Monday, September 02, 2013


Every so often, people I knew long ago will add or remove me on Facebook. The emotions this arises are close to nil - these are, like I say, people I haven't seen in years, and if it's "remove," whatever vanity there might be in the "friend" number (and not much for me, as I've removed people for reasons such as not remembering meeting them), it tends to even out, what with the equally mysterious adding.

My point here is thus not about Facebook neurosis - which pertains only to people you at least once gave significant thought to - but rather something technical about Facebook: you're still automatically "following" the people who've unfriended you. I discovered this when a high school classmate had unfriended me, which I discovered when I saw them listed as a mutual friend's friend, i.e. not mine. I thought that was what had happened, clicked on their profile, and saw that I was "following" this person.

What's "following"?

I had vaguely known the site had this function, but had thought it was something like Twitter - separate altogether from "friends," with no pretense of mutual interest. Like, you might follow a celebrity, or follow someone in addition to being friends with them, if they're an artist of some kind, and you want to show your support. But I hadn't enabled it myself - why would people I don't know follow me on Facebook rather than Twitter? Whom would I follow rather than friend? If I hadn't enabled this, how was I now "following" someone?

And yes, OK, there is an associated neurosis: what if all your friends have unfriended you, but you're still following them by default? There's no list of people you're following if you're following them for this reason, it seems. It appears that your number of friends only drops by one once you manually "unfollow" the person who's already unfriended you, so you'd never know.

But there's also the question of, what if you're the one who's done the unfriending? Don't you want a clean Facebook-break from whichever person? Why would you want to keep including them on your list? And isn't it just an odd system? I'd imagine that most unfriending happens when there's a lack of mutual affinity (such that the removed friend may have already long hidden the remover's updates), and it's simply that one of the two people was more invested in list-curation or whatever and thus made the final (but not so final!) cut.

But let's say you unfriend someone because you find their posts offensive, or because you have a limit of how many Lord-praising (or atheism-promoting) status updates a day you can handle from any one person, or because you never liked them to begin with and now that you're no longer working together,* you're free to remove them. Why do you want them reading your posts? I mean, you probably don't. It's really hard to picture a situation where the removed friend would be something other than indifferent or offended, and would therefore want to keep following the former friend's updates. So why is it set up like this?

*I understand this temptation, but this always seems short-sighted. If you're in a profession, you never know who you're going to need a good word from. With all the hide-updates possibilities that even I have managed to figure out, it's really not necessary to burn bridges.


caryatis said...

"But let's say you unfriend someone because you find their posts offensive....Why do you want them reading your posts?"

Isn't this only an issue if your posts are public? If they are limited to friends, then non-friends can't see them even if they follow you...or such is my understanding.

Can we talk about how confusing Facebook names have gotten of late? Women who change their names have been an issue for a while now (one friend in her 20s has already been married, divorced, and remarried, changing her name at each juncture with a complete lack of consideration for Facebook acquaintances), but now I see more and more people in the corporate or military worlds using fake names.

Sorry, I am not going to recognize your middle name or favorite food, and "Kate S." does not cut it either. I rejected one moderately good friend's friend request because I did not recognize any element of the name he was using. People should at least include a note in their friend request or profile giving you their actual names--at least if they have any expectation of continuing to be friends with people from college or high school.

Phoebe said...

I can't tell exactly how people have set up their accounts to make things visible to removed friends. Mine is set up as friends-only - I'd be 100% fine with the wider world seeing anything I post there, but it just seems odd to inundate the not-interested with the kind of posts I make/one makes there.

Name-change... I did change mine, but have kept on the old one as a middle name on Facebook and elsewhere, precisely because I wanted both to change my name and to have the continuity. But when friends' marital status and last name changes at the same time, I don't find this terribly confusing.

What *is* confusing is when people switch over to their married names a good long while after marriage. Or, I suppose, if people from back in the day add you after changing their names, and you didn't know they had. But most confusing of all is the fake name for professional reasons. This is less an issue with existing friends making the switch (although I've been confused on occasion) than when people add you and it falls on you to sort out if this is someone you know or not. It's not generally all that difficult - most recently, I could tell via mutual friends listed exactly who this was, and I can't say it annoys me. But yes, it doesn't hurt to send a private message identifying yourself if it's otherwise unclear.

Side note: I think name changes - as in, real ones, not goofy Facebook-only ones - should be respected, whether they're women taking a husband's name or transgender people taking a new name. By this I mean that these changes should not elicit a conversation with the name-changer about his or her performance of gender (too traditional, or not traditional enough, in whichever estimation) and how other people feel about it. By all means, discuss gender identity in the abstract, but don't put individuals on the spot, because they don't owe others that explanation. Nor is it acceptable to go on calling someone by their old name because you don't approve of their choice. (I'm not saying you, Caryatis, would ever do any of this!) With your name, you ultimately have to go with what you feel comfortable with.