Something I've been struggling with for a long time is how to balance connections on social media websites. As a typical high school student, I accepted Facebook friend requests almost like candy on Halloween night. If I had so much as seen the person who wanted to be my "friend", I clicked the little blue accept button. Before long, I accumulated well over 300 "friends". By simple numeric measures I should've been pretty popular, right? In reality, though, I wasn't popular, and a vast majority of these people weren't my friends.
Shortly after I graduated high school, I was that person who delivered a very liberal "fuck you" gesture by abusing the wonderful "unfriend" button. Dropping my friend count from roughly 350 to a mere 89 was an immensely liberating feeling. Fast forward to college, and that friend count started creeping a little higher. But by the end of my first year, I'd only climbed back up to around 150, not too bad. I'd also developed a more serious system to limit access to certain information by placing my friends on lists.
On the flip side, I started using Twitter my freshman year. My Twitter has always been public. Anyone in the world can pull up my account and read every tweet I've ever made (and not deleted). And I'm completely comfortable with that. Twitter is my place to spit out observations, ideas, have the occasional conversation. It's an open book. But it felt really contradictory to my experience on Facebook, and still does.
I'm actually really comfortable with having a completely public profile and sharing myself, though. My expectation of privacy on the Internet is rather low, despite my vehement belief that Internet users have an inherent right to a significant level of privacy. I simply choose to leave certain avenues completely open for sharing about myself. So why, then, do I frown upon people with Facebook friend counts in the many hundreds? Why do I still participate in regular cleanings of my friends list?
And finally, I think I'm coming to grips with an answer. It all boils down to the relationship that exists with connections on Facebook versus connections on Twitter (or even Google+).
One word: reciprocity.
The reason connections on Facebook bother me so much is because of the implied reciprocity. "Friend" is not a one-way relationship. In order to be connected to someone on Facebook, both parties have to agree on maintaining that connection. Compare this to Twitter, where the act of two people following each other is actually two mutually exclusive events. If someone wants to follow me on Twitter, I am under no obligation to follow them back. The same cannot be said for Facebook.
Someone asking to be my Facebook friend is immediately implying a two-way relationship where one doesn't necessarily exist. By becoming Facebook friends with someone, I allow increased access to my profile for my new "friend" while simultaneously gaining increased access to theirs whether I want it or not. This also means they appear in News Feed unless I go out of my way to tell News Feed to hide them. Under this model, using Facebook becomes a chore due to the need to constantly manage the content I'm served. That's why it's so much easier to simply unfriend people when their connection becomes virtually irrelevant.
By placing my friends on lists, I kind of improve the situation by categorically limiting their access. It also allows me to assess the worth of being connected to them. As it stands, people are placed under "Close Friends", "Close Acquaintances" or "Acquaintances". The first and last are created automatically by Facebook, and privacy settings have a convenient setting for "Friends except Acquaintances" which made changing privacy en masse really easy. "Close Acquaintances" is a list I use for people I don't want to limit but aren't necessarily people I'm in frequent contact with or have a close relationship with. This still leaves the problem of those connections that are more one-way in nature, though. What to do with them?
For a while I'd thought about creating a list for people that should be more limited and that I can easily ignore in my daily use of Facebook but that for one reason or another deserve some sort of connection. I finally decided to try that paradigm and found that Facebook automatically has a list for such a purpose. The "Restricted" list is meant for those people I had no idea what to do with. They are connected to me, the list can be used in privacy settings, and they are hidden from News Feed.
So, that person I'm only friends with while in class? Restricted. Those people who have really drifted apart? Restricted. Ex-girlfriends? Restricted. Distant relatives of significant others I've never met? Restricted.
This sort of resolves the reciprocity issue of Facebook connections. Restricted friends can see more of my profile than non-friends, but significantly less than acquaintances. New posts (from now on) are hidden from restricted friends (unfortunately the limit past posts feature is not robust enough to retroactively apply settings this advanced), but I can change this on a post-by-post basis as I see fit.
All I've really done is further burden myself with more management, but I'm also allowing myself to relegate connections I feel obligated to have to a more comfortable state. I have no idea if this paradigm will work, but in the process I get to clean up News Feed by pushing a few people away. This alone makes it worth a try.