Make Facebook work for you

Monica, I originally joined Facebook to keep in touch with my sister. In my excitement, I also friended many other relatives and classmates. Several years later, I’m less than thrilled with my Facebook experience. My sister and her husband have become pretentious snobs and constantly post nasty comments about the religious and political values I hold dear. Of course, there are the narcissists who post incessantly about how the world revolves around them or is out to get them. How do I get Facebook back to the enjoyable medium it once was? I’ve considered announcing I’m closing my account.

Frienders remorse. Been there. The offshoot of everyone in the world at large finally being on Facebook is that it has become just as irritating as the world at large.

So, it might be helpful to think of what real-world experience you’d like Facebook to mimic. Do you want it to be like your address book — a one-stop resource that has contact information for everyone you’ve ever met? Maybe you’d rather it be like the guest list for your annual Halloween blowout, or have the vibe of your book club.

You probably see where I’m going with this: While you might find use or pleasure in each of these different groups, your expectations for them vary greatly. At your book club — carefully selected and screened — you expect intimate conversation and, if not like-minded agreement, then at least respectful disagreement. At your Halloween bash, you forgive your husband’s coworker for getting tipsily enthusiastic about J.Lo’s butt. Sometimes, the problems people have with Facebook come down to their expectations: They’re annoyed that Facebook isn’t acting like a book club when they’ve invited everyone from their address book.

(Harry Campbell/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

There are benefits to the address book approach. It’s what I personally use, and it’s what allows me to, say, congratulate my old English teacher on her retirement, or crowdsource housing leads for a buddy moving to Boston. If you want the convenience of having all of your acquaintances in one place, then the way you “get Facebook back to an enjoyable medium” is to stop minding that it’s not always an enjoyable medium. You dip into the site when you have a specific use for it, and ignore it the rest of the time. Mind-bending advice, yeah — but it means that you only have to change your own perception rather than everyone else’s behavior.

It sounds, however, like you’re more interested in having a book club experience. In that case, you need to do some friend pruning. You could move through your bloated list with a friend scalpel, cutting irritating individuals. But the most humane way to deal with a mass unfriending is a variation of what you suggested: Unfriend everybody. Post a message that says, “Facebook’s gotten bigger than I can handle, and I keep missing news from people I care about. I’ve decided to start with a blank slate. If you want to make sure we remain Facebook friends, please e-mail me.”

Most of them won’t — not because they dislike you, but because they’ll be as relieved as you are to streamline their lists.

For the unwanteds who do ask to be reinstated (your pretentious sister still loves you, after all), it’s time to employ some strategic “hiding,” and set your privacy settings so that her “I am better than you, for I buy organic detergent” updates don’t show up on your timeline. Facebook has instructions on how to do this. It’s like inviting your sister to book club, but keeping her busy refilling the chip tray in the kitchen.

Speaking of banishments: Next week, I’m heading off on a four-month book leave. This column will go dark in August, and return intermittently from September through November. Meanwhile, you can still chat with me on Wednesdays, or contact me via Facebook, where I accept all friend requests.

Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.
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