One woman’s quest to find real pals among Facebook ‘friends’

While doing research for yesterday’s “Avoiding Twitter turn-offs and unfollows” post I found this article about decluttering your Facebook or Twitter accounts by removing people unfamiliar to you.

The excerpt below describes a middle-aged woman who set out on a quest with one goal:  to visit with individuals claiming to be her friends on Facebook. What she learns along the way is very instructive, especially for those who have many Facebook friends and don’t have a clue who most of them are.

From The Guardian‘s Technology section:

Last year, a writer of romance novels from Illinois named ArLynn Presser embarked upon what you might call an audit of her so-called friends – the social equivalent of picking up each old gadget and scrutinising it, before keeping it or throwing it out. She was recently divorced, and her adult children had left home – “If your kids don’t call you a lot, that’s a sign you’ve done a good job,” she told me – and she was spending hours every day on Facebook. “I was keeping up with everybody’s news, noticing what they were doing, staying up to date, and I began to think, ‘Seriously though, who are these people? If I was in college with you, and we weren’t particularly good friends then – why are you suddenly someone I message back and forth with at least once a day?'” Politeness, she knew, was the reason she’d accepted some of her online friends: “Say someone sends a request and you look at your mutual friends and you wonder, ‘Wait – were you the person I was talking to at that wedding?’ You don’t want to ask, ‘How, exactly, do I know you, and why would I want to be your friend?'” Presser had 325 Facebook friends, a little money stashed away, and a fear of flying that she wanted to overcome, so she decided to combine all three: she made a New Year’s resolution to visit them all, to find out why – or, indeed, whether – they were friends.

“I don’t think I realised,” Presser says, “that it was going to be quite as big a deal as it was.”

When Presser set out to meet her Facebook friends, one of the first things she discovered was that about two dozen of them had no intention of letting her visit, which certainly answered the question of what kind of friends they were. More revelations were in store. Some people proved overly demanding, such as the woman with whom she’d grown up and who had moved to a remote part of Turkey – she said Presser could visit so long as she brought her a Mac computer and a printer. When Presser offered to help her have the equipment shipped instead, she says, she found herself unfriended. Then there was the childhood acquaintance with whom, Presser realised, she’d stayed Facebook friends mainly to avoid giving the impression that she had a problem with his having undergone gender reassignment surgery to become a woman. But when they met, they still didn’t get along: “I didn’t like her any more than I had done as a child.” Another Facebook friend, whom she visited in Boston, seemed friendly enough: they went to a yoga class together and said warm goodbyes at the airport. Waiting for her flight, Presser blogged about the yoga class in a slightly facetious manner. “By the time I got off the plane,” she recalls, “I’d been defriended and blocked.”

Presser is at pains to point out that her expedition, which she plans to use as the basis for a book, was a largely positive experience. In a remote corner of Alaska, she rekindled an old friendship; near Beachy Head, she was served a splendid Sunday dinner by people she’d never met; again and again, she was moved by the generosity of people “who, after all, hadn’t signed up to my resolution”. But her year of friend‑auditing was clarifying, too. The realisation that she didn’t have much in common with certain Facebook “friends” meant they no longer needed to weigh on her mind; she could focus on the other ones instead.

Not that it would be accurate to give the impression that Presser reduced her number of Facebook friends. Mentally, she had decluttered. But thanks to the publicity her quest attracted in the US media – and her seeming inability to decline new requests – her friend count stands at 5,000. Facebook won’t let her add more.

How she’s gotten up to 5000 after “decluttering” and pruning heavily through her Friends list is probably a story all by itself.


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