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Your attention is the most valuable thing on the web. It might not feel like it when you’re bored, mindlessly scrolling through your news feed, but it’s true.

Facebook is worth $34 billion – nearly three times the net worth of McDonalds – because of all the time you spend staring at it. Attention is the real online currency.

I point this out not to argue that Facebook, or any social network, is “bad” – blaming problems on technology isn’t productive Your Gadgets Don't Control You: The Problem With "Look Up" [Opinion] Your Gadgets Don't Control You: The Problem With "Look Up" [Opinion] Smartphones aren't making us dumb; social networks aren't making us antisocial. Technology is a tool, and it's time we stopped blaming it for our problems and took responsibility for our digital habits. Read More . Instead, I’d argue that social networks are tools, and we can all learn to use them better.

Sometimes that means unfriending, unfollowing, and unliking. It sounds harsh, but this isn’t about cutting people out of your life: it’s about giving more of your attention to the people and ideas you care about.

Ask Yourself: What Are Social Networks For?

Have you ever closed Facebook out of disgust, anger, or sadness? Have you ever opened Twitter, Reddit, or Pinterest and found absolutely nothing of interest?

owl_turning_away

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If so, it’s time for a cleanup.

We all use different tools for different purposes, but generally I think there are three reasons we look at social networks:

  • Staying in touch with people you care about.
  • Learning about the world, current events, and your interests – all from a variety of different perspectives.
  • Pure entertainment value.

How much you value these three things obviously varies from person to person, as does which networks work best for which things. Facebook, for me, is primarily a tool for keeping in touch with family; Twitter, on the other hand, is for exposing myself to ideas I wouldn’t otherwise see. I use Reddit for productivity How To Use Reddit Productively. Yes, You Read That Correctly. How To Use Reddit Productively. Yes, You Read That Correctly. Reddit’s just a huge timesink? Wrong. It’s an endless supply of relevant information, if you know where to look. Here’s how to use Reddit more productively. Read More , but for plenty of others it’s a source of pure entertainment.

Your lines will vary, but I think everyone sometimes sees things in their various news feeds that are of no value whatsoever.

When You Need To Clean Up

clean-up-facebook

Low-value posts happen, but some people consistently offer nothing but. Sometimes people you care about will post things you don’t like; sometimes people you don’t care about will post things you love. The problem is when people you don’t care about post things you don’t like, consistently.

  • Do you have a Facebook friend you haven’t talked to in years, who consistently posts things you find boring, ignorant or even offensive? Unfriend, or at the very least unfollow.
  • Do you follow someone on Twitter who makes you angry, hardly ever teaches you anything, and doesn’t even entertain you? Unfollow.
  • Do you see regular updates, from a company you’ve “Liked” on Facebook, that advertise to you in a way that’s not even a little bit entertaining or informative? Unlike.
  • Do you get email newsletters that you never read? Unsubscribe.

You get the idea: if you’re not getting anything out of a social media relationship, it’s time to end it.

This might sound harsh, but think about it another way: any attention you give to people and entities who give you nothing back is attention you’re denying others. You’re giving less time to people you care about, the ideas you want to learn more about, and the videos and comics you like. If that tradeoff isn’t worth it, it’s time to do something about it.

Here’s how.

Facebook: Know Who Your Friends Are

In Facebook, head to your profile, then click “Friends”

facebook-friends-button

Yeah, that “Friends” link, beside the “About” one. You’ll now see a list of your Facebook friends, so scroll through and start cleaning. A few rules of thumb I like to use:

  • If you’re not sure who someone is, unfriend them. Don’t give it a second thought.
  • If, given the chance to meet with a particular “friend” in person, you’d make up an excuse not to, unfriend them.

The criteria you use is up to you, of course, just put some thought into it.

If you’d rather not completely “Unfriend” someone, you can “Unfollow” them instead. This will prevent their posts from showing up in your timeline, but allow them to keep seeing yours. You can do this from within the timeline: when you see a post from someone you’d rather stop seeing, click the arrow at top-right on the post:

facebook-unfollow

From here you can unfollow, meaning you’ll stop seeing that person’s posts but he’ll keep seeing yours and, in Guy’s case, post dad jokes.

I’d never unfollow you, Guy. Don’t worry.

Facebook: Unlike Basically Everything

It’s hard to unfriend someone, because you’re dealing with actual people. You have no such obligation to the various Pages you’ve “Liked” over the years. Head back to your profile page, then scroll down until you see the “Likes” box in the left panel.

facebook-likes

Yep, there it is! Click this and you’ll see a page full of the things you’ve “Liked” over the years. Unsubscribe from anything you don’t enjoy.

facebook-unlike

Twitter: Unfollow Unfollow Unfollow

Twitter, unlike Facebook, is blissfully free of social obligation. It doesn’t use words like “Friend”, and the following relationship is one way.

twitter-unfollow

Never, ever feel bad about unfollowing someone: it’s the only tool you have to control what you do and don’t see in your regular timeline. There are only so many hours in the day, and if you want to actually follow the people you find interesting you need your timeline to be clean enough to see their posts.

(Matt: I didn’t unfollow you, but remember: you’re always a hamburger photo away from oblivion).

If you can’t keep up right now, it’s time for a cleanup. Head to the list of people you’re following on Twitter, then get slashing.

Email: Unsubscribe Liberally

Email is the one communications tool pretty much everyone uses, which means lots of companies want to dump your inbox full of all kinds of things you don’t care about. We’ve gone over ways to deal with email overload Can't Put Off Email Every Morning? Try This Ritual Instead Can't Put Off Email Every Morning? Try This Ritual Instead Starting your day the email way is regularly put down – even though most of us do it. Is checking email after waking up really so bad? Read More , but you can save yourself a lot of time by simply unsubscribing from newsletters you don’t care about.

If this sounds time consuming, check out our list of apps that automatically unsubscribe you from newsletters Clear Out Your Inbox: Quickly Unsubscribe From Multiple Newsletters With These Tools Clear Out Your Inbox: Quickly Unsubscribe From Multiple Newsletters With These Tools Unsubscribing from newsletters is about more than just spam. Most of the newsletters that fill our inbox are not selling medicine or offering prize money – they’re genuine newsletters from trusted companies we ourselves subscribed... Read More . Failing that, there are ways to declutter newsletters without trashing them 4 Decluttering Tips For Newsletters If You Don't Want To Trash Them 4 Decluttering Tips For Newsletters If You Don't Want To Trash Them How many e-mail subscriptions do you have? If you're like me, you have absolutely no idea, but you know that it's a lot. It's time to take action. Read More .

Time For Some Spring Cleaning

Just because you have the ability to keep in touch with everyone you’ve ever met, doesn’t mean you have the obligation to actually do that. Nor does it mean that keeping in touch with everyone you’ve ever met is a good idea. Your time is limited, so it’s important to have a healthy information diet Eating Only Dessert: Why Your Information Diet Is Probably Terrible [Feature] Eating Only Dessert: Why Your Information Diet Is Probably Terrible [Feature] Email. Social networks. Blogs. Online video. People today consume more information than ever before, and typically only consume the things they really, really like. Clay Johnson compares this to a bad diet. "If you only... Read More so you can prioritize your time and give more of it to the people and ideas you care about.

I could go on, talking about how this works on different social networks, but the process is pretty similar. Let me know which networks you want to clean out in the comments below, and I’ll fill you in if I can.

  1. gigi
    January 9, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Justin,

    If you unfollow someone, who later tags you in a photo, would it post on my timeline? would it go into the feed? would my other friends see it?

    Thanks.

    • Justin Pot
      January 10, 2016 at 7:50 pm

      I'm going to admit I've no idea.

  2. Rob
    April 12, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Justin, how often do you check Facebook, out of interest?

    • Justin Pot
      April 13, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Every few days, or when someone (usually my mom) asks me if I've seen a particular post or picture. It's really not a social network I enjoy using very much, but family is on there so I keep it around.

  3. Rob
    April 10, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Great points, Justin. I try to do this every so often, but I notice that with some of Facebook's algorithm changes, some of your changes tend to get reversed or overlooked... it's not a 'do it once and it's done' kind of thing, but definitely something to keep on top of...

    • Justin Pot
      April 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Facebook's continued insistence on controlling every aspect of how I interact with my network is one of the main reasons I check that network so infrequently. It's frustrating.

  4. GSystems
    April 9, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    I do this regularly.

    If there is a service that I don't like or that I've found to be valueless, I delete my account (after saving the data that they've collected in my own archives). Lately, LinkedIn and Facebook caught the guillotine. Cool, bye; one less service to check and see nothing of value.

    Limiting ones online footprint is never a bad thing, unless there is a use (such as marketing, etc.).

    I am presently down to G+ and Twitter. And, well, I'm fine with that.

    On both G+ and Twitter, I regularly sift through my Circles and Follows for people who are not adding to my experience. Even if their views are not my views, if their posts are robust enough, they hang around. What I don't want to do is only see things that I believe, as I don't mind challenging my beliefs and such. However, wasteful posts are truly wastes of time...the greatest commodity of all.

    • Justin Pot
      April 9, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      I really wish I could give up Facebook; family is the main reason I keep it around. It would be hard to explain to my grandma why I don't see her messages anymore.

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