Facebook friends lists: How do you compartmentalize your digital life?
August 31, 2014 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious to hear how everyone organizes their Facebook friends lists, and how they figure out which posts/content to disclose to which parties. How do you use your lists? What is your system?

I'm firmly of the belief that the problem with digital media is that we lose context when we are publishing to a collective audience by default. Even if a person's comments are innocuous, some things are more appropriate for family, for work, for old school friends, for your best buds, and so on.

I post a variety of content to Facebook. I ask questions like I'm on Ask Mefi, I occasionally write overwrought posts detailing my woes but of course those have restricted access, I share articles and my opinions, my FB wall has debates and occasionally flame wars, I share dumb music videos, and I share event announcements for cities not in my time zone for my friends who live there.

Outside of a professional and family context, I basically don't have filters with people and I'm a chronic oversharer and that's okay. But then I'm deeply private when it comes to work contacts and family. And while I want to share dumb videos and random movie quotes with that cool girl I met once at a concert, I don't want her to know what I do and think and work on a daily basis.

I need more lists, but I want to balance it out in such a way that they don't get too complicated or time-consuming to set.

So yes, I'd love to hear what strategies you employ (other than not using FB or posting less content in general).

Bonus question: do you have a personal policy for unfriending people? E.g. no contact for six months - time to unfriend? Quarterly friends list spring cleaning? I'd like to use FB only for the social connections most relevant to me.

posted by Hawk V to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I make no distinctions along these lines. I just don't post anything I'm uncomfortable with people knowing. This is a conscious decision, not "I don't understand how to limit the audience of a post".
Bonus question: do you have a personal policy for unfriending people?
If Dude I Knew Decades Ago When We Were Children turns out to be a right-wing ideologue, I unfriend them rather than raise my blood pressure. Other than that, no; I don't really understand why I should periodically unfriend people like you're suggesting.

There are a few people who are not right-wing ideologues whose posts I don't wish to see anymore; for example people who constantly spam LIKE THIS IF YOU THINK APPLES TASTE GOOD or HERE IS AN AWFUL AND DISTURBING PICTURE OF AN OBVIOUSLY ABUSED DOG ISN'T IT HORRIBLE and so forth. For such people, I just unfollow them, not unfriend them. Again, I don't really understand why I should unfriend them.
posted by Flunkie at 10:36 AM on August 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @Flunkie: Not to thread-sit, but to clarify as to why I am interested in developing a unfriending policy (or at least a periodic assessment of privacy settings), and a system for limiting the audience of a post:

I use Facebook to get to know new acquaintances. I'll meet a person while I'm on a trip, or talk to a friend of a friend in a party etc, and if it seems like there are subjects that we can discuss or we could see each other at a future event, we'll add each other to Facebook. I've been living in a new country for a year and have made most of my current network that way. It's like an informal way of exchanging business cards.

Locally, it's strange if you refuse to add someone to Facebook, even if you barely know them. In fact, I've never heard of it happening. I easily have five new Facebook friends per week (whether they add me or I add them).

Given time, some people become good friends, or just cool people within my broader circles, or strangers who I will probably never interact with again. I'd like my Facebook friends list to reflect my actual relationship to these individuals, and unfriend the people I end up not bumping into or interacting with for extended periods of time.

I find that my local friends use Facebook for a variety of purposes. They mix work, personal, family news, and overwrought Live Journal blog-like entries about their health conditions and changing religious views and past family abuse and whatever. Not everyone is privacy-control literate, but that's just what they do.

In contrast, my North American friends limit their Facebook status posts strictly to Instagram food photos, sanitized vacation photos, and memes from Twitter.

My own intention for Facebook is closer to that mishmash of what locals do, but be a whole lot more intentional with limiting/setting audiences instead of just letting it all hang. Hopefully this gives my question more context.

posted by Hawk V at 11:13 AM on August 31, 2014

I unfriend people if they're assholes. Otherwise I don't curate.

As for lists, you're putting a lot of faith in Facebook the company leaving your lists alone. I had a handful of lists including one for my current city, which naturally is the list that sees the most action/interaction. Facebook nagged me for a while to do more with the other lists, but they remained static, so Facebook doesnt load the new posts in those lists anymore. It tells me there are no new posts and recommends that I add more people to them.
posted by headnsouth at 11:18 AM on August 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a list of close friends which I'll post super-personal stuff to, another overlapping list that it's okay to post risque stuff to, and a list of local folks it would make sense to post stuff like "does anyone have a ladder I can borrow" or "vote for this guy for mayor" to. I also have a list of family that I sometimes want to exclude from certain posts.

I don't have a system for unfriending people, I just do it if someone annoys me. I'm more likely to remove people from my news feed.
posted by metasarah at 12:13 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have friends and limited (family and people I only know professionally). I think anything more complex is probably a recipe for confusion or disaster. Anything I post to limited is something I would say I front of 1000 strangers, anything I post to friends in front of at least 10. Keep anything more private off public feeds, Facebook is primarily about your "image" anyway and sharing things that were genuinely good in you life.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I consider everything I post on FB to be public or at least potentially public. So I don't have any lists. All my friends can see everything I post.
posted by COD at 1:06 PM on August 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Well, first of all, I'm stubbornly filtering as to who I friend in the first place. I don't think most people actually notice -- there are plenty of people who just get on FB occasionally as it is.

Most things I publish as public. A few things I make friends only.

The main tool I use, since I'm not going to maintain oodles of lists, is the Friend Organizer. FB doesn't really publicize this but I think it's the only way to use the Acquaintances list, which is essentially a group of people who are Friends that you will see much less content from. (You can also publish to "Friends except Acquaintances". I find this way more rational than the Close Friends list, but that may work for you as well.)

I continue to post a variety of stuff to FB, because it's the only social connection I have to most of my college friends and people who are local. I've been deliberately using Twitter more lately, even though there is virtually no local Twitter action. So it's a bit of a Venn diagram problem.

Although it has some aggravating features, I also maintain a LinkedIn profile that I use for those "business card" connections. I don't use it as much that way as I'd like to, but it's again, my only connection to certain individuals.
posted by dhartung at 1:08 PM on August 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I use Facebook like your North American friends. I try not to post anything to Facebook that I wouldn't want to be Google-able if someone searched for my name. Even if a post is limited to a group of friends, I don't trust that I'll forget and lose track of Facebook's privacy settings. Things that are meant for a specific group of people are sent in private messages, or private events, but I assume a lower standard of confidentiality than e-mail.

I also pretty much never defriend people. I sometimes unfollow them if they are offensive. I have way fewer friend requests than you, and even the people on my list I haven't talked to in years are generally people I wouldn't mind knowing generally what I am up to today.
posted by fermezporte at 3:47 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, can I say that I /love/ 'seeding' a friend list with a few friends, and watching the suggestions just be _spot on_? So simple yet so satisfying. This is useful for me because I have friends from a ton of different settings.

Public events are terrible.

I post almost nothing publicly (except to public events when I have to), and I rarely post anything at all. Most things are visible to only the "super special I hide nothing from you" group.

On the other hand, twitter is even more public, but I feel no qualms putting my random thoughts onto it with my full information.

I took a look at the Friend Organizer, and it seems to have a logical error: it asks you if people from your area with whom you have interacted with recently are people you don't care as much about. For me, those people are people who never post to Facebook -- they don't give me anything to interact with, but I love them dearly and if they ever became more active, I would want to see all their activity, not less of it.

I think this could be fixed by taking into account how much the possible-acquaintance posts when populating that list.
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:09 PM on August 31, 2014

I have these groups of people: people I work with, people I have friended only because they play the same stupid facebook games as me, people I don't want to share my whole life with for various reasons, everyone else.

My default sharing state is "Everyone else" -- it's not actually a group using FB's group function, because it's unwieldy to add every new person to it, instead, I just post to "Friends but not those other 3 groups". I sometimes open up certain posts to people I work with or people I don't want to share my whole life with. I never open anything other than game stuff to the game people.

I have a bunch of other groups that I set up and I sort of casually slot people into as I add them, but I don't really keep them updated properly, so I don't really use them at all.

Despite all of that, I still never share anything on FB that I would be really distressed to have the whole world know.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:29 PM on August 31, 2014

Best answer: The only lists I use are "close friends" "friends" and public.

In the close friends list I keep Spanish speaking friends - most are locals, but some are good friends from my hometown who also speak Spanish. I post stuff in Spanish, stuff that is more personal and/or relevant to my immediate social circle.

My parents are in my friends list - where I publish more general things in English, Internet articles. All my friends and acquaintances are there. It's all pretty tame, no-risk things.

Once in a while I might make a post public, but when I think about my ex being able to see anything about my life I usually switch to my friends list.
posted by Locochona at 5:30 PM on August 31, 2014

Best answer: For me, those two questions are tied together. My current policy is that I select my facebook friends well in order to avoid using filters at all. For awhile I had a crazy amount of them and I realized it was just dumb - I needed it to be a place to be my unabashed self for a bit every day or I should just stop using it. I went from 400+ "friends" (who were much more like "contacts" - I think facebook's terminology is manipulative) to 150ish. I joke that I'm maintaining my Dunbar's number. For me, it's not worth it to socialize on facebook if I have to do PR work. I guess I filter my few family members out of posts where I complain about the others ones. But remember, too, that no matter what your filters, anybody can see your comments/likes on public posts and pages. You have no control over whether that goes into their news feed. There's no way to sequester that. So don't friend anybody you're not comfortable with seeing your facebook interactions with pages and those who choose to post publicly.

Filtering friends can really backfire in analogue ways - I guess this is why it's important to remember that what happens online is real life. You never know who will mention what you said on facebook to who else. I've seen friendships ended because somebody filtered only one half of a couple. Oops. Knowing I've been filtered a few times has offended me far more than anything anybody has ever said. So, too, with accepting friend requests versus deleting superficial acquaintances. Don't accept in the first place, because defriending is worse if you might run into them down the line and actually have any kind of personal or business relationship. If I meet somebody at a party and we become facebook friends but they defriend me, I'd probably avoid them in the future. I can think of several such people. I wouldn't be at all offended if a near stranger didn't accept a friend request, though.
posted by sweltering at 5:49 PM on August 31, 2014

Best answer: My policy is: I don't post things that I am unwilling to show to my grandma or the President, and I don't friend anyone that I don't want to talk to regularly. Also, FB is my Happy Place and so I pretty ruthlessly curate it to stay like that. This sounds like the opposite of your approach but it works for me.

So, for example, I'm private about the line between work and the rest of my life. I deal with this by not friending current coworkers. I don't friend people whose happiness I'm not invested in. I mostly don't friend people that I've known for less than 6 months or so. The short version is that I only friend Friends, not acquaintances or people that generally seem cool.

I unfriend if someone no longer qualifies for the list above (so far this was one person clearly teaching her child disordered eating, one posting really awful jokes, and one person writing personal attacks about a relative of mine. So not often.) Friends that are generally cool but have a hobby horse that detracts from my Happy Place get muted.

I do have a few geographical groups I've put together for posting something about a specific location, and a family group to post about upcoming family functions, but that's more about not wasting other people's time than any desire for privacy.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:08 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Several people I know have more than one fb account. One of my coworkers does this: one account is for family and close friends and the other is for everyone else, including the college students we both work with. I just have one account and the only students I let on it are all over 21 and I know them fairly well. I've ignored countless friend requests from various coworkers with whom I rarely interact.
posted by mareli at 6:14 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My general rule for posting is that if it isn't something I'd want my parents, my boss, and my third-grade teacher to see, I shouldn't post it online. It's always worked for me.

I do have several lists, categorized by how I know the people: family, colleagues, high school classmates, college classmates, members of different organizations, MeFites, etc. I use these more for newsfeed reading purposes. I'm more likely to see important posts if I'm reading a list than if I'm reading the general newsfeed. (Thanks a lot, Facebook algorithm!) I generally don't filter my posts.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:37 AM on September 1, 2014

Best answer: I post a lot of weird stuff and expect that quite a few people have probably unfollowed me. Like, I try to keep it interesting and not whiny or repetitive, but I also don't expect that everyone will be interested. I'm not interested in a lot of the stuff people post, and I just let it go by on my newsfeed. I think it's fun to let casual acquaintances know the weird stuff I'm thinking about.

I have some Facebook inspirations, people who post on there as if it were a place for human expression and development, people who actively make it interesting. One time years ago I complained to a friend that "Facebook is so boring nowadays," and he asked "Why are you expecting it to be any other way? Everyone is probably thinking the same thing. Just do something about it."

I suppose I try to nudge Facebook into being a generally more weird place rather than this stale nexus of nervous normality that it otherwise tends to encourage. Like Phillip Lopate said, "here is my consciousness, now don't be ashamed of yours." Maybe this is just a phase.

One of my friends recently posted a long and interesting thing mentioning "I thought it would be fun to write something different and personal, like mbrock does," and it became a very long (50+ comments) and fascinating discussion among acquaintances, stuff you rarely see on Facebook.

Sometimes I set the privacy setting to "just me" and then tag a few people, if I just want to mention them with some link to something or whatever. With one particular person I have a crush on, I made a list with just them in it, because it lets me see at a glance when she's posted an update, which is useful because I'm an obsessive stalker.

Basically I think what I'm trying to say is that my current way of thinking is that the compulsion to compartmentalize one's "digital life" stems in some part from a neurotic need to control one's own image and status, which is pretty much standard procedure for human social interaction, and that it seems more interesting to give a looser rein to one's narcissistic urges, which hopefully helps other people relax and feel freer to express themselves.

This also seems to me like part of the "utopian" potential of the internet. At least it makes things more interesting.
posted by mbrock at 2:16 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can't answer the first part of your question because I don't post a lot. Basically I imagine posting to Facebook like getting up on stage in front of everyone I've ever known and saying that status or showing that picture to everyone. If I'm not cool with that, I don't post it. Basically it limits my facebook postings to lighthearted stuff for the most part, and I'm cool with that.

Regarding unfriending - I have a policy for being friends with someone on Facebook, I think I've posted it on here a while ago, and it still serves me well. Would I go up to them and say hi if I saw them in a supermarket, or would I scoot to another aisle to avoid talking to them? If I'd say hi, I'll friend them, even if it's someone that I haven't talked to in 10 years. If I'd avoid them, I won't friend them, even if I sit next to them at work all day. Try it, it works!
posted by AlisonM at 10:47 AM on September 1, 2014

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