Why I Use Facebook Less and Less
The Two Types of Friends You Make on Facebook
I have been thinking a lot about my declining use of Facebook recently, and what might be driving it. The answer lies in two core issues that just did not cross my mind when I signed up four years ago. Social networks are about sharing and about connections.
Friends can be broken into two parts – close and distant. Close friends are the people you have known for years, that you grew up with, went to school with, or that you have become close to through work. Distant friends are acquaintances that you have connected with at some point in life, and make some effort to stay in contact with. For most people, there is some migration between the groups over time, but broadly they stay the consistent.
The explosion of Facebook and online social media has presented each of us with a wealth of options for staying connected to both of these groups. The challenge is that the type of information I want to share with one group, is not information I necessarily want to share with the other. My list of Facebook friends incorporates members of both groups, which is why I find it hard to figure out what to post there. In part because of this, I have resorted to posting pretty much nothing over the last year.
For a good number of my Facebook “friends,” I see communications that I imagine were really designed for members of the close group, but that end up being broadcast to both. The result is that I just don’t care about 80% of what appears in my friend feed. And when you consider that Facebook is essentially a public forum, the issue is exacerbated further.
Personally, I would rather use more private forms of communication to stay in touch with the first group – phone, text or ideally face to face conversation. All of these are social media channels in their own right, although more personal and typically offline.
And so we get to the second serious challenge of online social media: persistence. Conversations that are built online do not die. They are archived and are searchable, for as long as the network on which you started them decides to maintain them. Google your name 10 years from now, and there is every chance that your Facebook posts will appear as part of the results. Scroll back on your Facebook wall today, and see what you wrote in the early days after joining – are these things that you want attached to your name in the public eye?
To me, this is why the current privacy debate around social network data is so critical. We need to be able to trust Facebook and other social networks that we engage with to be the guardians of our privacy. Most of us were not raised in an environment that required us to consider the consequences of our interactions with friends – conversations, over the phone or in person, were private in all channels other than the eyes of those we shared them with. This is just no longer the reality, and a slow and thorough re-education process is going to be required.
In the meantime, we should all put a lot of thought into what we do and do not post across the social media spectrum.
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