On Monday of this week, I had 666 friends on Facebook. Today, I have none.
When I first joined Facebook, I enjoyed stumbling across the high-school math teacher who inspired me or the girl who stole my college boyfriend. I liked keeping up with the Pakistani journalist who once visited my office on a fellowship.
But over the years, Facebook lost my trust as it continuously blocked me from keeping the names of my friends private. As a journalist, I need to protect my sources. And as a human, I prefer not to have a hidden audience keeping tabs on me when I reach out to friends.
At first, I tried practicing privacy through obscurity. I accepted all friend requests (even creepy ones) in the hopes that my real relationships could hide in plain sight among the fake ones.
But I found myself sanitizing all my posts as I tried to address a wildly diverse audience that included my boss, my sources, my kids' friends' parents and strangers I had friended from Brazil. I realized that my approach had erased my ability to have a real relationship with anyone on Facebook.
Still, I wasn't ready to leave Facebook entirely. I still wanted to be able to find people and to be found by others. So this week I decided to unfriend everyone and just keep a bare-bones profile. It was hard. I felt awful when I tried unfriend a former calculus student or the page for my upcoming high-school reunion.
I ended up having to pay a real, live friend to come over to hit the "unfriend" button for me. Over and over again. It took seven hours, but I feel like a huge burden has been lifted.
To those I unfriended, I apologize. But as bizarre as it sounds, I am actually trying to protect our ability to have a real relationship, without a hidden audience watching.