I joined Facebook many years ago. Back when it was just another service to try. My family and immediate circle of friends never took to it and so I didn’t use it until I started getting deeper into nostalgia blogging and podcasting. Once I did, my presence grew very quickly.
I added Facebook links to my blog and mentioned it in my weekly podcast. It didn’t take very long before I had used up all 5001 Facebook Friend slots and decided to start a page to handle the overflow.
At the time, Facebook was a fun source of interaction, but as it grew and the audience started to change. Its effectiveness faded. People were still interacting with me, but the tone and depth had changed. It was all much more surface level. A Like or Share had become a symbol of support for me and not always the content I was posting. Sometimes the content didn’t even matter. I discovered that if I posted an image of something “people remembered” with a link attached to it in a post, that image could get hundreds of likes, but not a single person would read anything in the post or click through to a fuller explanation.
My presence there was no longer working for me. Instead, I was working to drive eyeballs to Facebook and not using Facebook for myself. Perhaps I could appreciate Facebook more if I used it just as a personal account for myself. Unfortunately, my account was so bloated and non-personal that it was nearly useless. So I had two options as I saw it.
- Delete my Facebook Account completely and start a new one.
- Remake my current Facebook Account into something I found more useful.
After some deliberation, I opted for Option 2. Mostly out of curiosity. I thought by diving deeply into Facebook, I could rediscover an appreciation for it. My first step was to clean things up, so I made a list.
- Unfriend anyone who I do not really know. I defined “know” pretty broadly. I want to have interacted with the person or met them in real life.
- Unlike random things I have liked over the years.
- Take control of my Facebook Page and Group.
The three simple steps turned out to be a lot more challenging than I expected.
Unfriending 4000+ People
Over the last two years, my number of friends had dwindled from 5000 to just over 4000. That is a lot of people to unfriend. I assumed Facebook’s interface would accommodate mass unfriending. It does not. Then I assumed that a working browser plugin might exist that created this functionality. After testing the three that seemed to have any sort of legitimacy, I can say with certainty that no easy way exists to unfriend a lot of people at once on Facebook. So I fired up a music playlist and started doing it manually.
Sadly I took this screenshot after I had already begun the process. So it is under 4000.
Two things became clear when I started unfriending.
The Real Name Policy is a Joke
Facebook’s “Real Name” policy has not been widely applied. Hundreds of people I am friends with on Facebook are using fake names. Just do a search for any random words like “Cucumber” or “Fire Truck” in Facebook, and click on the People results tab to find lots of people using these words as their “real name.” This is frustrating since Facebook has asked me to prove my identity multiple times. I guess I am just unlucky?
A lot of my “Friends aren’t really there anymore.
A lot of the people I am Friends with are no longer using Facebook. Yet, people who have deactivated their accounts still count in your total number of Friends. You can spot this easily by going to your Friends List and looking for people with the generic profile pic.
When you click on them, you will get this message.
I am not sure what to make of this. Do I admire Facebook’s confidence that people are going to reactivate their account or am I suspicious that they kept my friend count overinflated by at least 25% so that I would not be alarmed by how many people I knew that have left Facebook?
Unfriending leads to being Locked out of your own Account
The unfriending process is BORING. That tedium was interrupted at first by Facebook being alarmed at my behavior and locking my account temporarily. That was easy to overcome and I was back to Unfriending again in under two minutes. Then I got hit with a new message.
Well, okay. Let me just click that “Learn More” call to action. Oh wait, it isn’t a link.
I did a search in their help section and on Google and all I could find is speculation. At this point, I had unfriended over 3000 people and was pretty tired of doing it. So I thought I would give it 24 hours and try again. The next evening I tried again and unfriending was working. So I put on my headphones and just ten unfriends later, I got the same message. This time I decided to contact Facebook Support.
I never got a response from Support, but a day or two later things were working again and I was able to begin the process anew.
As I watched my friend number go further down I realized that the number of Friends listed on my profile does not match the number of friends I actually have. It is not off by a small number either. I have taken myself down to a few dozen friends and it shows me having well north of a hundred. I have dug around trying to figure out why, but currently do not have an answer.
Unliking Random Things
My account is littered with weird things I liked that I don’t even remember liking. I am sure Wilmington, NC is a wonderful place, but I never got around to going there and I certainly don’t remember liking it. But there it is in my likes along with a bunch of former friends who converted their personal accounts into Facebook Pages. I should have been able to make short work of these random Likes, but guess what? Once a page is closed or is no longer in use, you cannot seem to Unlike them. So now I have two dozen or so of these weird outliers that sit in my Likes. I cannot unlike them and they also do not lead to anywhere. You win this round Wilmington, NC!
I tried looking up what to do about it, but haven’t found a solution yet. I am going to contact Facebook Support, but I have my doubts I will hear anything from them.
This part of the process has made me lose the most faith in Facebook. “Liking” is at the core of its system. If this system has grown so bloated that these main actions get disabled or lost, what other more serious problems with privacy or usability are lurking unseen?
My Group and Page
The final step in the process has been jumping back into my Facebook Page and Group. I have to say, this has been the bright spot of this entire endeavor. I have had a great group of people staying on top of the group and one admin who has been running the page and they have been keeping things moving and keeping content fresh.
As I suspected, when posting in the Group or Page I do not see a large correlation between the success of my work off Facebook with the number of likes or shares. Instead, those seem to just generate stats that feed the Facebook ecosystem Still, I like seeing people enjoying nostalgia, and it’s fun to have another place to serve up simpler micro-blog style content without having to write much. This said, I also have a Twitter account where I do this same thing and when I post there I do see higher numbers of people coming to my blog and podcast when a Tweet does well.
One continuing issue is with people who join the group just to post their own content. I will repeatedly delete or not publish what they submit, but they shamelessly continue to post their own work. I even added rules to the group that state that self-promotion is unacceptable. Still, they keep submitting. The next step is to just start kicking them from the Group.
Facebook is an amazing idea. A system that connects people and allows them to share ideas and life experiences. Unfortunately, despite all of their resources, the system is rotting. Simple actions are shrouded in mystery. Support, while it might exist, is enigmatic and uncommunicative. Their policies seem arbitrary and spottily implemented. The system is rife with issues. Most importantly as a blogger and podcaster, its reach does not extend outside of its own ecosystem
It is not clear why I am still using Facebook. Perhaps it is the promise of what I believe it can be? Maybe it is just habit? What I do know is that unfriending over 4000 people was a major undertaking, it opened up a treasure chest of issues I found with software, and it cast doubt on my faith in their ability to improve.
We have limited amounts of time in our day and so many ways to spend that time. Right now, Facebook is not the best use of my time. I think if you dive more deeply, you might come to the same conclusion.