The Thing About Deleting A Facebook Friend

You’ve had it happen to you. You’re walking, going about your business, when suddenly you see a familiar face in the distance. You have no issue offering a friendly smile, maybe even saying hello, however there’s a disgusting amount of tension, and instead of making eye contact, one of you looks straight ahead or hides behind your phone in an effort to avoid the other.

And all of this because you deleted them from Facebook. To this I say:

Big. Deal.

When Facebook first became popular it was of social protocol to immediately add someone you had just met, anyone you had met. Saw them across the room at a high school party? Add them! Bumped into them that one super fun time at that really awesome place? Add them! The friend count was an endless list of people you didn’t care about, but you wanted them there anyway. Seven years onward we experience the exact opposite – we put thought into who we add on Facebook and pride ourselves on limiting access to our profile. How many status updates have you seen recently that read something to this effect: “Just did a Facebook cleanse and deleted 200 friends! You made the cut!” Oh happy day.

The act of deleting a friend is ambiguous. To one person it’s a passive-aggressive technique to provoke a reaction; to another it’s a way to protect their privacy; and then there are those brilliant people who only add their actual friends (what a foreign concept). To me it’s usually as simple as this: if Facebook didn’t exist, would you have that much access to my life? If not: goodbye.

I don’t mean, oh-hey-nice-knowing-you-I-hope-I-never-see-you-ever-again goodbye. I mean an online goodbye. Deleting someone from Facebook doesn’t have to mean deleting them from your life. Just your online life. Many say that if they wouldn’t stop and say hi to someone they have on Facebook then that person is a perfect candidate to be deleted. I’d like to propose the opposite for consideration. There should be no reason you can’t publicly acknowledge a friend of Facebook-past (unless the delete was malicious and deliberate).

Allow me to preface this brief anecdote by acknowledging that there are obvious differences between deleting an old flame and an old friend, but hear me out. This past summer while at a bar in Toronto, I bumped into a first-year fling. After the obligatory hug and awkward small-talk, he said ten words that made me wish I had another round of Früli beer on the way, “I couldn’t help but notice you deleted me from Facebook.” Yes. Yes I did. For one, he no longer goes to Western. Secondly, we hadn’t spoken in almost two years. That was reason enough for me to conclude the lackluster story of our online friendship. I suppose he assumed that I held some sort of animosity toward him because I removed his access to my profile, and because when it comes to deleting a past flame it’s usually a bitter cry for attention. This wasn’t the case at all. It was as simple as me not thinking it was important for him to have access to the pictures from my birthday extravaganza, my family outings, or the posts from my friends.

If you’re never going to write on their wall, if they’re never going to write on yours, if it would be awkward to like a photo that they’ve recently uploaded; how can one honestly be offended by being deleted?

This is where we get into confusion about deleting friends from Facebook: people take it way too seriously. Facebook is not, I repeat not, real life.

And yet the Facebook delete is made to be much more complicated than that.

When did we start validating our real life friendships by our online friendships? It’s as though if it doesn’t happen on Facebook, it never really did. “It’s not official until it’s Facebook official,” reads a large amount of birthday wishes. That’s a scary thought. When we feel like we need to add someone as a friend or maintain their access on Facebook in order to substantiate our interactions in reality, haven’t we reversed the natural process?

There are certain Facebook friends people want to keep. Maybe it’s for networking purposes (although, that’s sort of the point of LinkedIn), or that the person is fun to creep (you should probably take up knitting or something), or it’s just too awkward at this point in time (I look forward to the day after Commencement just as much as you). All I’m saying is that you can still have a real-life relationship with someone without having an online friendship, and it’s rather frightening that we need a reminder of this. Our generation is the first to experience awkward social moments as a result of social media, and agreeing upon the trivialized nature of the Facebook delete would just make life so much easier. TC mark

image – Dino Ahmad Ali

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  • Anna

    Thank you! I completely agree. Unfriending someone/ not accepting their friend request is not mean or passive-aggressive. I may not want a distant acquaintance reading my pointless status updates or seeing pictures of my dog, but that does not mean I don’t like that person. It’s startling how many people don’t seem to grasp this concept.

  • Cheryl Keit Ang

    I can’t possibly agree more with this article. It’s frightening how people can reverse their real lives with their online lives.

  • Joy

    I know I probably should delete about 300 people (mostly high school acquaintances who post annoying/irrelevant statuses that clog up my news feed) but the hoarder in me is afraid I’ll have de-friender’s remorse.

    • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

      Yes, especially when you want to creep because you heard something crazy!   For these reasons, my friend gives me her fbook password, since she is a friend hoarder.  :) 

  • Dunja

    What if they were called contacts rather than friends? I think that would entirely change how people think about “facebook friends”. You said it yourself – Facebook is NOT real life, so why would we expect our social interactions on it to reflect real life?

    The thing about the facebook delete is that you can see it both ways. Facebook is trivial, so why would you care if someone deletes you from it? But then, facebook is trivial, so why would you care that someone’s on your friends list? I used to do these crazy culls, but then realised that I really didn’t care enough about my fb friends list one way or the other to invest time into deleting people (unless they’re douchebags, in which case I probably [hopefully] don’t hang out with them anyway so removing them from facebook actually is removing them from my life, and this is indeed the desired result).

    What about Google +’s circles, would that be different because you can choose which circle they go in straight off the bat and thus what they can see? Of course you can do that with facebook now too, except that it requires going through your whole friends list and clicking things next to their names and that’s time consuming … kind of like … deleting them …

    Hm. Never mind.

    • anonymous

      I agree, you can definitely see it both ways. I rarely ever add people, so it kind of hurts that my friend list keeps getting smaller. (Sigh) A year ago I had about 100 more friends than I do now. :(

      • Clipp&Store

        omg me too mine has been shrinking for the same  reason!

  • Dunja

    What if they were called contacts rather than friends? I think that would entirely change how people think about “facebook friends”. You said it yourself – Facebook is NOT real life, so why would we expect our social interactions on it to reflect real life?

    The thing about the facebook delete is that you can see it both ways. Facebook is trivial, so why would you care if someone deletes you from it? But then, facebook is trivial, so why would you care that someone’s on your friends list? I used to do these crazy culls, but then realised that I really didn’t care enough about my fb friends list one way or the other to invest time into deleting people (unless they’re douchebags, in which case I probably [hopefully] don’t hang out with them anyway so removing them from facebook actually is removing them from my life, and this is indeed the desired result).

    What about Google +’s circles, would that be different because you can choose which circle they go in straight off the bat and thus what they can see? Of course you can do that with facebook now too, except that it requires going through your whole friends list and clicking things next to their names and that’s time consuming … kind of like … deleting them …

    Hm. Never mind.

  • Dunja

    What if they were called contacts rather than friends? I think that would entirely change how people think about “facebook friends”. You said it yourself – Facebook is NOT real life, so why would we expect our social interactions on it to reflect real life?

    The thing about the facebook delete is that you can see it both ways. Facebook is trivial, so why would you care if someone deletes you from it? But then, facebook is trivial, so why would you care that someone’s on your friends list? I used to do these crazy culls, but then realised that I really didn’t care enough about my fb friends list one way or the other to invest time into deleting people (unless they’re douchebags, in which case I probably [hopefully] don’t hang out with them anyway so removing them from facebook actually is removing them from my life, and this is indeed the desired result).

    What about Google +’s circles, would that be different because you can choose which circle they go in straight off the bat and thus what they can see? Of course you can do that with facebook now too, except that it requires going through your whole friends list and clicking things next to their names and that’s time consuming … kind of like … deleting them …

    Hm. Never mind.

  • Dunja

    What if they were called contacts rather than friends? I think that would entirely change how people think about “facebook friends”. You said it yourself – Facebook is NOT real life, so why would we expect our social interactions on it to reflect real life?

    The thing about the facebook delete is that you can see it both ways. Facebook is trivial, so why would you care if someone deletes you from it? But then, facebook is trivial, so why would you care that someone’s on your friends list? I used to do these crazy culls, but then realised that I really didn’t care enough about my fb friends list one way or the other to invest time into deleting people (unless they’re douchebags, in which case I probably [hopefully] don’t hang out with them anyway so removing them from facebook actually is removing them from my life, and this is indeed the desired result).

    What about Google +’s circles, would that be different because you can choose which circle they go in straight off the bat and thus what they can see? Of course you can do that with facebook now too, except that it requires going through your whole friends list and clicking things next to their names and that’s time consuming … kind of like … deleting them …

    Hm. Never mind.

  • Natalie

    I used to do exactly as you described, friending anyone I ever met (even if it was brief). Now I don’t use facebook anymore. Anyone I would want to stay in contact with I have their number and email address, so what’s the use of facebook?

    • Alasdair

      Messing around on, wasting time and having random conversations with people you don’t know. Much like this website.

  • Natalie

    I used to do exactly as you described, friending anyone I ever met (even if it was brief). Now I don’t use facebook anymore. Anyone I would want to stay in contact with I have their number and email address, so what’s the use of facebook?

  • Natalie

    I used to do exactly as you described, friending anyone I ever met (even if it was brief). Now I don’t use facebook anymore. Anyone I would want to stay in contact with I have their number and email address, so what’s the use of facebook?

  • Dreya

    Considering the privacy options available to facebook, I don’t see why you need to defriend anyone from Facebook. If need be you can completely block them from seeing what you do and unsubscribe from all that they do. There’s no need to worry about them seeing your drunk status or you feeling that they clog up your feed. But all the same, you’re still able to reach them and get in contact with them if need be. You wouldn’t delete their email, in the off chance that you might need to reach them for some reason (and heaven forbid you get to know them well later and then have to go through the process of re-friending them), so why not let them stick around? After all, with such a stigma to unfriending someone, what does it hurt?

    • Sandy

       Isn’t that the point… that the  stigma shouldn’t exist at all?

    • Jess

      To me it seems more work to manage their privacy than just to remove them – I’m adopting the “happy birthday” code, if it’s uncomfortable to wish them a happy birthday they probably shouldn’t be there to begin with, your friend “count” number means less than the burger I had for lunch. 

  • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com Maxwell Chance

    WHAT ARE YOU HIDING?!

  • rohana

    There was once I deleted an ex-primary schoolmate whom I barely even talked to 20 years ago (and much lesser now). She got all freaky and sent me a message asking what she did wrong, and apologised if she had done anything to offend me. Maybe she felt insecure because I didn’t delete another mutual friend from my list.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    I’m sorry  I deleted you on Facebook.

  • Sophia

    This is really good. Props, Ryan.

  • Daily TC Reader

    I went through a cleanse and inspired my smart friends to do the same. One friend turned 1,000 friends into 86. And she is one of the most friendly people I know.  BTW we graduated from college in May so that makes it all easier. 

    Can I delete family members?

    • Wdeanis

      I deleted my grandpa, couldn’t sleep that night, and re-added him with stricter controls. So no, you can’t.

    • Scrappy

      I never accepted a request from a cousin.  Oh well.

  • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

    Seems like too much effort to cull the herd.

    • Wdeanis

      I look at everyone whose birthday is today and make cuts from that list. A few cuts a day and soon you have officially streamlined your profile.

      • http://twitter.com/ShonNotSean Shon Mogharabi

        nice idea, pretty convenient. i did let out a little laugh about the notion of deleting people on their birthdays though haha

      • TheShamus

        Just message them have a happy birthday. Best wishes.

        Then delete. They could always use this ‘stub’ private message to contact you in the future.

        In his case you are offering them a window of communication. Win-win.

      • http://twitter.com/ShonNotSean Shon Mogharabi

        nice idea, pretty convenient. i did let out a little laugh about the notion of deleting people on their birthdays though haha

      • http://twitter.com/ShonNotSean Shon Mogharabi

        nice idea, pretty convenient. i did let out a little laugh about the notion of deleting people on their birthdays though haha

      • http://twitter.com/ShonNotSean Shon Mogharabi

        nice idea, pretty convenient. i did let out a little laugh about the notion of deleting people on their birthdays though haha

      • Askj

        I do the same, although I admit to feeling a little heartless about deleting them on their birthdays. But it’s by far the easiest method.

  • Guest

    I deleted (and now refuse to accept) anyone I wouldn’t say hi to if I ran into them. Which equated to about 400 people – I’m rather shy, I suppose. I have friends that add every lurker, random acquaintance, and desired acquaintance.. but there’s something about knowing every person on your friend list personally, and knowing that your drunken status update, unexpected photo tag, or what have you, are revealed to those who “get” you to some extent… rather than needing to implement layers of privacy settings.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    I’ve tried to explain this to people before and they just don’t get it – because there is no separation between real life and internet life, I guess? There’s a million people out there I have no problem with the idea of saying hello to, engaging in cordial conversation with… that still doesn’t mean they need to see the photos my friends tag me in from a weekend out, or see my update about when my dog dies or whatever. If we don’t talk, you don’t need to know.

  • Guest

    Disappointed. Thought this would be funny, but this article turned out to be too painstakingly obvious that people take Facebook way too seriously. Bleh.

  • Nalexandra09

    I go by this : If it would be awkward to wish them a ”Happy Birthday” on their wall, they probably shouldn’t be on your friends list.

  • Nick

    I dated a girl for 3 months before I added her on facebook. I never really made a conscious decision not to it just didn’t occur to me that I needed to. Because facebook doesn’t matter.

  • http://twitter.com/niceflying Emma

    I am delete-happy, no remorse. If an unfriend calls me out I say “yes I did!” with a big grin and they really don’t ask any further. Friendface is so uncomplicated!

    • gregary

      sounds so bitchy 

  • http://andiegoddessofpickles.blogspot.com Andie

    I’ve never had someone call me out for deleting them, but I have had people whom I’ve deleted re-add me, only to continue to NEVER EVER INTERACT WITH ME EVER.

    I take that as a sign that they simply find me amusing and are entirely too intimidated by my awesomeness to actually say anything.

  • sherry bobbins

    i can’t help but feel a little bad when i get deleted by a person who has 500+ friends and i’ve been nothing but nice when we did interact

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