How I Decided Who My “Friends” Are

I have had a Facebook account since I was thirteen years old. That is four and a half years. Facebook was not the first social media account that I had either; I have had a Twitter account for even longer. Despite that fact, Facebook has been the social media account that I use the most. I have never even owned an Instagram account and I don’t know anything about how that app functions.

Facebook has always been my favorite social media website. I never cared that other people have been saying that Facebook is “dying,” after all I am a journalism major, I’m no stranger to jokes about dying forms of media. My only issue with Facebook is that over those four and a half years, I accumulated far too many “friends” in my opinion. I had 332 friends on Facebook. I know a lot of people might say that that’s nothing compared to how many friends they have, or how many friends most people have. Some people even use Facebook friends as a tool to quantify how “popular” they are. I don’t want to judge the people who have more than 1,000 friends, but I don’t want to be one of them. I personally believe that I don’t need that many “friends” because I want actually to know my audience.

I think the reason why some people are okay with having so many friends is that they look at Facebook differently than I do, or they use it for a different purpose. I was in a lot of clubs in high school and I liked Facebook’s “group” function, and I like the fact that Facebook doesn't limit your word count. However, it could be just as simple as the possibility that I just find the word “friend” more psychologically appealing than the word “follower.” Mostly, I like to use Facebook rather than Twitter, or Instagram because it feels like a community

That being said, I don’t take the word “friend” lightly, not even on Facebook. I think Facebook even gives us the opportunity to be more selective about who we call our “friends.” In real life there are a lot of people whom we are forced to be around, and it took me far too long to realize that if I don’t like this person in real life, then I don’t have to be friends with him or her online either.

The first big step I took toward realizing this was the summer after I graduated from high school. I was “friends” with many of the 200 kids in my graduating class, and I saw some of their posts that they were making about partying over the summer or the endless photos of everyone just going to the beach and I thought, “I don’t actually care about any of this, and I’m probably never going to see many of you people again.” That was when I discovered the trick of “unfollowing” people. This meant that I would still be “friends” with them, but anything they post would not show up in my news feed.

However, last week I was thinking about what I post on Facebook and I began to ask if the people I’m “friends” with even care about anything that I post. This was partially inspired by someone in my writing class who pointed out that we can control our own audience on social media. So with that in mind I set out on a task to attempt to select a more concise audience.

At first I wasn't sure how I was going to accomplish this. I was worried about what people would think of me if I unfriended them, or if I unfriended them and not some other person. I also have a hard time letting go sometimes, and I wasn't sure if I would want to unfriend some of the people I knew in high school. So I came up with a list of questions to ask myself. Essentially I came up with rules to make this easier, and I was surprised by how many qualifications I came up with.

The first qualification was obvious: have I even met this person? Yes I was friends with people I have never actually met, and while this may seem normal on Tumblr or some other websites, I didn't like the idea of it for Facebook. These were people who I went to school with, whether it was high school or other random people from the Hofstra Class of 2018 group. The people whose names I didn't even recognize were the people it was probably easiest to unfriend.

The following questions I chose to ask myself were more challenging. In Tom Standage’s book, Writing on the Wall, he talks about a number called the “Dunbar number.” The number is 150 and it is “the largest group size in which it is possible for everyone to know everyone else”(12). This made me think about the fact that just because you may know someone it doesn't mean that you know them. I thought about the type of posts I make. I rarely post, but when I do, it’s usually something that I find to be funny. I make jokes about choir, and on New Year’ s Day I quoted Back to the Future just because it’s 2015. I think humor is necessary in a friendship, and if I didn't know a person well enough to know anything about their sense of humor, I unfriended them.

I realized that I don’t want to be Facebook friends with people just because I've met them and on some basic level I “know” them. While I wouldn't say that every one of my “friends” is a friend in real life, I want to know that they don’t think I’m just a waste of space in their news feed. Some people are okay with having over 1,000 friends on Facebook, some people are even proud if they do, but that isn't how I want to use Facebook. I want my audience to consist of people who at least occasionally care about what I say, and I want to care about what they say.

Standage, Tom. Writing on the Wall. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

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