How To Lose Friends And Still Influence People
It’s quality, not quantity, that counts when it comes to digital friendships. Here’s how to conduct a social media cull.
In Mr Alain de Botton’s engrossing online philosophy portal The Book Of Life, there is an article that unpacks the reasons why we have friends, in the hope of making us feel better about the whole tricky issue. Some friendships, Mr de Botton says, may seem superficial, but when you look closely, have a real professional or social purpose. Other, older friendships might have become less satisfying as adults, but nonetheless offer a means of holding onto our own histories. It doesn’t really touch on Facebook, though. That’s another mess entirely.
In the burgeoning days of social media, the purpose of friends was always rather straightforward: it didn’t really matter what they were like, you just needed to have them in greater quantity than everyone else. A decade on, this has led us to a somewhat awkward situation, where many people have more friends than they know what to do with, meaning that our lives are constantly bombarded with a confusing barrage of updates from people we care little for, or, worse, have turned out to have really bad internet personalities. We’ve realised, in our grizzled, post-truth kind of way, that, although the idea of being friends with everyone is the stuff of Disney movies, the reality is the stuff of nightmares. Eventually, some people are going to have to hit the friend recycling bin, lest we all lose our minds.
So, how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? And when you do get rid of people, how best to go about it? To be honest, you need to tread with caution. Going on a rampage through your account deleting friendships willy-nilly might provide you with momentary satisfaction, but ultimately, it will only send out more nastiness into the digital world. (And it’s clearly got enough of that already.) Instead, where possible, make the most of tools within Facebook and Instagram so you can pick and choose the people you hear from, and talk to, at any given time.
On Instagram, the tools are rather blunt at the moment – you only have real control over your “story”, which you can hide from individuals, or share only with people you follow yourself (do this by tapping the cog symbol in the top right of your profile screen and then selecting “story options”). On Facebook, however, you can do much more, with the help of the lists feature. You can view and create lists of friends by clicking “see more” under “explore” in the left-hand sidebar on your profile page, selecting “friend lists”, and proceeding to divide and conquer.
Once you have ring-fenced your different types of friends into neat virtual enclosures, you can change your privacy settings to include and/or remove individual lists or combinations of lists from your own feed, and allow/prevent them from seeing your posts. Of course, your online relationships might be much more nuanced than the average person’s, but we would recommend the following lists and settings.
Can see your posts: yesWill appear in your feed: yes
These are the people you talk to and engage with all the time. You may – gasp – have a relationship with these people outside Facebook. They might even be related to you. You obviously want to keep these people close, and to be able to see what they’re doing easily, so make a separate group for them and allow them all-access privileges to your profile.
Can see your posts: no by default, with some exceptionsWill appear in your feed: yes
People you like but don’t love. You might see them at a party or dinner, but you wouldn’t give them your last Rolo. This category will probably include friends of friends, new friends, professional acquaintances and the people you only ever seem to bump into very late at night at very silly parties. Given that this is your extended social and professional network, you’ll want to hear their news and gossip. You may not care to broadcast every little thought that comes into your head, though. Given this, they don’t need to see your posts by default – if there is something you want to broadcast to the world, you can change the privacy setting on the individual post, by clicking the drop-down menu to the left of the “post” button.
Can see your posts: noWill appear in your feed: no
The people you used to hang out with and now… don’t. Not because they’re dreadful (see below), but because your lives have gone different ways. You’ll happily see them at the annual reunion, but there’s no need to follow their every footstep during the months in between, is there? You’ve got to leave something to talk about over those tepid pints, after all. It may seem a bit harsh excluding old friends from your feed completely (and not everyone will want to), but you can check in and see what everyone’s doing by viewing and posting to the individual list via the “friend list” page. Also, by targeting posts to them all simultaneously, you can have #bants or whatever you care to call it, just like the good old days.
Can see your posts: noWill appear in your feed: no
Maybe they didn’t start off dreadful, but now, unfortunately, they are. The kind of people who complain at length about revolting infections, write open letters to politicians and celebrities and celebrate yearly, monthly, weekly and even daily anniversaries of their own tacky weddings. Maybe you should never have made friends with them in the first place. Maybe you did it after you’d had a few too many cocktails. Or maybe you had to because of work. Anyway, you don’t want all their nasty business clogging up your feed, or their silly comments on your posts, but there’s a fair chance you might bump into them again, so you probably shouldn’t delete them. A privacy lockdown is the only humane way to deal with this.
What the…? Friends
Can see your posts: not anymoreWill appear in your feed: thank God, no
We know we said you shouldn’t delete people. It’s nasty. But sometimes only nasty will do. We won’t lecture you here on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour online, but let’s just say that if someone is not only irritating you, but offending you, too, it’s probably OK to delete them – it sends a rather definitive message, but they probably deserve it. Just remember that this is the digital equivalent of throwing your drink in someone’s face, so try to resist if it’s someone you see often. Things could get very messy. A final word of warning: the “unfriend” option does not ask for any sort of confirmation. There is nothing in the way of “Are you sure?” and certainly no option to undo, other than the humiliation of sending another friend request. Handle with care.
Illustrations by Mr Giordano Poloni