about. I have a feeling some folks view me that way, too. So it’s hard to look at them and say goodbye.

For years I’ve taken a perverse glee from snoozing people in this group for 30 days at a time. It made me feel like I was taking charge of my destiny. But, the fun eventually wore off and I was left with a news feed full of people I genuinely didn’t want to hear from.

In the end…

I had to apply some sort of rule. I asked myself, if this person were nearby, would I want to sit with them, have a drink, and know what was going on with their lives? If so, they stayed. If not, they left. In the end, I shed several hundred “friends,” and I don’t feel bad about it. My newly rejuvenated news feed shines with stories from people I care about, and causes I support. I participate in groups with people whose interests I really share.

Isn’t that what this is supposed to be like anyway? At any rate, I urge you to take a good look at your socials. If they aren’t making you happy, see if you’re following the wrong people. Maybe like me, you’ll find there’s something you can do about that.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.