The Politics of Facebook: The Art of Unfriending

Often I see posts on Facebook from friends talking about how so and so has “unfriended” someone because of a comment on their post or the things that friend was posting on their own Facebook page.  The concept of unfriending is interesting to me, the impact it has on the one doing the unfriending and the one being unfriended is unique to the social networking universe and so illuminating on the choices we make virtually that we might not make in the “real world.” Unfriend wasn’t even a legitimate word until 2009 when it was officially added to the lexicon by the final authority on all words, The Oxford English Dictionary.  In fact, it was the OED Word of the Year in 2009.  I could get all word geeky on you and tell you that it’s a unique word because it uses an adjective prefix and assumes a verb sense of “friend” which until Facebook came along, wasn’t used as a verb either.  But that’s not what this post is about.

I’ve spent the last 50 plus days reevaluating the connections I have with people in my life, both those who are physically and virtually present (you can read more about this here and in a future follow-up post).  This process has included a deep look at the people I interact with on Facebook and it invoked changes that initially I wasn’t sure I would follow through on.  People use Facebook for a myriad of reasons: keeping in touch, posting their political and social opinions, sharing concepts and ideas, etc.  And there have been many an article and even some research done on how “real” people are on Facebook, what people share, how they interact and its impact on people’s emotional health.  (Check out a couple of articles here and here).

In all things, I strive every day to live out my most authentic self and that includes on Facebook.  I post real (without manipulation) images of myself; share details of my daily life; rant about social, political, economic issues; clearly and plainly share my views; invite others to events that I think will be fun and interesting; share links to articles that I think people should read; get up on my “soap box” every once in awhile; and practice radical self-love.  To those who know me well, it should come to no surprise that I live my life “out-loud.”  It’s not something new.  At a relatively young age, I earned the nickname “Broadcaster” amongst  family because I was always  letting others know what was going on with everyone and everything.  That has not changed in my adult years.  Essentially, I live by the philosophy “if you are shocked by what I say, then you obviously haven’t paid attention to who I am.”  I share all this with you as background for how I approach the friending and unfriending politics of Facebook.

As I said before, I am VERY open and VOCAL about my beliefs; some will label them as “liberal” with a capital “L.”  And with this in mind, I’ve become much more selective in who I friend when I get a request or see a Facebook “friend suggestion” in the sidebar.  This wasn’t exactly my practice when I initially started using Facebook and began getting requests and suggestions from people I grew up with and from friends of friends.  I grew up in what I would consider the VERY “conservative” state of Nebraska.  If there was a double capital “C” for conservative, Nebraska would own it (in my opinion).  And some of the people on my current Facebook friends list weren’t even actual friends when we were growing up, living in the same town, going to the same small schools.  In fact in today’s culture, some of them would actually have been considered bullies.

Seriously cute prehistoric baby dino.

I grew up as a fat child, in an often harsh environment, and there are people on my current friend list that made my life as a child nearly unbearable.   I was frequently called “Godzooky,” which leaves the inevitable reference to my mother as well.  If anyone thinks this was something easy to overcome, take a moment to reconsider.  And in the present day, I’m still fat.  Fabulously Fat and Happily Healthy! As an adult who is comfortable and confident in my own body, I can give these people the benefit of the doubt, consider the environment they were raised in and hope for the best.  In many cases, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  By others, I have seen exactly what I thought I might – jokes and images poking fun and shaming fat people, amongst other things.  Along with this issue, come many people’s narrow minded beliefs about sexuality, gender, religion/spirituality, politics, etc.   Oh, there is so much more to be said about this, but I’ll get to my point and perhaps share more about it some other day.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve developed very specific personal guidelines for the practice of “friending” and “unfriending.”  And for now, they seem to be working.

  1. Always practice the benefit of doubt.  People change and unless you can tell by viewing their page that they haven’t, it’s just good practice to offer an olive branch and hope for the best.
  2. Friend people who ask. You never know what kind of impact you might have on their life or vice versa.
  3. Engage people in debate, challenge their beliefs, and provide them with solid evidence of your view.  Whenever someone posts something that I find derogatory, prejudicial, untruthful, ignorant, etc. I always challenge them first with facts not just my opinions.  If they engage in the debate, cool.  Sometimes they choose to unfriend me. I’m totally OK with that.
  4. Be open to change for yourself.  I’ve frequently been challenged and enlightened by someone else’s views and evidence.
  5. Practice restraint.  Unless something is flagrantly negative, demeaning, shaming, hateful, etc. again, I engage in debate.  When it appears to have no impact (over time) I let go.  Unfriending can be pleasantly freeing, for both parties.
  6. Know yourself and the friends you really care about.  I mentioned before that I practice radical self-love; I embrace all that is me; believe and practice the Health at Every Size (HAES) philosophy.  A good deal of my friends and family do not.  My page is frequently filled with posts from people I care about who are desperately trying to change their body type.  Either through extreme exercise, dieting, or stomach amputation.  I see reports of people doing popular work outs or contributing their hard earned money to the multi-billion $, failure inevitable diet industry.  While I care for these people and wish desperately that they could find a place of peace within themselves, I do not wish to be inundating with their updates of perceived success and ultimate failure—over and over again.  These are the people whose status updates I chose to “hide.”  Hiding allows me to check in on them from time to time.  And as long as they’ve not hidden me and my radical self-love self, then they get the added benefit of all my self-love messages which hopefully will have some positive impact in their life. (Sidebar: I recently noticed a friend who posted about “suffering from being overweight.”  If you are suffering from the size of your body and you don’t have an actual medical condition causing that suffering (and I don’t mean one of those that the diet industry pays the research community to claim is caused by being fat), then please consider reading the book Health at Every Size, free yourself from societal and self-shame, and get busy living!  I recommend a good belly dance or hip hop dance class to get you started on the right foot.
  7. Don’t tolerate hatred.  Hatefulness is nothing but ignorance unrefined.  People who hate make a choice to remain uninformed, close-minded, shallow, unaware, etc.  I refuse to tolerate out and out hatred regarding race, gender, sexuality, size, ability, and more.  When I see it, I unfriend it immediately.

At the end of the day, what truly matters to me is the authentic interaction I’ve had with people, virtually or otherwise.  I don’t care about the number of people in my friends list.  Unless I’ve been thoughtless in my words and actions, I don’t care if I’ve offended people. And it’s because I notice some of my real life friends struggling with this virtual reality of friendship that I offer the above advice. Life is all about expressing yourself. You do you, umma do me.



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