As I write this article I have 1,166 “friends” on Facebook. That puts me in the top 5% or so of Facebook users by friend number. That’s a hell of a lot more than the 150 that Dan was talking about on his post on why you should start deleting Facebook friends.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed and unable to connect with people because of my large friend list, I find it really useful. So why do I have so many friends? Why won’t I delete them? And how do I manage the noise from so many people? Read on to find out.
How to Win 1000 Friends and Alienate Nobody
Getting more than 1000 Facebook friends is easy if you get out and do things. Every time I do something new I come away with 100 or so friends. I’ve about that number from school, the two colleges I went to, the rugby teams I’ve been involved with, the long trips I’ve taken, the gyms I’ve joined, the photography communities I’ve been involved in, and so on.
If you don’t sit in watching Netflix every evening and go out and meet people with similar interests, or head off traveling for a few months you’ll be shocked at how quickly your Facebook friends list grows. It’s the main way many people keep in contact.
Facebook Isn’t For Close Friends
One of the fundamental mistakes people make when talking about Facebook is equating Facebook friends with close friends. Yes, there’ll be some overlap; I’m Facebook friends with all my best friends but they make up a tiny percentage of the total number. With 1100 plus Facebook friends, my ten closest real friends are literally less than 1% of my friend list.
Regular Facebook isn’t a great tool for keeping in touch with your best friends. It works, sure, but it’s pretty impersonal. Instead, I use WhatsApp groups to chat (almost daily!) with my close friends from back home. Ironically, that’s still a Facebook product but it’s separate from the main website.
I’ve got different groups for the friends from my local town, my college mates, people I’ve worked with, and so on. These groups are far more casual, free flowing, and private than Facebook could ever be. We can say what we want without fear that any random family members or easily offended acquaintances will stumble across our off-color in-jokes and be appalled.
For one-on-one communication, I normally use Snapchat. Teenagers might love it but so does this 20-something and his friends. It’s one of the most personal ways you can communicate digitally.
Finally, the other way I keep in touch with close friends is by actually seeing them in real life. There are some friends I can’t because of distance or circumstances but, for the most part, with my best friends I just head out for a drink or a coffee to catch up with them. Until VR gets good enough, real life meetings are still my favorite.
For the few close friends who use Facebook more than any other social network, it’s simple to make their posts appear at the top of your newsfeed so you never miss anything they share.
A Global Contact List
So if Facebook isn’t for close friends, what is it for?
I use it as a global contact list. I might only visit London once or twice a year, but I want to be able to reach out to my friends who live there when I do. By the same token, when I go on a rugby tour, I want to touch base with my friends from the other teams to see who’s going and make plans.
Just adding up the people who I want to be able to stay in touch with when I’m in their area is more than enough to blow me past 150 friends.
Facebook Messenger is so much more useful than actual Facebook.
— Harry Guinness (@HarryGuinness) April 4, 2016
Which brings me to my next point, Facebook Messenger is a much better tool than Facebook proper. Facebook took a lot of flak last year for removing Messenger from the Facebook mobile app but I think it’s one of the best moves they’ve ever made. You can use Messenger without ever having to go and look at what awful collection of cat photos has somehow made it to the top of your Newsfeed.
Don’t treat Facebook as the main app, treat it as your phonebook for Messenger.
Mute is Your Friend
To make Facebook useable as a contact list, you need to tame your Newsfeed. It’s great to be able to check in with friends all around the world, but you don’t necessarily want to see everything they post.
In this case, mute is your friend. If you’re certain you’re never going to see the person again, then deleting them can work, but if you want to keep them in your contact list then you need to remain friends on Facebook. Angela has previously gone into detail on how you can keep your Newsfeed clean. Follow this advice and no matter how many friends you have, Facebook will never become unmanageable.
Different View Points
While muting is a great way to tame your Newsfeed, I don’t recommend you mute everyone, even the people you’ll seldom — or never — see. Having a big friend list is a great opportunity to expose yourself to different points of view.
My friends back home are all from pretty much the same background I am: young, liberal, middle-class, secular, and educated. There’s some variance but, by and large, we all pretty much agree on the same things.
On Facebook, I have friends from Israel and Jordan, LA and Indiana. As you can imagine they’ve all got very different takes on world affairs. I’ve got both Bernie and Trump supporters arguing on my Newsfeed!
While it can be tempting to mute anyone who’s opinion doesn’t match your own, I prefer to keep at least a few of the more interesting people from everywhere. I’m never going to agree with some of the things they post, but it’s eye opening for me to see what they’re saying and stops me getting caught up in my own little bubble.
One big advantage of a large Facebook friend list is you’re exposed to real people on every corner of the globe. There’s a big difference between a genuine Trump supporter and the Irish media’s idea of what a Trump supporter is. It is very easy to dismiss random “crazies” who you disagree with; it’s much harder when it’s someone you know and like.
The value you get from Facebook all depends on how you use it. If you’re settled with a family and great friend group, then having hundreds of friends all around the world probably isn’t going to help you very much. On the other hand, if you’re young, travelling, and want to keep abreast of what’s going on around the world, then Facebook can be a really useful tool. Arbitrarily deleting people because it takes you over a certain number of friends just feels a little silly.
Whatever you do, don’t listen to anyone on the Internet who tells you X or Y amount of friends is right or wrong. I find it useful having a big friend list but plenty of people don’t. Go with whatever works for you.
Which way do you go? Do you have a huge friend list or just a few close friends? And why? Let me know in the comments. It’s always great to hear other people’s takes on divisive issues like this.