Deleting a Facebook friend can put an immediate end to painful, creepy, or aggravating interactions. And some people out there definitely deserve it. Spammers, stalkers, cyberbullies, and strangers have no business on your profile and should be nixed without a second thought.
But unfriending can also have negative consequences, especially if you have a real-life relationship with the person in question. Axing your nosy mother-in-law or your oversharing coworker may feel incredible in the moment — but if they notice your betrayal, you’ll have some explaining to do.
Fortunately, Facebook’s privacy settings make it easy to keep your friends without enduring pointless updates, obnoxious comments, and unwelcome surveillance. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to unfriending, plus a few alternatives that may solve the problem while protecting your offline relationship.
In many cases, unfriending makes perfect sense. Maybe you’ve accidentally accepted a stranger’s invitation. Or perhaps a contact has turned out to be a serial spammer who clogs your news feed with useless ads.
To rid yourself of this pest, go to the person’s profile and hover your mouse pointer over the Friends box beneath the main photo. Choose Unfriend from the drop-down menu to delete the person from your friends list.
Facebook doesn’t notify people when you unfriend them. However, the person might notice that his or her friends have decreased by one or that you’re missing from the list. They could also be tipped off by visiting your timeline only to pull up a blank screen, and mutual friends may blow your cover by commenting on posts they can no longer see.
Getting caught might not be a big deal if you’re dealing with a stranger or distant acquaintance. But if you want to remain in the person’s good graces, consider the following less drastic alternatives before unfriending.
Hide a friend’s posts from your news feed
Let’s say your real-life friend Sarah (that’s my name) is clogging up your news feed with hourly LOLcats, unwanted game requests, and other garbage. You want to quietly hide this activity without unfriending her.
To block all of Sarah’s posts from your news feed, click on her name and hover your pointer over the Friends button below her main picture. On the drop-down menu, click “Show in news feed.” The check mark to the left should disappear.
Facebook also allows you to hide certain types of activity by Sarah. For example, let’s say she’s on vacation and posting a new batch of photos every hour. To block these, hover your pointer over the Friends button on her page and choose Settings from the drop-down menu. Go to “What types of updates?” and click Photos to remove the check mark.
You can also tweak your settings so that you only see key updates from Sarah — for example, changes in her relationship status and certain life events. Again, hover your cursor over the Friends box on her page and choose Settings from the drop-down menu. Go to “How many updates?” and click Only Important.
If you take any of these actions, Sarah will remain your friend with all friend privileges. Facebook won’t notify her that you’ve put her on mute (though it might be a good idea to visit her timeline now and then to make sure you’re not missing anything important). If she later cleans up her act, you can easily reinstate her to your news feed.
Hide your posts from a friend
Let’s say Sarah (that’s me again) mortifies you by making R-rated comments on your status updates. Or maybe you don’t want her following your every move online. In this case, you want to keep her as a friend while hiding your posts from her.
The simplest way to do this is to add Sarah to your restricted list. This prevents her from viewing posts or profile information you share only with friends. (An important exception: She’ll still be able to view any post in which you tag her, including photos.)
To add Sarah to your restricted list, visit her page and hover your pointer over the Friends button below the main photo. Under “Add to lists,” choose “Show all lists” and click Restricted to check it.
While on your restricted list, Sarah will still be able to view information that you make public. To prevent this, always double-check that your audience selector is set to Friends before you post. Also, keep in mind that Sarah may still be able to see what you write on the pages of mutual friends (and even what they write on your page).
It’s also possible to hide a post from Sarah here and there without restricting her across the board. To do so, click on the audience selector below your post and choose Custom from the drop-down menu. A popup screen will appear. Type Sarah’s name into the box labeled “Hide this from” and click Save Changes.
The bottom line
While tweaking settings and subscriptions gives you some control over your online sharing, it’s not foolproof. So if you absolutely must protect your privacy from a certain so-and-so, unfriending them may be the best option.
Alternatively, you can be more selective about what you share. Remember, the best way to keep a secret is to keep it off Facebook in the first place.
[Image credit: Business women and boxing gloves via Shutterstock]
Sarah Maurer writes for Tecca. Tecca is a next-generation personal electronics information and shopping service. We bring together the web’s leading content, commerce, and community features to provide comprehensive solutions for consumers’ ever-growing technology needs. Think of us as that tech savvy friend who helps you when you have questions about what to buy, what to pay, how to make the most of you already have, and when it’s time to upgrade. Get to know us on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.