Why I’m unfriending you on Facebook

I have 666 friends on Facebook. By next week, I hope to have none.

I am going to spend this week “unfriending” all of my Facebook friends because I have come to believe that Facebook cannot provide me the level of privacy that I need. And yet, I am not quitting entirely because I believe that as an author and a journalist, it is important to have a Facebook presence.

My specific concern with Facebook is what NYU Professor Helen Nissenbaum calls a lack of “contextual integrity,” – which is a fancy way of saying that when I share information with a certain group or friend on Facebook, I am often surprised by where the data ends up.

Professor Nissenbaum argues that many online services – of which Facebook is simply the most prominent example –share information in ways that violate the social norms established in offline human relationships.

For example: In real life, even if I am friends with someone, I don’t necessarily want to join their book group or cooking group etc. But on Facebook, my friends can join me to a group without my permission, and my membership in that group is automatically made public.

This is no small thing: this exact feature is what caused two University of Texas students to be outed to their parents, when the president of the Queer Chorus joined them to a Facebook group.

Although I am not worried about being outed, I am a journalist who needs to protect my sources, my relationships and my affiliations from public scrutiny. I am also, quite simply, a human who doesn’t want to be shocked by information about myself that I cannot control. And so, I plan to spend this week unfriending all my Facebook friends.

I did not come to this conclusion easily. I have long struggled with the right approach to Facebook.

I joined Facebook on June 26, 2006, back when it was still only available to people with university e-mail addresses. In fact, I signed up for an alumni address from my college just for the purpose of joining Facebook.

My motivation was primarily journalistic: I was researching a book about the social network MySpace and needed to understand the social networking landscape. But I also enjoyed the thrill of reconnecting with friends from high school and college.

But like many Facebook users, I felt burned when in December, 2009, Facebook unilaterally changed all users’ default privacy settings to encourage sharing information to the entire world instead of just ‘friends.’ My list of friends was automatically made public – which is a terrible problem for journalists who may have befriended sources that could be betrayed by disclosure of the relationship.

Outraged, I wrote a column declaring that Facebook had betrayed the confidential nature of friending, and that I was going to treat it as a public forum like Twitter. I opened up my profile entirely; I began accepting all friend requests (even really creepy ones) and scrubbed my profile clean of any personal details. (Facebook later agreed to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged that Facebook’s actions were unfair and deceptive).

The technical name for my approach to Facebook was “privacy by obscurity.” By burying good data (my actual relationships) amidst bad data (people I didn’t know), I aimed to shield my relationships from unwanted scrutiny.

However, privacy by obscurity made Facebook almost unusable. My news feed was cluttered with updates from people I didn’t know. Many of my new ‘friends’ were joining me to groups and sending me spam. Slowly but surely, I started using Facebook less and less. Last year, I didn’t post a single update all year.

Now I am researching and writing a book about online privacy, Tracked, to be published next year. In my book, I aim to answer two questions: why does privacy matter? And what should we do about it? To answer the second question, I’ve been trying out several privacy-protecting measures, such as blocking Web tracking technology and setting up new online identities.

But I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do about my long-neglected Facebook account. My privacy by obscurity approach had only netted spammers and made Facebook annoying to use.

I considered trimming my friends list to a bare minimum (as Fred Wilson successfully did), but I realized that I don’t actually keep up with my closest friends and family on Facebook (we use email, texting and phone).

I considered giving up on privacy by obscurity and actually using Facebook to keep up with people I know. But that would require me to trust Facebook to protect my list of friends. I dug around on Facebook’s privacy settings, and found that it still doesn’t allow you to completely protect your list of friends. If you share a friend with someone, your mutual friend will be displayed to both of you.

For a journalist, even that amount of disclosure is too much: Imagine a low-level employee of an institution who befriends a journalist to share information. If official spokesman for that same organization notices that he or she shares a “mutual friend” with a journalist, that disclosure amounts to outing the employee as a source. So that argued against reducing my list of friends to people with whom I actually have a relationships.

I considered just deleting my profile. But I realized I was going to miss three things about Facebook: 1) I like being able to be send private messages to people through Facebook when I don’t have their latest contact information; 2) I like being notified when I’m tagged in a photo or in a post (usually so I can request being untagged); and 3) As a journalist and author, I would like to be ‘found’ by people who want to read my writing.

And so I’ve decided to unfriend everyone and keep a bare-bones profile for the simple purposes of messaging, untagging and being found by people who might want to find me.

For those who I am unfriending, apologies in advance. As bizarre as it sounds, I am actually trying to protect the contextual integrity of our relationship.

Posted in News
78 comments on “Why I’m unfriending you on Facebook
  1. Aparna says:

    Lovely piece, and what I have felt about Facebook of late. But now how do I share this on Facebook? :)

  2. Charlie O'Brien says:

    It’s a nice thought to protect privacy – but is it totally possible? You want a “facebook ” presence – but no friends to post to or share with?
    OK, I guess.
    I’ve unfriended quite a few this year – ‘do I really know you” was my yardstick.

    • Andrew Denny says:

      I am a journalist & deleted my Facebook profile some months ago, for some of the reasons you mentioned.

      Recently I suggested that a small business I’d heard bad rumours about had gone out of business, because its website was dead. Turns out that they had moved premises, closed a LLC & simply moved their entire web presence as a small business to Facebook, leaving an old ‘fossil’ website still up. They made their move announcement to followers only.

      Oops. It’s not illegal to do this, & they are entitled to keep a very albeit it’s likely to make other customers wonder, just as it made me wonder.

      It’s clear I’ll have to rejoin, to keep abreast of my industry, & I spent yesterday worrying about a lawsuit.

    • Henry says:

      “You want a “facebook ” presence – but no friends to post to or share with?”

      Me next. I want a permanent cocaine high, but without the paranoia, corroded nose, legal risks, or physiological habit.

      Seriously, reading this stuff is like a person who has assiduously avoided drugs reading articles about how hellish detox is. He can appreciate it intellectually and even sympathize, but after all, seriously, did you REALLY believe you could live like that without a price?

  3. mohammed jalo says:

    Why some one can’t unfreind his freind? with out reason? or from his character.

  4. Kevin Raposo says:

    I couldn’t agree with your more Julia. Sometimes I think about doing the same thing. There can be some major security risks involved with having so many friends. Great article!

  5. rgr says:

    Julia, I totally agree with you, it all makes perfect sense.

  6. Chuck says:

    Interesting thoughts and certainly appropriate actions based on your special circumstances.
    About a year ago I pared the number of my “friends” from 700 to about 250. My criteria was two fold: have I corresponded with them in the real world in the past 1-2 years, or did we have any interaction on FB during that time period?
    Just recently I went through the tedious process of deleting all my historical posts. I just didn’t like the implications of the Graph Search.
    Now, I’ll post something for about a week and delete it. Not sure what the next step will be for me, but can envision a day when I delete the account completely.

  7. John says:

    Facebook is definitely the worst of the worst in terms of actively attempting to blur the distinction between public and private and make that particularly awkward.

    As their whole business model relies on it, I find it strange that people even refer to facebook as “social media” when this is a peculiarly anti social model they require to keep going.

    I haven’t missed facebook since deleting my account, nor did friends I mentioned it to who then followed suit to see what it is like.

    facebook really only pulls together a number of features in one place that we could already do anyway.

    I don’t find twitter so objectionable and still use it, as it is stuff you would make public anyway, more about the raw information and topics, rather than pushing a pretense being about friends & personal relationships.

    To be honest, anyone on facebook that wouldn’t equally respond to an email or phone is probably not a true friend.

  8. Arne Lim says:

    Thanks for writing why you’re doing what you’re doing. You have voiced what many people are thinking and feeling, and you are taking action. Well done!

  9. Justin says:

    I quit Facebook (I have an account with no friends so that I can read posts that others put on the site) years ago.

    The dark & strange perversion of the social norms that Facebook has created was revealed to me when a relative passed away a few years ago.

    I had spent a few days at their bedside, and got to see them take their last breath. After that, I spent a few hours telling close friends of the family, and they all gave their heart felt condolences.

    Not twenty minutes later, a close friend I had called posted “RIP XXXXXXX” on their Facebook wall. Besides being rather glib, this person managed to take an experience that was not theirs to share, and “own” the act of sharing the news with the world.

    Was I to have a prepared statement that I could hit post on at the earliest moment? How long should he have waited to post something? It felt like emotional hijacking. A few people who had grown up in our neighborhood posted perfunctory, and as far as I was concerned, empty, condolences.

    But these very personal events, combined with people’s need to be first, have created a situation that overturns grieving into a process of managing information flow. I have no delusions about the work that is required to put on a funeral and bury someone. But I wish Facebook didn’t allow other people to go to the printing presses with my stories.

    • John says:

      I had a similar thing at one point when I still used facebook.

      A friend died, then a couple of weeks later I got a reminder that he was going to an event that I might like. Made me feel very weird.

    • Alison says:

      You put into words what I have been trying to for years now. I am going to hijack your words and use them to tell my friends: “See! THIS is why I quit your stupid Facebook! This is how I feel!” That’s about as capable as I am of explaining what has been bothering me so much about these selfish, pretentious posts about something that is so personal. Thank you.

  10. Will says:

    Be careful – one other annoying feature of facebook is that if you message someone who is not your friend, the message goes to some obscure folder and they will never read it.

    • juliaangwin says:

      Yes that is another way that Facebook breaks social norms, by trying to determine who your real friends are and prioritizing their emails. It will be an interesting experiment to see if any of my messages get read.

      • Ian says:

        You can pay Facebook a dollar to ensure your messages hit their inbox as if you’re friends, instead of the “other” box. Said another way: my friendship is worth a buck to Facebook.

      • someone who read your WSJ article a couple of days ago says:

        Actually, I messaged someone who is not a FB “friend” last week and she replied to me. We are still not FB “friends” and never have been; however, I received her message, and she received mine. Apparently, the messages do get through–at least sometimes. I was sending this old real-life friend my condolences because one of her relatives had recently died.

  11. Brian Paone says:

    There is no such thing as privacy on the internet. And there never will be, thank goodness.

  12. Concerned says:

    Will there be a follow-up article on how G+ privacy is different from Facebook? I’ve joined Twitter but have been hesitant to do so for G+ and Facebook for the reasons you outline above. Granted that no online presence is completely private or safe is one better than the other? Possible next article or do I have to wait till the book comes out next year? Thanks

    • juliaangwin says:

      I’m still considering my approach to G+ and LinkedIn. Twitter I have no problems with, as the boundaries are clear. If my decision is interesting enough, I’ll post about it. If not, it may have to wait for the book.

  13. Mike says:

    I don’t think you fully understand how the Facebook experience will be devalued by removing all your friend connections.

    1) “I like being able to be send private messages to people through Facebook when I don’t have their latest contact information”

    You will still be able to send messages, however all messages that don’t have some sort of friend connection or link through friends will be sent to the Other inbox. There’s no notification sent for messages in the Other Inbox. The vast quantity of those messages are unread for months, even years until someone stumbles into the inbox.

    2) I like being notified when I’m tagged in a photo or in a post (usually so I can request being untagged)

    Your current friends won’t be able to tag you in photos or posts. You won’t receive any notifications anymore. Once you have broken the link between you and a friend, the ability to tag is removed.

    3) As a journalist and author, I would like to be ‘found’ by people who want to read my writing.

    People will still be able to find you and even subscribe to your public profile posts. However, your relevance in Facebook search will degrade as the number of friend connections are broken. As to what degree that will alter the ability for people to find you, I cannot speak to Facebook’s specific ranking algorithm.

  14. anonymous says:

    Just delete it completely and be done with it.

    Facebook is just a way of maintaining shallow relationships and devaluing experiences.

    Life is better without it.

  15. Noname says:

    It takes a journalist and journalistic coverage for issues like this to be addressed. Law suits I’m sure get attention. But, bad PR usually helps provide action-able incentive… in this case, on the part of FB.
    FB really has a lot of good things going for it. But, like you said – it should be privatized. For myriad reasons.
    I am not on Insta-gram and don’t know much about it. I “hear” you can have your information/image privatized.
    Whatever the case with Insta-gram or FB – FB “can” do things to make things better.
    We are living in a “new era” with “new” challenges, changes surely will come… but, generally speaking, it’s the journalist, the lawyer (maybe the politician who somehow believes they’ll get more votes by addressing)… who can bring about change?
    Just my 2 cents.

  16. Mark Moran says:

    Create a “page” on Facebook to which you publish your work, then delete your personal profile.

    People will be able to find your page and read your work, no one will be able to tag you, and no one will be able to friend you. The only thing missing will be the ability to contact people through Facebook, but there are many other ways to solve that problem.

    Personally, I’ve never posted anything, anywhere, online, or even in e-mail, without the knowledge that privacy controls may fail and that my post will be open to the world.

  17. Ron says:

    “… I am often surprised by where the data ends up….”

    You spelled `never’ wrong.

  18. Jesse Fowler says:

    Good stuff but how can you work for a billionaire tryst and and right wing publication like the Wall Street Journal and have 666 friends? I would think it would be a few Benghazi baiting neo cons and executive assistants to a couple of hedge fund bigshots, and thats it? 😉

  19. Hawthorn says:

    Most problems with Facebook arise from the way people misuse it. If you only friend ACTUAL friends, and you only share stuff your friends will like, it’s pretty easy. Instead, people use it as a fan club or a business Rolodex or a marketing kiosk. All those uses will eventually fail and/or bite you back. If you aren’t interested in using Facebook to keep up with your real-life friends, don’t waste time unfriending people – just cancel your account.

  20. dan tynan says:

    Our current mutual friend count is 31, mostly other journos and PR folks. I will be interested to watch that number decline.

    But one thing from your post is bothering me. Why did you Facebook friend confidential sources? I don’t get that.


    • juliaangwin says:

      Sourcing is complicated. Some people don’t start out as sources, and become sources. Some people start out as sources and become friends. And some friends work at places I’m reporting about and are not sources. For all these reasons and more, it’s a difficult line to draw.

  21. Louis Beryl says:

    Hi Julia – very interesting article. You should check out app.net. It is a social network with a different business model where the users own all their data. If you’d like an invite just let me know.

  22. Tim Trudell says:

    If you want privacy, why are you on social networks?

  23. Kathy says:

    Julia, I know that FB pages for individuals took a nose dive in popularity when FB established the “subscription” option …. but would a page (rather than a profile) work for your public needs? It could serve as place for people to find you, the journalist, with no “friend” baggage.

    Thanks for writing this. Many of us who teach will probably use this essay in classes.

    • juliaangwin says:

      Kathy – I thought about pages, but honestly I feel like it’s rude to ask people to “like” your page. Like many other things on Facebook, it breaks the established social norms.

      • Lora Kolodny says:

        How much more do you trust your blog? Your email providers? And Twitter? What about the “subscribe” option on Facebook? Will you let go of all your subscribers?

      • Sarah says:

        Hi I’ve read to here…erm, I feel there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of the culture going on in this posting and some of the replies. To me, it smacks of old school journalist attitudes.
        Btw – there is absolutely no need to ask folks to join your page by clicking ‘like’. Decide if you are a professional or a civilian. If you want to gain information via Facebook or write books about it then the deal is you need to share.

  24. Curmudgeon says:

    I wrote a blog post about a year ago speculating that maybe we really do value some defined level of privacy, and that we used Facebook and other forms of social media to experiement as to where those boundaries were.

    My first commenter said I must have Asperger’s syndrome.

    The goal of Facebook is to make everything in our lives public and transparent. I wonder if it will succeed. I have never joined Facebook, and don’t feel I’ve missed anything relevant to my life.

  25. renee says:

    Facebook is now also charging you to do messaging if you are not FB “Friends” with someone.
    The message will be delivered to their version of SPAM folder “Other” unless you pay to have it delivered to their regular inbox.

  26. Joe says:

    Personally I see no value whatsoever in FB, preferring real contact with friends and family. So I found the article very interesting…someone well-versed in FB, who understands its values and faults, coming to a well-informed decision.

    I would just add the following. The author is a self-described “journalist” and that has particular meaning. But in this day and age we are all journalists, in a sense. Certainly anyone who publishes anything online could be considered a “journalist” in a very broad sense of the word.

    So shouldn’t we all want to protect our sources? Shouldn’t we all come to the same conclusions?

  27. Michelle says:

    It’s delusional to think anything online is private – anything. Just because on other sites you don’t interact with the ‘strangers’ doesn’t mean they aren’t looking at what you’re doing.

    People that cry about social privacy should just not use the internet. Although, big brother can see what you’re doing even when you’re not on the internet… argh, this is how communes in caves start! :)

  28. Barbara Duck says:

    I am a blogger and not as well known of course but I dumped Facebook as well, privacy was one reason and the second was it was a distraction of my time. Twitter is the only social network that gives me time, the rest take my time:)

    On privacy, good points with data mining as so much of it is flawed anymore and you get judged on it. Insurance companies use it like crazy. It’s sad when you want use a simple healthcar device that connects to the web that they sell that data too.

    I understand other folks like Facebook and use it that’s a choice for all but the crap on privacy and the ups and downs of their policies, etc. was silly. I don’t need that in my life, but too I’m not overly impressed with the algorithms and queries of the web as know the mechanics of it and how they work.

    I have a series of posts I call the Attack of the Killer Algorithms and its every day events where someone get denied something from algorithms and math, the real battle. Wall Street uses it to the max and I really like this former Quant who’s now on the other side, Cathy O’Neil and her lectures called Weapons of Math Destruction…that’s all Facebook and all the social networks, dating sites etc. I review a lot of software and the one that cracked me up was that OK cupid where I made up a phony profile and hung around for a couple of weeks before getting off and it laughed until my sides hurt when they sent me a flow sheet on matches. No wonder kids are so confused today.

    You know if there’s one place in my life I don’t want a flow sheet is in my personal leisure time when my brain needs a break. Anyway I sit back and watch some of this stuff and hope people get duped. I call it Algo Duping and you do have to put some sense into what you suck in today as there’s everything out there. Here’s Algo Duping 101 and you’ll have a lot less of that without Facebook


    Myself I’m still rebuilding my Google Plus profile as big data had some issues and one day out of the blue told me my name (and I used my real name) didn’t meet their Name Policy. This is machine learning, machine to machine talking and it messed up.

    I think it’s funny as I had to appeal it and Google said I was correct but they asked me for places the bot could check on the web so I gave them my blog, also hosted on Google Blogger, so see they are not as connected as one would think or that rogue algorithms really ran a muck. They took all my circle away when they suspended me too and I have very few now and have to rebuild but no worry it’s only social stuff. I was only there since the beta days and was not that active either. Again I still think it’s funny as my last name that the machines yanked was Duck…as Barbara should have had no issue, lot of those out there:)


    For me in addition to the privacy issues, it just had too many people ending up on my doorstep and too many emails and it was too much. We can laugh at the social network stuff but remember insurance companies, wellness folks and credit folks all look at what you have out there and they probably hate me as I try educate people on those facts.

  29. Kofi says:

    Justin’s story really touched me – it makes me wonder how many conversations are always followed by someone saying “Don’t post it on Facebook”

    Most recently it came from a friend who recently got divorced so he called and we talked for awhile – after the conversation he said “Don’t tell your wife ‘cos she’s friends with my wife and I don’t want it all over Facebook” – I quit awhile back so he knew I wasn’t going to post it – but I thought it was funny that he was warning me not tell someone – not because he didn’t want me to share the information – but because he didn’t want it shared on FB

    That’s the irony of FB – they had such promise – a place to tell your secrets privately to your friends – until they got greedy and Twitter-envy took over

  30. shaun dakin says:


    Thanks for the post. Always interesting to read your work, of course.

    I rely pretty heavily on fb lists to manage privacy and posting. That is, everything I do is pretty much on a “custom” list. No, not everything is perfect, but it does the job.

    I’ve locked down my profile, privacy settings, tagging, etc… But, nothing is fool proof at all.

    What I have done in the last 2 months is go on a social media diet on Facebook.

    That is, I’ve reduced my “friends” from over 2,000 to about 600.

    Why? Most of those “friends” were really not friends at all.


    1) About 15% of my friends were no longer on FB. They had empty profiles and no photographs

    2) I now only am friends on FB with people I actually know IRL (in real life).

    3) Linkedin is now my “people I met at a party” network where I feel their is not so much to lose, and mostly it is a professional resume online.

    Looking forward to your book.

    @PrivacyCamp Founder
    #PrivChat Founder

  31. Abby Normal says:

    *hasn’t (not native english speaking Abby)

  32. iamreddave says:

    I went to a Facebook marketing talk last week. Products your friends have liked are much more likely to be bought by you.

    These advertisers are Facebook customers. You are just a Facebook user. Lack of privacy helps customers and if that harms a few users? The golden rule: them with the gold make the rules

  33. nishank says:

    Facebook is for friends, and sharing posts and opinions , making connections is very much a part of the process. The whole category of websites is called social networking isn’t it. While it is difficult for certain professions like jounos to maintain high privacy levels on FB, other professions might not merit. As far as I am concerned I keep my contacts on Linkedin and FB apart.. As well as my followers on Twitter. What I share or post on all 3 are diff, so why won’t my connections. So, all the content that I share on these are OK for consumption for any and everyone of my connrctions

  34. Matt says:

    Having read this, I feel there’s a distinct lack of common sense on the writer’s part rather than any particular fault in Facebook.

  35. matt says:

    What sort of journalist makes friends with their sensitive sources on FB? I think that’s the root of your problem! Feel for those who were outed though. Having your parents follow you is a nightmare.

  36. Doug B says:

    I understand the issue with sources but I don’t understand the idea that FB is some force that makes you share information.

    I knew going in that none of my info would be “private” no matter what settings I had, so I only share info that I don’t mind is public. Nothing about my real job and nothing more personal than mundane stuff you would chat about around the water cooler at work. Anything more personal or private I use e-mail or the telephone. I don’t even have my contact info on FB. People can message me if they want it.

    It doesn’t take the place of personal contacts – you can have both. It speeds up some shared experiences like elections or episodes of Downton Abbey.

    FB allowed me to reconnect with people I lost touch with and it doesn’t cost me anymore than my time.

    Anyone who believes FB is a substitute or better than personal contact is missing the forest for the trees. It is just one tool.

  37. I’m also undergoing a process of unfriending. Here’s a piece I wrote about it
    called “The Bloodbath Begins.” http://strategicdocumentaries.com/blog/the-facebook-bloodbath-begins/

  38. I’m participating in the “great unfriending” (see http://strategicdocumentaries.com/blog/the-facebook-bloodbath-begins/) as well, but mostly because I want to get back to a focused list of people I really care about. One “trick” is just to reclassify those who are work connections only as LinkedIn connections and unfriend them from FB — getting back to how many of us used these two platforms in the “old days.”

    Here’s what I posted at https://www.facebook.com/robunderwood/posts/332203206881414 to my friends yesterday:


    I’m embracing the spirit of danshari (see http://www.missminimalist.com/2011/08/minimalism-around-the-world-danshari/ if you don’t know what that is) and borrowing some suggestions from recent posts of David Intrator (e.g., http://strategicdocumentaries.com/blog/the-facebook-bloodbath-begins/) about Facebook and my friends (and “friends”).

    Over the next couple weeks, I plan to defriend a significant chunk of my Facebook friends. I plan to defriend nearly everyone who is a Facebook friend but who I don’t actually know. I’m also likely to cull people who I’ve never met in person. In some cases I may be less extreme and just check off the “Show in News Feed” option. But cull I will.

    In the coming months, I intend to lessen my use of Facebook for a variety of reasons. I want my more limited use to be a richer, higher quality experience and I think that’s only possible by focusing the time I will continue to spend on Facebook using it to deepen relationships with people who care about me and who I care about in a significant way. There are other platforms – Twitter jumps to mind, though Tumblr is good too – for broadcasting updates to those close to you, acquaintances, colleagues, and total strangers at the same time.

    I’m asking all my friends (e.g, you) to do the following. If you’d like to stay connected, please do one of the following:

    1) Drop me an e-mail with a paragraph or two about what’s up in your life and any questions you might have about how I’m doing (I’ll return the e-mail with something at least as long and well crafted as what you send). I’d love to hear about your use of social media as well, but I really would just like to hear directly how life is treating you, what’s keeping you up at night, and what’s bringing you joy. My e-mail is r…@gm..com.

    2) Call my cell sometime so we can talk live and hear each other’s voices, even if it’s for 30 seconds. If you don’t know my cell, drop me an e-mail or look it up on my FB profile.

    3) Especially if you live in NYC, e-mail or call me so we can get together in person for lunch or coffee. This would be the best outcome of the 3. If I see you on a regular basis in person anyway, that counts too.

    I’m not planning to de-friend anyone just because she/he doesn’t choose to take these steps. (I will also not de-friend any relatives, period.) But dropping me a line will be a great sign you’re interested in staying close. And if you choose to defriend me or turn me off in your news feed, I won’t be hurt or offended – I don’t want to waste your time with my updates. The whole idea is for us all to focus on that smaller group of people who you love and cherish (or at least “really care about”). I think when used “right” Facebook can still be a useful tool to do that.

    Feel free to repost (and rework) this onto your own profile.

  39. Eric says:

    Facebook has exactly one thing going for it – the user base they soaked up before they changed their privacy policies to the egregious. This article – http://dangerousminds.net/comments/facebook_i_want_my_friends_back – called one of their policy changes “the biggest bait and switch in history.” While that’s hyperbolic, they regularly perpetrate some of the bigger ones in Internet history.

    Remember: If it’s free, you’re not the customer – you’re the product.

  40. Flint says:

    Why does privacy matter? It doesn’t for everyone.

    What should we do about it? If you want privacy stay off the web. It’s that simple. The fear though is that society will no longer tolerate those who don’t have some sort of web footprint or history.

    Also, why lose your friends one by one. Just unplug and be done with it.

    your former co-worker!

    • juliaangwin says:

      Joe – miss your curmudgeonly-ness! I will have an 80,000 word answer for you in the form of my book on privacy next year. But in the meantime, do you really think unplugging from the net is a legitimate option in today’s world?

  41. Kaleberg says:

    We had a Facebook page some years back, but Facebook didn’t offer much, just random one-liners, fragments. It was like reading telemetry files. When one of our friends actually did post something intriguing, we’d pick up the phone and call to find out more. Then, we realized that we call people to talk anyway, or we email them, or we invite them to dinner, or get invited to their place. So, we stopped looking at Facebook and closed the account. (Given what we had heard about the privacy settings visiting Facebook always felt like visiting a Russian porn site full of malware anyway.)

    We have a LinkedIn account which we created on a whim and gave a ridiculous and obviously bogus name. It now has about a hundred connections or whatever they call them. I suppose if we ever start a serious job hunt, this might be useful, but we can’t imagine how.

    We’ve considered Google+, but then we’d have to use our real names, even though we’ve been on the web under our working names since 1973. They say it’s never too late to start over, so maybe one day we’ll give it a try if we ever become fugitives from justice or something.

    If I were in your shoes, I’d just set up a web site for commercial purposes and, if you are a garrulous enough sort, setting up a blog.

  42. Karen says:

    I hope you use as one of your resources for your book the American Library Association and their privacy experts. Librarians work very hard to protect user privacy so that people feel free to use collections without self-censoring their inquiry. As soon as you return an item to your library, there is no record that you checked it out. This is in response to government attempts in the 1950s to track what people were reading. It would be really useful to your readers to represent that point-of-view in your book.

  43. Charles Morgan says:

    Julia, I’m looking forward to your book. Hope you will tweet it when it gets out.
    Folks if you don’t know what Julia knows about online privacy then you don’t know at all.

    I have a million things to say but will try it be brief. 1) I like the idea of saving a business page if you need it for business, a money-making proposition but when one of my most beloved teachers says, “You gotta read this on my Facebook page,” I say to myself,
    “Thank but no thanks.”

    I quit when they made all profiles searchable in December(it was covered up by all the noise re: the social graph last December although Nick Bilton covered it in NY Times).

    What do you expect when the inspiration of a site is called “Hot or Not?” Philip Roth,
    anybody? I’ve heard some grumbling among invesstors that FB needs a businessman
    up-top but be that as it may.

    Julia have you noticed that LinkedIn is worse? I’m even afraid to say this.
    Supposing you want to remove one of your job positions because it may not
    match a job you are currently seeking or applying for. Well you can’t remove it!

    And FB bad as it is, will allowe you to quit after two weeks(although no longer delete),
    but if you quit LinkedIn your profile floats around the web however they decide they want it, so you are forced to claim it to protect your name, much as though most people should buy their domain name on godaddy etc, as in JaneDoe.com as you have.

    Your problems as a high-profile reporter are unique and it sounds tricky. Good luck.

  44. Fantastic post! I’m in the process of doing the same and plan on borrowing from some of the strategies used by the commenters in your post. I’ve been unsettled by my Facebook page for a while, but not my Facebook Fan page. That page has been thriving well and I’ve never had the same level of privacy issues on it that I see on my personal page.

    I love Twitter. I’ve made some true connections that have lead to fantastic growth personally and professionally. Facebook, though, has just become a soapbox for people to boast about their lives. It is also a place for people to do harm to others. I see mini cliques form and people actually avoiding people in their lives in time of need – a new odd phenomenon that worries me greatly.

    When I wrote the American Academy of Pediatrics Social Media Guidelines for Pediatricians in 2011, I included a paragraph on “Facebook Depression” that not everyone bought into. Now, there is a slew of research supporting that concept including sociologic research that documents how alone people are feeling online. Sherry Turle’s “Alone Together” comes to mind. We connect but at arm’s length. That doesn’t help any one and only gives a fascade of friendship.

    So, I’m with you. We all need to either get off Facebook for a while or entice our Friends on Facebook to give us a sign they want to be true, offline connections.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. I’m looking forward to your book when it comes out.

  45. Sceneryman says:

    This is very true and I do not like their ads they put in the news feed without the individuals permission.

  46. Julia — you are doing the right thing. Facebook isn’t for you and privacy doesn’t exist. Nor does Santa Claus. Sorry.



  47. There are so many issues involved with this, but most of it rests in being the first 1% of this huge shift in communication. This is bigger than the printing press. We are all connected with simultaneous information, have a superconsciousness of ESP like connection to information and events. It’s silly to think that we’ve figure this out yet. There’s far too many channels for communication. There’s over-communication. It’s odd to me that the world would just shrug, and say “Facebook is as good as this is going to get”. Flawed architecture over sloppy coding, it’s impossible to scale properly… especially when you go from innovator and leader to copycat and intellectual thievery.

    The fact is, the connections in the online world (and the meaningful content that it generates which can be monetized) need to be based on topical relevance, and mutual interest, as well as real world connections. You touch on it in your article… just because you know someone doesn’t mean you will have the same interests. In fact, you could be quite bored with the incessant pictures of their hobbies, as they might with your ramblings (as it might be in my case).

    I understand needing to exist on FB, so you can monitor the conversation. I guess that world won’t turn off if you do. But if you delete your account, you simply cannot be tagged? Their would be no relevant account to attach it to, so no notification? Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn are fine outlets for your craft? The only reason I suggest it is this: It’s a new world. If you are online in any capacity, there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. You go to one party, and you can end up on 10 different Facebook accounts, often without even knowing.

    Genie is out of the bottle, right? No going back. I prefer to look forward and figure out where we are headed. A decade old book called “The Transparent Society” (Is privacy and transparency mutually exclusive?) by David Brin is pretty amazing, and prescient. Eli Pariser’s recent “Filter Bubble” is a pretty important work… he has a TED talk you can look up that illustrates the problems with replacing human editors with algorithms, and more about this invisible filter that is creating confirmation bias and selective perception. It’s really important stuff. As we all muddle along through this together, it’s sort of glorious to know I am not the only one concerned with, and totally overthinking, this. Posting here is more meaningful than getting made fun of an facebook for long form posting, again. LOL.

    Thanks for this.

    Oh… also. I find “Lists” in Twitter very helpful. You can follow people as streams of info, but unfriend so your stream can be only the most interest or closest of friends. I imagine Facebook copied that feature, poorly, and you can try to use it. =)

  48. Heidi says:

    So as commenters above previously stated, deleting all your friends and lurking wont do you any good unless you want to pay to send private messages to people who aren’t ‘Facebook official’ friends.

    My recommendations:
    Create a Facebook page and sync it with twitter.
    Keep your Facebook account but go into settings and change it so that your friends list is private to only you, no one can tag you and your default post setting is to friends only. If you need something specific, you can create custom lists or set your default post to a custom setting. Delete anyone who you don’t need, they’ll just clog up your newsfeed anyway.

    Either way, add the address to a business card if you’re using Facebook for business purposes. Then you don’t need to feel like you’re self advertising too much.

    Or just delete Facebook. Being a lurker is creepy.

  49. Tom says:

    I loathe and detest Facebook for many of the reasons already mentioned…yet I have a Facebook account. Why? Because there are websites that _require_ a Facebook account in order to access the website.

    So I created an account, using an alias, not my real name. Problem solved.

    (For the record, in order to post this comment, there is the requirement I provide an email address, and so I have. It is a throwaway address.)

  50. Julia – I just co-authored a book on privacy, “Wide Open Privacy – Strategies for the Digital Life” in which we explored the Facebook issue substantially. I seriously contemplated removing my Facebook page before I published it, but all of the privacy experts told me that it would be hypocritical to write a book on privacy, give advice on social networks, and effective “hide”. Additionally, the media was actually the harshest critic when it comes to disappearing online.

  51. Carlos says:

    Facebook is what it is. A place to post non critical but relevant information supposed to be reached my many close people. Often, this information are milestones in our life which are public by nature and cannot be hidden even in real life. Examples: I’m getting married, We will have a baby, my father passed away, I have moved out to the Bahamas, I have finished my new book coming out this summer… and so on.

    Unless you specify details that are obviously unnecessary, Facebook is actually useful.

    If someone is part of the media, that person should have two Facebook accounts. One that is for relatives and close friends, and the other for his or her fans.

    Failure to have an social presence in the web will only harm you in the long run since time changes and we need to change with that.

  52. Carl says:

    I believe the key problem here was and is the misuse of Facebook, which itself may or may not have some value. I treated Facebook as a place to limit the possibility of contextual information sharing and I have successfully managed to almost completely avoid having any professional contacts as friends on Facebook. Having confidential sources as friends on Facebook seems to be a terribly bad move whether they were friends first or friends later.

    I don’t think I would trust a book on privacy by someone who used Facebook in a way that seems inappropriate, given the capabilities of LinkedIn and Twitter, and then if someone removes all the friends, that is somewhat similar to becoming unplugged with closer friends, and in that case it’s tempting to unplug all of the way unless we want to depend on the horribly shallow and un-friendly aspects of Twitter and LinkedIn solely for our online experience.

  53. Carl says:

    One other comment: We often think people care a great deal more about what we post or who we know than they really do. Most people spend almost all of their time worrying about themselves and don’t have time to worry about who your friends are, and if they are worried about it, why are you? Twitter is especially this way, almost like a junk stream unless someone is intentionally stalking you, but Facebook seems to have this characteristic as well.

  54. I recently deleted all forms of social media after researching terms like:
    “social media mental illness”
    “social media mental health”
    “social media depression”
    “social media self-esteem”
    “social media rat race”

  55. Jeremy Head says:

    If you’ve not read The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser I highly recommend it. Lots of very interesting stuff that dovetails with your concerns. Concerns I share too. http://www.travelblather.com/2012/11/are-algorithms-better-than-editors.html

  56. I have a no-friend policy on Facebook. This, however, is because I hate people and don’t feel they have anything to contribute to my life.

  57. I am doing the delete Facebook account way. Why? Because Facebook is getting less important. It is in fact stagnating fast compared to Google+ and Twitter (that is already 7 years old).

    I also have other good reason. Facebook is a really bad social network and has been now for a long time. In fact, Facebook prevents me from meeting new people if I send out many friend requests. That is nothing short of a blackmail in my view and nothing like a social network in real terms.

    If you want, you can read my reasons here, http://www.jonfr.com/?p=7682

  58. skrwitch says:

    I have 0 friends. The only reason I am on Facebook anymore is because it’s easy to get news updates from some pages.

  59. Hey there! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no
    back up. Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

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