While many people experience Facebook® as a supportive technology that enhances their lives, it poses a troubling dilemma for those of us who do not want Facebook to mediate our personal relationships and influence our personal lives and selves:

  • Not having a Facebook account has significant costs if it prevents us from participating in groups or events that choose to be hosted on Facebook.
  • Having a Facebook account has significant costs because it seems to inevitably allow Facebook to insinuate itself into our personal relationships, like an unwelcome chaperone. (As soon as anyone sends you a “friend” request, Facebook is already affecting your relationship with that person, whether you accept, reject, or ignore the request. And that’s just the tip of a big iceberg.)

I’ve resolved this dilemma for myself by finding a way to effectively turn off Facebook’s “friend” feature.  There is no direct or obvious way to do this, but it is possible. But first, why might you want to do this?

Why to be Friendless on Facebook

Facebook.com says “Sign Up. It’s free and always will be.” This sounds like a good deal… until you realize that you’re not Facebook’s customer, but their product. Then it starts to feel creepy, as if a fox were offering to look after your hens for free while you’re on vacation.

The real deal is that you get to use Facebook in return for letting Facebook mediate and influence your personal relationships, life, and self however they see fit – for example by filtering whose updates you see, deciding which new “friends” to suggest to you, and who to encourage to “friend” you.

Technology that mediates personal relationships has enormous power to be helpful – and to be harmful. It is therefore incredibly important that it be set up to always put its users’ interests first.  Unfortunately, Facebook is not.

As a publicly traded corporation, Facebook is legally obliged to maximize shareholder value.  Its does this primarily by using its knowledge of, and influence on, its users and their personal relationships to create products for its customers – advertisers.  (If it were to become a cooperative, like REI for example, I might consider letting it mediate my personal relationships.)

If you’re currently granting Facebook (for free!) the privilege of mediating your personal relationships and influencing your personal life and self, do you really feel comfortable with the deeper and longer-term implications of this – for yourself, your true friends, and our collective social environment?

How to be Friendless on Facebook

  1. Get your “friend” count to zero, either by creating a new account or by “unfriending” everyone. (Be sure to explain to them in advance, with a link to this article, why you’re doing this, so they don’t take it personally!)
  2. Configure “Settings / Privacy / Who can contact me? / Who can send you friend requests?” to “Friends of Friends“. Voilà!  You’ve effectively turned off the “friends” feature.

You can also encourage your actual friends to migrate with you to an alternative social network that is set up to put its users’ interests first – such as diasp.org.