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It was sup­posed to be sat­is­fy­ing. Af­ter months of pre­var­i­ca­tion, I fi­nally de­cided to go on a cull of Face­book friends, whit­tling the list down to fam­ily and those I know re­ally well. At 671, my Friends list had be­come un­wieldy. Thanks to the ir­ri­tat­ing al­go­rithm that shows you what it thinks you want to see, I was miss­ing posts. Face­book tells you it shows you up­dates and pho­tos from the peo­ple you in­ter­act with most of­ten, but how can you ever build in­ter­ac­tion if it de­cides not to show you some peo­ple’s posts at all, but in­sists on pro­mot­ing the banal?

And so I steeled my­self to be ruth­less, not a prac­tice that comes eas­ily to me at all. When ap­plied to house­hold clut­ter, it never works – I have, for in­stance, no idea why I’ve never been able to throw out birth­day cards I re­ceived as a child, or board­ing passes that marked the start of mem­o­rable holidays – but I was de­ter­mined. There would, whether my friends liked it or not, be carnage.

Af­ter all, the good thing about Face­book is that when you un­friend peo­ple (and what a cold ne­ol­o­gism that is), they don’t get a no­ti­fi­ca­tion; they just stop see­ing you and prob­a­bly blame the al­go­rithm. In­deed, ev­ery­thing to do with com­put­ers is so ran­dom it means that even if you are chal­lenged – ‘what did I ever do on you to make you un­friend me?’ – it’s easy to brazen it out. ‘I didn’t,’ you hear your­self ly­ing. ‘That’s weird. I’ve been having prob­lems with that lately.’ Then you guiltily re­friend, if there is such a word, and keep your pow­der dry un­til the next cull.

My base­line was sim­ple. I would start with peo­ple I know only through other friends but never have met in the real world. I would move on to those who, even though good friends, are just watch­ers who never com­ment, or post any­thing them­selves – if I’m go­ing to share an em­bar­rass­ing pic­ture, the least you can do is share one your­self.

I con­sid­ered a manda­tory un­friend­ing of all the women I know who post pic­tures of cats, be­cause cats give me the creeps. Also in the fir­ing line were those who post pic­tures of any an­i­mal dressed up; I loathe the loss of dig­nity

I con­sid­ered un­friend­ing all the women I know who post pic­tures of cats, be­cause cats give me the creeps

for dogs dressed as Napoleon, or even cats in smok­ing jack­ets play­ing the pi­ano. And, de­spite the al­tru­ism of those in­volved, I’m fed up with the Ice Bucket Chal­lenge, so I thought I’d just get rid of all of them too.

Most of all, I looked for­ward to un­friend­ing those who are re­lent­lessly neg­a­tive, the ones who use Face­book only to vent. I some­times do so my­self but only as a coun­ter­point to the pos­i­tive. If so­cial me­dia ex­ists for any rea­son, it is to give a rea­son­ably full pic­ture of what­ever re­al­ity you wish to present, and un­less I’ve seen some­one cheery, I’m not re­ally dis­posed to a re­lent­less tirade of gloom.

So I sat down and opened my Friends list and pre­pared the trig­ger fin­ger. As it hap­pens, the peo­ple I ‘in­ter­act’ with – or talk to, as we used to call it – all were near the top. There were fam­ily mem­bers, close friends, work col­leagues. They all es­caped.

Rather hor­ri­bly, two peo­ple on the list passed away in the last year and I sadly un­friended them too, to spare my­self the sad­ness I ex­pe­ri­enced re­cently when Face­book no­ti­fied me it was one of their birth­days. Un­friend­ing them is a very mod­ern way of say­ing a fi­nal good­bye but I had to do it.

Then I came to the vast rump, the ac­quain­tances, the peo­ple I knew 30 years ago but had lost touch with and the friends of friends. And I heard my­self mum­bling, ‘ah, no, he’s a de­cent guy’, and, ‘hmm, she’s very funny here’, and so on.

An hour later, I had man­aged to cull 20. Twenty! Just over three per cent of the to­tal, which sud­denly felt like to­kenism rather than ruth­less­ness. What was the prob­lem? In short, it was their faces. If there just had been a cold list of names alone, I prob­a­bly could have man­aged bet­ter, but when you see a smil­ing face – and pro­file pic­tures nearly always show smil­ing peo­ple – a lu­di­crous guilt kicks in. For bet­ter or worse, al­most all have made my life more fun. Many have sup­ported me when things have gone wrong. But it still was the smiles that got me and there’s noth­ing wrong with that. At least, that’s the way I see it.

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