Contra Costa Times
I knew I had to delete her or suffer the consequences.
I'm talking about my Facebook profile, that page on the "social networking" site devoted to me and where 175 million other users around the world can "friend" me by sending a simple note. The female in question was an acquaintance of a friend. I barely know her, but she has a reputation as queen of gossip in the greater Los Angeles area.
I thought about it for another second then clicked "remove," and freed myself. Two days later, I was on the phone with the original friend and there was an awkward pause in our conversation. "So, Ashley is hurt that you don't want to be her friend," my friend told me. I wasn't sure how to respond.
So I spoke the truth: "Ashley and I barely know each other. Who cares?"
Not long ago, most devotees of social networking sites believed in numbers. Fill your page with goofy photos and pensive updates then amass as many friends as possible to prove your popularity. These virtual friend armies became the norm, and even though we never spoke or saw each other, somehow we felt validated by the three- and even four-digit tallies. Now our pages are oversaturated, however, and we're craving a little peace and privacy. As such, friend pruning and unfriending have taken over as the latest behaviors on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.
But rather than agonize over whom to remove - your boss? your girlfriend's mom? - many users are starting from scratch or scaling back on whom they friend or accept requests from in the first place. Discretion, it seems, has also surpassed the need for numbers, experts say.
LizaDawn Ramirez of Hayward, Calif., knew it was time to do some major friend cleaning when she began censoring herself on her Facebook page. She had hit 143 friends, and didn't feel close to many. So, she deleted everyone and started over. First, she reached out and friended family. Then, close friends.
"It's awesome. It's so freeing," she says of the purge. "I know the people on my Facebook now and genuinely feel that they have my best intentions at heart. I don't have to censor myself anymore." She also got rid of her MySpace page and limits LinkedIn to a home for her resume. "I don't ever update my status there and just stay connected to colleagues in case I ever have to find a job," she says.
Today, Ramirez is happy with her 44 Facebook friends, and hasn't had to deny anyone. Most of the fat she cut was well-meaning but long-lost high school and college classmates or people she met at parties who reached out to her but whom Ramirez knew she would never hear from again. "I felt like Pokemon because people were trying to collect me," she says. Her rule now? "I'm definitely not going to accept anybody if I don't think we can carry on a legitimate relationship outside of Facebook," she says.
Yolanda Higareda of Union City, Calif., has all of five people on her Facebook page, and they're all relatives. She surfs chat rooms but doesn't belong to other social networking sites. The family uses Facebook to post photographs of the children. Higareda did friend one person outside of her family, and eventually deleted her following an offline falling out. "In this world, you just surround yourself with people who make you happy," she says. "You can get drama online and off. Who needs it?"
Even though the sites don't alert the person who's been dumped - the sudden lack of access does - the situation can still be awkward. Even for Dana Herrera, an assistant professor of anthropology at Saint Mary's College. "I can't begin to understand the social ramifications of unfriending a student," she says. So, at the beginning of each semester, the professor encourages her students to friend her but suggests they consider their click very carefully.
"I remind them that if they can see me, I can see them," she says. The result? Out of 70 students, one will end up friending her.
Your online profile is your creation. So, if you have to remove someone - be it a nosy ex or a handful of people you never interact with - be firm. "The first step is admitting the problem. After that, take off 10 percent (of your friends)," says Greg Atwan, the New York-based co-author of "The Facebook Book" (Abrams Image, $12.95), a satirical handbook for maximizing your Facebook page. "Cut anybody that you're sick of. If you're sick of hearing about so-and-so's dog grooming, he's not going to notice when you drop the ax."
In the book, Atwan suggests "trimming the friend hedge" twice a year. In his circle of twentysomethings, 500 friends is the sweet spot. For folks older than 30, the largest growing segment of Facebook users, it's often less. If you're concerned about hurting someone's feelings, don't be. "There's a difference between the passive aggressive unfriending of someone you know well and you think will notice, and the judicious pruning of the hedge," Atwan says.