My So-Called [Facebook] Friends

Author and poet Maya Angelou, no longer a friend


I got rid of more than 200 of my Facebook “friends” this week.

My methodical slash and burn took almost a full day to complete. But the end result? Facebook now feels right.

I had been thinking for months about purging my friends list. But when I started the process Tuesday and ended well after midnight Wednesday, I had no idea it would take as much time and effort. I also never imagined so many would meet my newly sharpened ax. I started with 520 friends on my list, cut 223 and as of this writing was left with 297 Facebook friends who, with just two exceptions, I personally know.

Over the years, I had approved friend requests from people I knew little or nothing about. These requests had come from friend of friends, fellow journalists, former colleagues, purported family members from every corner of the world, and plain strangers. By allowing all manner of individuals to join in my Facebook circle, my Facebook wall became a rather impersonal and even unsettling place of random comments, lewd postings and unnecessary swearing. The people occupying my private-public space on the Internet were a band of individuals I had never met, friends who hardly offered so much as a “hello, how are you?” in months and in some cases years, and people who I wouldn’t normally have anything to do with in real life. Crudity juxtaposed with nudity.

Of course not everyone I unfriended was a troglodyte. Among them, there are some of the coolest people and journalism professionals I have ever met. But I am already connected to most of them through LinkedIn, and that’s where I think our relationship belongs – on that site largely dedicated to professional networking. My plan is to make Facebook a place for family and longtime friends with a sprinkle of professional relationships. And above all, it will be composed of people I have actually met.
For far too long my Facebook page has been a band of either perennially silent types just taking up space or prolific posters plastering my wall with nonsense or requests to join them in the latest kill-time games. No matter, it was high time to scrub the wall clean and start anew.

So now when I log in to Facebook, I immediately see and feel there’s a difference. I instantly recognize names and faces and we have conversations and share thoughts and ideas and important information about each other’s lives. I’m not constantly asking “who is this?” I know who it is – all 297 of them are truly friends who would not allow a birthday to go by without a heartfelt “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”, as happened this week. But the best part is that my real friends aren’t getting lost in the mess of people I hardly know or don’t know at all.
Going through my list of friends on Facebook to decide who should stay and who should go was not a simple process. First of all, Facebook doesn’t offer bulk removal of friends. It would have been nice if in one or two clicks, dozens of  “friends” could be instantly dropped from the list. Instead, removal has to be done one painstaking man or woman at a time. And of course, with just about every deletion I paused to consider if they warranted deletion. In the process I was surprised by just how many people I had approved who were just lurking in the shadows. Among them, sadly, I counted three friends – really good friends – who were long dead, which begs the question, does Facebook even know how many dead people make up part of its closing in on 1 billion subscribers? At least one of my dear friends has been dead for a three years. I never bothered to delete him from my list of friends. I thought his profile would be eventually removed by his family or Facebook itself. His page is still up, a sort of tribute to his memory.
My new criteria for approving Facebook friend request is simple: I must know you personally. That means we’ve met face to face, either recently or you are a blast from my past. Of course, family I know to be family gets an instant in. No longer will I accept a friend request solely on the basis that we have the same last name. Who would have thought that the surname Ottey would turn out to be so popular! I had so many Otteys on my Facebook friends roster, it might as well had been the more common Smith.
By the way, a word to those I unfriended: It’s not personal. You are actually in good company. With you, I let go some instantly recognizable names, meaning some folks of national and international stature. Among them, author and poet Maya Angelou. Nothing against Ms. Angelou, just that she and I are not friends in the truest sense of the word. Yes, I met her and interviewed her at least three times in my career as a journalist, and she was every bit inspiring. She’s one of my heroes, in fact. I admire her. But again, we’re not friends. She approved my Facebook friend request almost soon after I sent it to her, and a couple of times I dropped in on her page to post birthday wishes on her wall, but we did not communicate directly on Facebook at all. I added her to my Mike Tends To Travel Facebook group, and unlike some other so-called friends, she remained in the group and continues to be a part of the group to this day. For that I publicly thank her and hope she is enjoying my travel stories, photos and discussions in the group. But I had to treat Ms. Angelou and other celebs and pseudo-celebs I counted among my list of friends with the same even hand. I didn’t come to this decision lightly. She was the 223rd person I unfriended – the very last. I know, some of you all will label me crazy for unfriending Maya Angelou. But she won’t miss me – she has more than 4,000 friends on her list. And by the way, that’s her personal Facebook page, not a fan page that every Tom, Dick and Harry can join.
Yet, her Facebook page seems to have been hijacked by spammers. I noticed people slapping ads for resort vacations and other products on her Facebook wall, and no recent postings from her, which leads me to believe she has hardly spent any time recently on Facebook.
I expect my friends list to grow again, but it will grow at a much slower pace than previously as I travel the world, and only with people whom I’ve met. It will be really exciting to have an ever-increasing collection of friends from around the world on Facebook, in much the same way my page is composed entirely of people I’ve met. I look forward to my new harmonious Facebook. And as for the rest of you who still want to be a part of my journey via Facebook, there is Facebook’s new subscribe option. That’s available to all. And we don’t even really have to be personal friends 🙂
Categories: asides | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “My So-Called [Facebook] Friends

  1. bkm

    I enjoyed reading this very much as I was tortured this weekend, deleted freaks and lurkers.

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