Reclaiming your social media sanity with the Facebook Purge

Credit: Jeshu John from Designerpics

Credit: Jeshu John from Designerpics

You know the feeling. You log onto Facebook (or another social media for that matter) and you see the same ol' toxic, negative crap again no matter how far down you scroll through your feed. Ooh well, that's just the way it is, right?


We can all agree that there is far too much negativity in the world today, but does this mean that you're simply powerless to stop this negativity from spilling over onto your news feed? You can control the negativity, and in this post I'll tell you how to do so in three easy steps that I like to call the Facebook Purge (no, not the movies dammit). You probably already know about them, but knowing something and actually doing it are two entirely different things.


Step 1: Friends and Unfriending

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not telling you to unfriend everyone on your friend's list. If you really know and like every one of those 9001 friends of yours, then fair enough. Still though, go through this list and start weeding out people that you don't talk to or just don't remember anymore. I always ask myself a few guiding questions to help me in this surprisingly pleasant task:

  • Have I talked to this person in the last 2 years? 
  • Is there a decent chance that I will talk to this person in the next 2 years?
  • Do I regularly/occasionally engage with this person through comments or posts?
  • Does this person share interesting or funny stuff on Facebook that you actually enjoy seeing/reading?
  • Do I have any sentimental attachment to this person (e.g. spent 5 months with him/her during a study abroad program and have fond memories of this time; this guy/girl is just plain hilarious and awesome etc.)

If it really makes you feel better, you can always just unfollow them instead of straight-up unfriending them.

Is this process harsh? Perhaps. But less is more, my friend. The choice is yours.


Step 2: News Feed

This step elaborates on step one, but it's useful because it provides a slightly different perspective. From my experience, negative stuff generally enters my feed because either a friend or a mutual friend shared or liked something that then finds its way onto my feed. People are generally consistent in the content they share, so people that engage with negative and provocative stuff tend to do so consistently while the same counts for people that go with the positive and interesting content.

Start paying attention to the things that people are sharing on your feed and see if you can detect broad patterns in the content that each individual is putting out there. Does Steve always share those annoying clickbaity articles about [insert controversial topic]? Or does Lisa consistently complain about how horrible the world is because of [insert political issue]? We all have at least one of those people in our feeds, so the choice is yours: unfollow or unfriend. Remember, the point is to be the agent of control of the level of positivity or negativity you receive in your (online) life. 


Step 3: The Pages You Follow

I'm surprised by how many people overlook this part because it's so effective relative to how easy it is to do. Simply go to your personal Facebook profile, click the "About" tab, and scroll all the way down until you reach the "Likes" section. Here you'll find all the pages that you currently like and/or follow, so all you need to do is unfollow or unlike whichever one that doesn't appeal to you anymore. I suppose this is so overlooked because we often like a page and then just forget we ever ever did it. Nevertheless, it's a good place to find the sources of some things that you thought you would like but come to realize actually brings no positive value to your life.



The critical reader will probably raise some counterpoints against this Purge method. Isn't this just another way of blocking people that offend you or say stuff you don't like just because you don't have a thick enough skin to deal with it? This is completely justified criticism, so I'll need to unpack that. 

It goes back to my "System 1 vs. System 2" discussion of a while ago. Personally, I have a really, really strong distaste for people that only share articles that trigger my System 1 instead of my System 2. For example, think about those hyper-emotional articles like "Read how [insert famous person] completely destroys critics of [insert controversial topic, ranging from healthcare to female empowerment].*" The comments' section is probably overflowing with heated exchanges about how horrible the topic is and how #truth the famous person's words are. Rational analysis about both sides of the topic? Nah, who needs this type of (System 2) logic. All we want are heated emotions!

This is the type of content that I immediately eliminate from my feed. It's perfectly fine to talk about a controversial topic, but please take the time to post an insightful, analytical article about it instead of some triggering meme, clickbaity article, or #truthbomb from some celebrity that I couldn't care less about. I want coherent analysis, not a screencap of some nonsensical Twitter exchange between two people discussing male versus female empowerment.

To hammer this point home: it's completely fine to discuss emotional topics, just don't emotionally discuss topics.

(Note: that title doesn't actually exist, it's just a fictional example. Also, this wasn't meant to disparage these issues at all, I merely needed an example to emphasize my point)


So what's the use?

The first time I did this was either out of boredom or because I was completely confused at why certain things kept appearing on my feed. Why on earth is this on my feed? I don't even remotely like this kind of crap! I did some digging and rooted out almost all of the sources of unpleasant and negative content. And you know what?

It was one of the best decisions of my life, and I don't say that lightly at all.

This exercise and its results were a microcosm of a pretty huge life lesson (damn, I sound like one of those people now), which is that you have much more agency and control over the way you feel than you think. People so often believe in this rigid perception of reality; the world makes you feel someway and you have no control over that. Somebody says something provocative to you in person or shares something similarly inconsiderate online and you have no choice but to feel down or upset or angry, right?

Doing this exercise and consequently realizing that I could take control of the way I felt was utterly liberating. I sincerely hope that you try it out and feel the same way about it.

Again, I'm not sharing this exercise because I want you to unfriend all your friends and unfollow every page because they say stuff that you don't like; c'mon, you gotta have thicker skin than that. I'm simply encouraging you to take control of the energy that you surround yourself in, both offline and, especially, online. Seek positive, but analytical and critical energy in your life.

Take control, because you have more power than you think you do.

See you, Space Cowboy