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Complicated! The art of unfollowing people

In the age of social networking, subtly slithering out of a tired friendship is not as easy as it was, reports Amrah Ashraf.

sex and relationships Updated: Jan 25, 2012 15:45 IST
Amrah Ashraf
Amrah Ashraf
Hindustan Times
Vivek Premachandran,Ankita Sahni,Ketaki Mishra

Vivek Premachandran loves to tweet. He spends most of his free time on the micro-blogging site with his tweeple. Of course he’s witty. At least, that’s what his 2,000 followers say. And if you go by what Vivek says, all 2,000 are his best-buds.

Unfortunately, there are such things as Twitter wars. And after a bad one, Vivek felt he needed to cut a few people off. He stopped re-tweeting their tweets, but they didn’t seem to get the hint. "So I had to go off Twitter," Vivek says mournfully. "Those were the worst few days of my life. My fingers were itching to tweet. Trust me, de-friending someone is the hardest thing to do."

Stuck in the middle

We’ve all slithered out of friendships that once seemed perfect, and then seemed pointless. We’ve done it as subtly as we could. Been busy and still sooo busy. Been in meetings, so couldn’t take phone calls. Been hovering over a sick pet, so couldn’t meet. Rarely do we end a friendship with a flat, ‘I don’t think we have anything in common any more’. Nobody wants an ending as final as that.


But subtlety doesn’t work on social networking sites. Either you are a friend – and that’s there for everyone to see. Or you’re not – and that’s equally upfront. "To unfollow someone is to switch on the red light in that relationship," says Vivek. "And it’s worse when a couple you know breaks up. That means all their friends have to choose whose side they’re on, and while earlier you could still be friends with both and neither of them had to know about it, now it’s all out there."

Facebook’s new timeline feature doesn’t help, wails Ankita Sahni, a student and Facebooker. "Earlier you could unfriend someone and they wouldn’t even know unless they visited your profile," she says. "But now everyone knows if you strike someone off your list. It even takes you back in time so everyone can see who you removed from your list, and who removed you."

Logged in for life

It’s lovely to have 2,000 followers or 2,000 friends. You feel popular, smart, witty. Everything you say seems to please someone, so you post everything about yourself everywhere you possibly can.


But now that there’s no concept of privacy any more, relationships are even harder to handle than they’ve always been. So do you go offline like Vivek did? Or can you stay online and still manage to slough off unwanted friends?

Whatever you do, you have to recognise that if you want to keep your social networking persona, you have to put up with an uneasy co-existence with former friends. Still, that doesn’t mean you don’t have some control over who you hang with.

For instance, Ankita realised she hadn’t done a very basic thing. She hadn’t checked her privacy settings. "It does make a difference, even though it’s small," she says. "You still can’t defriend anyone discreetly, but at least your friends will not get notifications about your failed relationships."

Often, mutual friends are responsible for letting cats out of bags, as designer Ketaki Mishra realised after her bachelorette party.

"I decided to not invite a particular friend and she did not know about the party, till our mutual friends put the pictures on Facebook," she says. Which has made her aware that (apart from constantly reminding mutual friends about things that need to remain secret) it’s perhaps best to post pictures on websites like Photobucket or Picasa, which allow viewing only by invitation.

In fact, it may make sense to seriously consider how much you want to give away online, as more people find that while they can quit their jobs, get married, make new friends or move out of the country, they will always be known by their Twitter handle or Facebook display picture.

"Even after quitting my corporate job, my former colleagues kept making their presence felt on my wall," says Pune-based PR professional Aarti Das. "Obviously defriending them is not an option because social protocol does not allow that. But it does cause serious problems."

The solution? Spend less time on social networking sites and gradually fade out your presence on them. In the land of fleeting attention spans, it won’t be long before your friends stop bothering you.

The Quick Fix
Sift through your friends list and weed out people you don’t mind offending.
Create a new profile and add only select people as friends or followers.
Spend less time on social networking sites. People will automatically stop pinging you.
Don’t give out your Blackberry PIN to everyone.
Starting now, reject friend requests from people you don’t know.

From HT Brunch, October 2

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First Published: Sep 30, 2011 18:38 IST