Facebook is, as much as we mock it, a site that does try to give its users what it wants sometimes. And the renaming of the “hide all” button to Unfollow was greeted with cheers and hosannahs. But the reality is, if you’re willing to unfollow or block somebody, you need to be willing to unfriend them completely.
Don’t get me wrong: The Unfollow button is highly useful. Part of my job, for example, is using my “social media presence” to “promote my content”; in other words, pretty much everything I write goes up on my Facebook feed. Not everybody I know cares about that, and there are people who are still my friends, but don’t have my feed on their Wall. And that doesn’t bother me.
But for most people, the Unfollow button is essentially dodging conflict at best and the height of passive aggression at worst. You don’t want to deal with your idiot college roommate’s posts about Monsanto or to see what your racist aunt is reading this week, so the Unfollow button is designed to discreetly prune away those annoyances while sparing the feelings of those involved.
There are three problems with this, though.
It Creates Echo Chambers
One of the problems of the Internet is that it’s very, very easy to only hear the things you want to hear and read things that conform to your opinion. And it’s a trap of our own making. If somebody being an ass, that’s one thing. But ask yourself whether or not you could stand to actually listen to their opinions once in a while.
You Aren’t Doing Your Real Friends Any Favors
I’m as guilty of this as anybody, on both ends of the equation, but the reality is, letting your friends and family blunder around setting their lives on fire isn’t doing them any favors. Part of the social contract is taking the people in your life to task for their bad behavior, before a stranger does it with a tire iron. By not calling your friends and family out, even in a minor Facebook way, you’re letting them down.
Your “Friendship” Is An Implicit Endorsement of Stuff You Don’t Read
If you don’t want to hear what these people have to say, why the hell do you even want to be associated with them in the first place? I unfriended somebody I knew from high school recently that I’d hidden the posts of a year or so ago because he was essentially blaming Obama for all his problems. I checked in recently to discover that his feed consists almost entirely of crude photoshops of Obama looking longingly at bananas in between explanations of why race war was inevitable with the “urban thugs.” Needless to say, I unfriended him.
And, yes, people will notice when you unfriend. This guy sent me a whiny message asking what the big deal was when I unfriended him, and yeah, I didn’t respond. But I’m also glad I wasn’t applying for jobs when he went full Klansman, because that might have cost me dearly.
This isn’t to rebuke everybody unfollowing; sometimes, it really is the only sensible, diplomatic solution. But by the same token, stop and ask yourself, before you unfollow, whether you’re doing it because it needs to be done, or just because it’s easy.