Some people view Facebook as a popularity contest. Having more friends means you’re seen by your peers as being more popular, right?
Well, maybe. Once upon a time, Facebook was all about adding; more social used to equal more fun. Not anymore. Now it’s all about deleting.
In fact, having a four-digit number of friends really isn’t sensible. We’ll take a look at some reasons why you should start deleting some of your Facebook friends…
It’s Bad for Your Brain
Research suggests that we struggle to maintain more than 150 real-life friendships at once. It’s called “Dunbar’s Number” after the Oxford University anthropologist who discovered the phenomenon. He claims that any number beyond that starts to “strain the cognitive capacity of the human brain”.
According to Dunbar, that figure translates into the online world too:
“The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends, but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world”
If we take that number as a base, then add on a few long-lost school friends and other people you intermittently need to keep in touch with, you’d probably reach an absolute ceiling of 200-250 Facebook buddies.
This number is borne out by the facts. The mean average number of Friends on Facebook is 338, but the median is only around 200. That means a significant portion of people have a much higher number of friends, and they are skewing the mean average.
You’re Sacrificing Your Best Relationships
If you are one of the 15 percent of users who have more than 500 friends, you could be jeopardizing your nearest and dearest relationships for ultimately unimportant online kudos.
Maria Konnikova was the first to raise the point while writing for the New Yorker:
“With social media, we can easily keep up with the lives and interests of far more than a hundred and fifty people. But without investing the face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections to them, and the time we invest in superficial relationships comes at the expense of more profound ones.”
Dunbar supports her claim. “The amount of social capital you have is pretty fixed,” he said. “It involves time investment. If you garner connections with more people, you end up distributing your fixed amount of social capital more thinly so the average capital per person is lower.”
It appears that the key here is to recognize the difference between real-life and virtual. Should you be using your phone at a family meal to make some witty remark on the photo of someone you met on a beach in Thailand? Clearly not. But is it a good thing to have that relationship logged in Facebook in case you ever want to revisit it in the future. Probably.
Away from the academic reasons, there are also plenty of practical reasons.
Chief among them is privacy. Yes, we know Facebook theoretically has lots of tools to keep photos, posts, and personal data limited to certain sub-sets of your friends, but very few people use them to their fullest extent. (Be honest, how many of you have taken the time to set up customized groups of close friends with whom to share stuff?!).
Facebook is now 12 years old, and if you were one of the early adopters there is a very good chance you’ll be one of the aforementioned 15 percent of users who have more than 500 friends.
You need to ask yourself whether you want all these people creeping on your life (and whether you want to keep creeping on theirs). You know how it is, you’ve got people on your friend list that you’ve not spoken to since primary school, but you know the name of their kids and how many times they’ve been married.
Worst of all, all these people know the same stuff about you. That’s just weird.
Clean Up Your Newsfeed
This is also a great reason for unliking random things like airlines and hotels – it will all make your newsfeed much cleaner and more enjoyable to spend time on.
Do you really care that your old boss has checked into a restaurant in Prague? Or that a random bar you liked back in college is selling tickets for their latest Tuesday night extravaganza?
It all comes back to what Dunbar and Konnikova were discussing. Clearing out your friends (and likes) will mean the news you should care about will be more prominent on your feed, allowing you to better develop your meaningful relationships and discard the unimportant ones.
People Are Just Annoying
There has been plenty of research around “annoying” Facebook posts.
In 2014, 2,000 people were asked what were the main reasons they’d delete someone on the site. The top ten included:
- Excessive bragging – 68%
- Pointed statuses – 56%
- Game requests – 48%
- Attention seeking – 41%
- Excessive selfies – 38%
It makes sense to get rid of people whose posts annoy you online. Why let yourself get frustrated and irritated by someone else’s social media feed? There are already enough issues in the world to anger us.
If they’re a genuine close friend you can mute them, if not, give them the elbow.
How to Decide Who to Unfriend
Making these points is all well and good – but when push comes to shove and your mouse is hovering over the unfriend button, it all suddenly feels a bit final.
How do you know you won’t run into them again in five years’ time and become BBFs?! What if they realize that you’ve binned them?
Each person needs to decide their own parameters for unfriending. As a rule, focus on old school chums, old work colleagues, people you met on vacation, and random mutual acquaintances from years gone by. You won’t miss them, I promise.
For some unwritten rules regarding Facebook friend requests before you even accept them, check out our tips. And as a less drastic step, remember that you can hide Facebook friends instead of deleting them.
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