Perhaps conceding that the “follower” terminology—think services like Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr—is here to stay, Facebook will soon scrap their “hide all” button for ignoring a friend’s status updates and offer a less judgmental “unfollow” function. No more sweeping your uncle’s political screeds and high school ex’s garish selfies under the rug; now you can just quit keeping tabs on them. Either way, short of a full-blown unfriending, they’ll never know that you’re passive-aggressively tuning them out.
“Hide all” and “unfollow” are pretty much the same thing in practice, as TechCrunch pointed out, though Facebook’s PR team is primed to spin it as a new development. “The goal of this change is to help people curate their News Feed and see more of the content that they care about,” a company representative dutifully explained, stopping just short of a not-so-rhetorical question: which of these Facebook connections are actually your friends?
When Facebook first emerged on a select few college campuses, and as it expanded in its early years, “friending” was an all-or-nothing proposition; the news feed, introduced in 2006, would clue you into any friend’s activity and content, no matter how boring, copious, or offensive it was. In recent years, however, the platform has allowed for less tangible—and totally customizable—relationships. In fact, Zogby Analytics conducted a poll for lifestyle website Living McTavish and found that just 8 percent of Facebook users surveyed had met more than half of their Facebook friends face-to-face in the past two months. Meanwhile, a staggering 30 percent of respondents indicated that they had not encountered a single Facebook friend in real life over the same period.
It might seem odd, then, that Facebook is so keen to let you filter out a given friend’s status updates. Presumably, if you only interact with that person online, their Internet persona is not so objectionable—otherwise, why accept the friend request? It may be that Facebook has begun to encompass more than affection; more and more it’s given over to the sort of rote, industry-based networking you see on LinkedIn. And it goes without saying that business connections aren’t always all that warm.
Even so, this signals a shift in emotional dynamics. As it was, the “unfollow” feature was based solely on the exchange of worthwhile material. Now it’s nominally predicated on personal affinity. You’re free to take what you like of a digital personality and scrap the rest.
Yet somehow it would be considered rude to sever contact altogether? If you really find your friends too annoying to follow online, odds are they can’t stand you either. Instead of just muting each other, maybe it’s time everybody moved on.