Something strange happened today.
I was checking my Facebook, when a friend suggestion came up in the top right-hand corner. Usually it’s people I’ve barely heard of or someone totally inappropriate like my mum, so I was surprised to see the name of somebody I knew – or used to know – on a pretty friendly basis. Someone I know for sure that I’d been former Facebook friends with.
While these things don’t normally bother me in the slightest (I have been a bit brutal with unfriending people myself in the past), this one caught my attention because I didn’t have him down as the kind of guy who bothered pruning his Facebook friends simply because he hadn’t spoken to them in a while. This led me to think that it was worth investigating.
And since he’s very good-natured and someone I always had a laugh with, I decided to send him a light-hearted message. Our brief interaction went like this:
A bit of back story: just over two years ago, having flirted with deleting Facebook forever, I decided to make a compromise: I would keep it, but I’d make it about as private as possible. I made just a selection of photos visible, limited the audience of each post (often to just a small circle of close friends) and altered my name. I removed every personal profile from showing up in my newsfeed, so that I wasn’t bombarded with irrelevant posts and could ask with genuine interest: what have you been up to? when I saw people, instead of feigning surprise at their stories, despite the fact I’d already inadvertently seen their photos splashed across the site. Best of all, it’s also allowed me to tailor Facebook to become an informative source of news, stories, and videos: the only posts on my home page now are from news sites, musicians, and groups I’ve joined. Nothing unwanted.
Now, I couldn’t help finding my former Facebook friend’s response a bit problematic.
As someone who is very critical of social media, perhaps I am more sensitive to the implications here than the average person. But what bothered me about it was the admission – not of deleting me, that much I expected – but of the reasoning behind it. Apparently, not being able to stalk my profile means it isn’t worth being connected any more.
I suppose I should applaud his honesty: of course, Facebook’s very foundation is based on its users’ insatiable urge to browse through each other’s profiles, so why bother with someone who refuses to play by the rules? Still, though, I find the admission shocking; despite him telling me not to take it personally, I can’t help feeling that it was him who felt personally affronted by my absence of accessible online activity.
Because OK, you might be a bit put out for a nanosecond that someone’s profile you used to enjoy checking out now has a restricted access sign. But to click “unfriend”? That’s indicative of a conscious effort, and a more deeply indignant response: “if you won’t lay out the details of your life for me to browse through at leisure, from a distance, then you’re not worthy of the ‘friend’ stamp. Delete.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been confronted with such a response. Others have commented reproachfully on my lack of online presence, as though it is a personal attack on their prying eyes. I feel my heart sink a little every time I hear, “You don’t seem to upload any photos any more!”
I’m just mildly depressed, I guess, that social media has rusted the cogs of human relationships in this way. Before Facebook, my former Facebook friend and I would have gone without seeing each other quite happily, drifted on with our lives, and possibly come back together again by a chance meeting. But exposing yourself online gives people the impression that your privacy has the right to be invaded, interrogated, imposed upon. And if you dare to retract something you once shared so readily – if you attempt to claw back some privacy – you seem to get that “you won’t show me yours, so I won’t show you mine” reaction, a deliberate act of rejection for refusing to divulge.
While I have no issue with people deleting me (after all, I do it myself), I maintain that my life is not an encyclopaedia for people to dip in and out of – I’ll share what I want, when I want. If that makes me secretive, or coy, or “aloof”, if that means there’s “no point” staying connected, then it only reinforces my cynicism about friendships conducted through online mediums, and hardens my resolve to become less visible. And if people find that unreasonable, then I’m sure I can expect to feel the cold shoulders of a few more vexed “friends” in years to come…