My ruthless Facebook purge of spring 2017

Today I commenced another round of Facebook cuts, and thought I should reflect on the why and how.

As some of you know, I use Facebook daily.  Partly that’s to connect with people who don’t communicate with me any other way, which is a surprisingly large number.  Partly it’s to nudge forward conversations I’m fascinated by, that just don’t take off in other venues.

I only have the one Facebook account, and combine my personal and professional lives in it.  Although, to be honest, there’s relatively little professional discussion on my wall.  Posts about cats, politics, homesteading, or movies elicit plenty of responses; threads about education, technology, or the future usually get visited only by crickets.  The weird thing is plenty of my friends I know through professional contexts.  You’d think they’d respond.  I’m not sure why Facebook is so poor at supporting these discussions, at least in my networks. And there really isn’t a way to find out.

Meanwhile, this morning Facebook told me I had around 1087 friends.  That’s too many.  Why?

Bryan Purge_Brian Strauss

Awesome work by Brian Strauss.

Facebook is not an RSS reader.  Its front page displays updates from friends based on… we have little idea what reasons.  There’s software behind those display choices, a black box algorithm which picks or hides posts.  We can guess what works – my favorite theory is that the number of comments and likes are key – but ultimately cannot tell.  So I’ve missed posts from friends about weddings, deaths, international moves, major job changes, and who knows what else?  With RSS I can count on being able to see stuff.  I can also arrange feeds into whatever order I like, and into categorical folders.  Not so with Facebook.

So there’s too much stuff, not enough of the right stuff, and I can’t hack the black box.  One thing I can do is try to cut down the number of Facebook friends.  Hence the purge.

On Facebook, when I say “purge”, there’s a difference between unfriending and unfollowing.  I’d rather unfollow someone, but it really depends on how the connection actually works.

Why do I cut someone off?

  • If I haven’t heard anything from them in years.  Sometimes the feed hasn’t had any content for a while, as when the person gives up on posting.  Other times they just haven’t connected with me.
  • If they changed what they post about.  For example, if I started following Sue because of her higher education comments, but now she only writes about her car repair hobby, I don’t need to keep reading her.
  • If we connected for a single event, and that event has passed without further connections.  The same goes for shared participation in an organization or community to which I no longer belong.
  • If I don’t remember someone’s name, and their About tab doesn’t help, I incline towards a cut.
  • A person not answering my messages and posts also nudges my hand towards the ax handle.

I don’t stop following people for political reasons, even if they adamantly and openly oppose my political thoughts and decisions.

I’ve been quietly offing connections when their birthdays come up.  Which sounds cruel, but makes sense for the above reasons.  Today I did a major once-over with more than 200 cuts.  We’ll see how things change – if the front page improves, or folks come after me for cutting them.

I’m not sure how this impacts my other social media worlds.  My posts here, copied to Facebook, rarely elicit any responses.  I no longer pipe Twitter to Facebook.  Discussing podcasts, Google+, or YouTube videos rarely triggers Facebook connections.  Perhaps the worlds are drifting apart.

It’s a good idea to regularly trim our social media networks in general, be they Facebook or Twitter or podcasts or YouTube channels. As Howard Rheingold and others have pointed out, over time our decisions to follow someone or something might become obsolete.  And the sheer amount of stuff we sign up for can get too big to handle.

How about yourselves?  Do you practice a similar soft of social media hygiene or gardening?

Liked it? Take a second to support Bryan Alexander on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
This entry was posted in technology, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to My ruthless Facebook purge of spring 2017

  1. Steven Kaye says:

    I did a ruthless LinkedIn purge years ago when I absented myself from the library sphere. It may be time to do so again, since a lot of connections are left over from when my employer had a banking/wealth management practice. Though LinkedIn, in its usual maddeningly opaque way, does offer the option of unfollowing someone (not getting their updates in your feed) rather than severing all connections.

    When I was on Twitter, I’d go through various contractions and expansions.

    My actual family and friends (as opposed to professional acquaintances) I tend to use email (mostly), IM, phone and text to stay in contact with. Despite annoying email doppelgangers crossing their mail with mine, email’s my killer app when it comes to social matters.

    • Oh, on Linked In… I haven’t even considered that yet. Yikes.

      For family and close friends, texting, nearly never, thanks to Vermont.
      Phone: for a few.
      IM: you and Owain.
      Email: the rest.

    • Anthony Helm says:

      For the most part I don’t purge LinkedIn. Instead, I tend to be a bit more careful about who I connect with via that SNS. I prefer to see LinkedIn as what it was meant to be–a professional circle. That is, can I serve as some kind of professional contact/reference for this person and vice/versa. There are exceptions, but in general that’s my take.

  2. edwebb says:

    I use an app periodically to prune my very extensive Twitter following list (Twindr): it’s not automated, but it facilitates rapid review. I’m not on FB. I don’t have enough Google Plus contacts to need to prune that. LinkedIn I let proliferate since I don’t spend much time there: it’s really just for news of contacts, including alumni.

    Like Steven, I rely on email to stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues, with occasional Hangouts when synchronous conversation is what I need.

  3. bowneps says:

    I don’t purge Facebook, because unfollowing people is enough. I do enjoy a good purge of Feedly, though. When a news outlet reaches the point that I can predict just what they will say about anything, out they go!

    I’ve had good experience with actual conversations on Facebook, but my standards may be lower than yours. We were able to discuss issues during the last election without anybody becoming abusive, at any rate.

    • What concerns me about UNFOLLOW is not what happens on my end, but what happens on theirs. I don’t see their stuff anymore but they keep seeing mine, and I forget about them, and then suddenly someone from 5 years ago has things to say about my life.

  4. macurcher says:

    I have never done a social media purge and perhaps I should given this post and also some recent comments by Mike Cawfield. I guess it would clean up my ‘streams’ a bit. So to clarify, you do not unfriend, just unfollow – or do you do both depending upon the situation? Are Patrons safe from the purge btw? (smile).

  5. Well you dragged me off fb to see what all the fuss is about. I think fb is almost obsolete anyway …..going the same way as blogging. People are on their phones for the most part and moving faster…I unfriend for political reasons and annoying habits and that keeps my feed nice and tidy. It is my little bubble and I enjoy it….I sure admire the work you do and how you try to understand what is going on….

  6. paladin3 says:

    I rarely purge with intent. I did one on Facebook/Twitter a long time ago when I realized I had too many people who I had connected with merely over similar interests but had no idea who they were but that is the only time – and that is sort of my own fault for doing it wrong. I do prune my feed using other tools – hide all from and unfollow – but stay connected. I try to keep my political comments to observations more than flame wars. I will block the overtly hostile people – or the inane. I had to leave a Mac list once because I blocked the admin who flooded an otherwise useful list with junk. I’ve been online since the late 1980s and I have, over and over again, delightfully rediscovered connections with people I had forgotten about. I think it is too easy to think of the people online as a list, rather than people who sometimes fade out of your day to day life and sometimes you run into them again.

  7. I use groups on Facebook and lists on Twitter to see what I most want to see. I keep everyone as a connection because of the importance of “weak ties” for certain kinds of things.

  8. Burl Grey says:

    Yes: TIME is our most precious,limited resource to spend.

  9. There is no greater purge than accidentally getting yourself kicked off a social media service. It happened to me when I tried an experiment. I found somebody with my same exact name and copied their avatar into my profile. Didn’t long for it to get reported I was masquerading as the other person. I count 1 account on Twitter and 1 account lock on Facebook. I did come back to twitter under a different username as I missed following all the higher Ed folks. I’m not going back to FB, unless they pay me money ;^) (for all my data)

  10. Steven Kaye says:

    One more comment. Lee tells me if you do a post with a link, it’s allegedly less likely to appear, because Facebook is trying to get people to pay for promoting posts/links.

  11. Pingback: Deleting the Network

  12. I spend little time on social media and wonder why you and I are connected. But I read this post and you seem like a nice guy, reasonable, you know? I was surprised to discover reading my WordPress blog today that the last time I posted anything was a year ago. I went there to promote my new novel The Horror Writer. To my greater surprise, three or four people who had been following this dead blog clicked to say they liked it. The occasion was I reposted the BookLife take on the book, All tens, which means I will at least in in the pack for the 5k when we round the bend for the stretch run. “A superb writer,” the anonymous reviewer said. My recompense, I guess, for years in a room staring at a blank wall. (BTW the .com link doesn’t work; I could never figure out how it works).

  13. App Accessibility Experiences in Higher Education says:

    FB for me is mostly a place to connect with high school peers and family members – once or twice a month I look at it to see where the reunions are & other than that I have never felt any connection or reason at all to spending much time there.I choose to spend my time on Google Plus communities and Twitter- making more international friends that I ever could have imagined in my life. I choose not to use it that often. I don’t have FOMO about FB… I chose to spend or waste my time in other ways LOL I agree with Suzanne in this part of her comment -it became obsolete years ago.

  14. Jason Wagoner says:

    I split my Facebook presence into 1/2s by creating a group just for posts about gaming, comics, movies and other such nerdy topics. My personal wall covers everything else. When I created the group I posted about it on my personal wall 3 or 4 times over the course of 2 months offering to add anybody that wanted and – and only then – did I conduct a cull of my friends list. Even tho a good number of people are in both, it still enabled me to cull some ‘one track’ friends off my wall and also to tighten the focus on what I share with some people. My grandparents do not need to see the 28mm zombies I’ve been painting and my nerd friends do not need to see pics of my kids.

  15. I find I don’t actually have to do the ax work–the algorithms take care of it for me. If I or they (FB friends) don’t respond to me, they don’t surface in my newsfeed.
    I have also noticed that no one inside Facebook will click on a blog post link, and as most of my community is on Facebook, my blogs are pretty much dead in the water.
    They click on video I feed directly into Facebook, but none I link.
    Big responses to beautiful photography, cats, my aging Mom, nature videos. Not so much to anything from #.dailycreate. No response to anything even remotely whackadoodle or excessively intellectual or experimental. Facebook somehow is all about heart, family, beauty–it is a medium of emotion and family. Politics, I suppose, but I ignore political posts. It’s like an Ort cloud from the Heartland.
    This is tough for me because I don’t know enough people outside of my Facebook connections (hundreds of old communards from the day) to be able to gain any traction with a blog.

    Honestly, Bryan, I am a bit discouraged right now. I want to develop in certain directions, but why post on a blog where weeks go by without making a connection? The internet isn’t at all what people think it is…or what we hoped it would be.

  16. HB says: allows me to browse most recent rather than the strange mix FB choose.

  17. It is interesting what Facebook was designed for, & who
    ultimately adopted it. It is now a reliquary just like AOL,
    & Yahoo before it. As technology proliferates these
    outdated interfaces are only held on to by the very
    stubborn. The younger generation isn’t interested in
    Facebook or Linkedin. As these older sites lose their
    relevance once the critical mass sets in they fade out
    completely just like Myspace. It is strange FB survived
    this long, since it never really innovated anything at all.
    It just replicated, stole & acquired, gaining more gravity.

    We are happy to say Facebook, Instagram & properties
    are NO FLY ZONES, & have been for several years now.

    Discourse is on WordPress. FB is for the Lurkers & Trolls.
    Twitter is the last social media hub that is still enjoyable.

  18. @giuliaforsythe says:

    *removes birthday from profile 😉
    My (possibly false) assumption is that FB feed shows me who it thinks I care about based on my interactions (likes, link clicks, comments).
    Occasionally I think of someone I’ve not seen in my feed for a long while and I go to their profile to see if I’ve been unfriended or if fb has decided I don’t interact enough with them. If the latter, I try to interact with their posts to see if it alters my feed.
    I try to keep differing political views as well though sometimes I get unfriended for my anti-trump, pro-feminism views- oh well, good riddance.
    I only have 350 friends in fb so it’s perhaps easier to manage.

  19. Voyeurism is Americas favorite pass time.
    Spying is more addictive than drugs in a
    repressed society. Judging other peoples
    actions from the comfort of your home. It
    is really fascinating how addicted people are
    to self-surveillance Panopticon style & how
    so many people can’t acknowledge their
    extremely unhealthy Facebook addiction.
    There was a world before Facebook & hopefully
    will be a better world after Facebook has ended.

  20. I manage accounts based on how I use them which in the past has been very compartmentalized, but I’m finding as I get older – this is less important to me. Facebook is a loose connection to me for social groups I’ve been connected to throughout my life as a teacher, in various roles, and extended family. I only check in about once a week and I unfollow folks from time to time when I notice I’m not all that interested in hearing/seeing their updates. A signal to me the connection is broken, but I hardly ever remove a connection. From time to time thing come up in life which reminds me of someone or that may be useful to them and I like having the open channel to reach out to them. Twitter is very different for me and have a specific ratio I maintain. I use Twitter to reach out to others I respect and for news and work-related updates. When I want to follow someone new, it is a trigger to review who I am currently following and purge anyone I haven’t connected with in some time. For LinkedIn I only connect with others in my current field – which maintains itself.

  21. Honestly, I just don’t even get on Facebook that much any more unless someone messages me. I have a standing policy of accepting no new friend requests unless I really and truly want to connect.

    Twitter is an entirely different situation. I’ve been on a purge of Twitter followings since the November elections. In November I think I was following around 2000 accounts; I’m now at 800 and intend to get it down to 200 at some point. I keep people and organizations on my list who are active and contribute more signal than noise. One of the easiest criteria for dropping people is if they tweet pro- or anti-Trump tweets more than once a day. (One of my colleagues went from incredibly reasonable guy to posting 10-15 rage-filled anti-Trump tweets per day. Couldn’t take it any more so I cut him out.)

    LinkedIn is the only social network that I am actively trying to grow at this point.

  22. KHill says:

    Absolutely purge FB! I’ve been doing it for years. I came to the realization that many people “collect ‘friends’ ‘ on FB. Even the term “friend” is loose, more like acquaintances. A large % of my true friends (and husband!) won’t have FB accounts; we still email, call, or write. Yes, write. True friends make the effort when it matters…or is a nice surprise. I vowed years ago not to have more than 200 friends, most of whom must live out of the area. It eliminates the trolls, keeps me honest and humble, puts into perspective that 150 likes from 200 friends are truly interested in what I’m posting versus 150 likes from 1500 friends, the collectors. I make a purge announcement once or twice a year. They all know and if they want to stay friends, they are welcome to re-connect. It resets my feed every time. Once purged, I unfollow everyone for three days. Yes, everyone. Then refollow them and, again, it’s a new feed. No one knows you’ve unfriended them unless they look; there is no “unfriended” announcement. If they notice, it’s either been because they a) cared or b) lost their gossip feed. We know the difference 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *