The art of unfriending- humanism in social media

This entry was posted by on Tuesday, 18 September, 2012 at

Recently a friend shared out this article titled “Facebook and Twitter: the art of unfriending or unfollowing people” 

A captivating title to be sure, and one that did its job: it got me to click into it and read. For the most part, I agree with the article’s basic premise: social media has changed how we connect and increased how long those connections stay around us. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, these longer lasting, or rather lingering connections raise that important question of what to do when they are simply no longer relevant.

If you are reading this post, I can guarantee you have at least 3 of these lingering connections which you’d be better off without. We all have them; some, more than others. Each, of course, should be dealt with in their own way.

But, as you’d guess, I do take issue with a few points in the article as well.

The first, and of least concern is the complain made by the author’s music industry friend who laments the bus load of people he brings along with any twitter interaction. This, to me, just seems like someone who may not understand the medium or the ramifications of using it for more private conversation. The simple basis of twitter revolves around open sharing. What is even more amazing is that this person, from an industry upheld and focused on audience, seems to forget he always has an audience in social media platforms; a simple break in logic that really defeats any argument against the platform.

More problematic, however, is the advice on how to handle ‘defriending’ provided by Anjali Mullany, social media editor of Fast Company:

“…. She advises making a public proclamation on Facebook in which you specify the criteria by which you’ll henceforth be defining people as “friends”. Maybe you’ll resolve only to remain Facebook friends with people you’ve met at least once in real life, or maybe you’ll use a stricter standard, such as whether you’d invite that person to your wedding. Explain, in the same proclamation, that the consequent defriending shouldn’t be taken personally, and that you’re doing it to a number of people at once. Then start clearing out the clutter….”

It is precisely this attitude, this perspective which engenders such a growing vitriolic distrust of social engagement by the public. The explanation is simple: this advice wholly removes the human aspect. It treats your followers as a number, a non-human entity easily discarded. This concept flies directly in the face of the basic tenets of social engagement: connecting people to one another in open and authentic ways. So, of course you should take it personally! It IS personal. Social media is hinged on being personal. But, that doesn’t mean defriending or decluttering your follow lists is a bad thing. Attentive curation of your social feeds is indeed necessary, but also requires a better level of thought and empathy. Of course, attentive following is a great start to maintaining manageable social streams.

Proclamations like the ones advised above will do nothing but serve to reduce your friends list. Likely with no further effort on your part as it will show the world exactly the kind of person you are. The world is not so striated as to fit every person into these neat little compartments, even though we try our best to do so. Announcing a friends/following cleansing only serves to publicly display callousness. A more human approach? Quietly unfollowing without making a big noise about it. For those who have simply drifted away, they will likely not even notice. For those who do notice, a simple explanation, if asked, is all that is needed. No drama, no lengthy apology, just treat them as you’d wish to be treated. We can’t all be friends with everyone, regardless of what the founders of Facebook believe or want. Knowing and accepting that not everyone will like you is not only freeing, but it will help you address some of these tougher social media issues as they arise with deeper empathy.

This may be odd to hear, especially coming from a misanthropic curmudgeon like myself, but callous and cold proclamations are not the way forward. Embracing the human element is the path to success, both for individuals at the personal level, as well as for businesses engaged in social activities.


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