In 2008, after the 3rd or 4th iteration of a scenario that had plagued me since 1999, I made an executive decision to cut a whole bunch of people out of my life. Trim the little black book. Make a harsh cut.
Most had my phone number, but by this point, only 3 of the group called with any great regularity. Basically, it went right back to my huge drinking binge which started in August 1999 and went on for 8 months. I collected a bunch of cronies, and hangers-on, and they, well, to use a systems concept, self-organise.
It started with one person who'd actually just done something pretty wrong. Blocked on MSN messenger, disconnect on Facebook. And well, it continued from there - I didn't stop, but cut off 2 of the drinking buddies in Dublin who, to cut a long story short, I really felt I had nothing in common with. Well, it started with one person, and then I realised the other person was her friend really, so she had to go through .... slashed. Or so I thought . . .
I remember going up to a friends house in Carrigbiste for the weekend to mind her cat, where reception was poor, having cut the chord before leaving the city, but by then at least one had noticed my defriending (HOW!!!? I thought: you've at least 1000+ friends?) and the phone calls started. One from the original friend who had actually just done something quite, well, unfair, and the other, who had nothing to do with the whole thing (the one with 1000+ friends). Oh no....
I had missed something that should have been entirely obvious to me: people take these systems very seriously. Even people you find really annoying. We all use these things for entirely different reasons, and so the response to a change in circumstances (or the delivery of the snub of de-friending) can be taken very personally, partly because it is impossible to conceal the fact that it is both deliberate and targeted. If you're going to cut the chord on one, the only diplomatic way to do it is to do it to everyone. Or at least deliver a proper message with it: not just the passive-aggressive jab of disconnecting on social media. If this is somebody you actually know outside of the internet, and even if its not, its probably at least common decency to tell them what it is that has driven you to this. If you are ultimately, being an asshole, well, so that might be, but cutting somebody off while having common friends delivers a massive snub that isn't forgotten, and hurts a lot.
In fact, so much so, that the bad feeling I generated was still in place circa 2011. I was up in a club night at Powerscourt Centre, and started talking to the group when suddenly I realised the other one I'd defriend was standing up pugliciously and staring at me. Next thing I knew, I was being snarled at and roared at. Right she was clearly drunk or off her face, and those who didn't know me were so embarrassed they came up later and apologised. I knew why, and to be honest, it was really upsetting.
Here's the thing though. To paraphrase Maya Angelou: people don't forget how you made them feel, especially if something you did made them feel awful. Had I simply allowed all of those dying friendships to slip away into the mists of time, without actually doing anything, it would never have had lasting consequences. I realise, looking back, that there were things I could have done, circa 2002, to discourage one of their bad habits of simply inviting herself everywhere. I did the wrong thing by passive-aggressively inviting her along on the basis that she would turn up anyway. It wasn't kind: it sent a wrong message about how I valued that relationship. I didn't.
I think now, looking back, you don't really think about these things until after you've done them, and by then, the harm is done. Its one thing if you've had a major row, or something has happened that means you both need a break, but quite suddenly selectively disconnecting people is cowardly.
So when recently, it happened to me, and I spotted it straight away, I realised how bewildered my former "friends" might have felt, and how hurt they probably were. No wonder the anger was palpable 3 years later: they hadn't done anything, didn't know that, and had no way of knowing that. Looking back, was it blame? Yes. Was it targeted insult? Yes. Was I wrong? Probably. I should never have allowed them to get so close in the first place. I didn't draw appropriate boundaries, and inevitably, they broached every one. Was that my fault? Partly, yes.
We live in deeply tribal worlds, and social media is very much part of the "real world." It is not a virtual world where people can be adopted and dropped like a Tamogochi. They will be just as hurt as they would be if you snubbed them in person, if not more. The answer, to be honest, is to layer your social media in such a way that you don't end up with no "inner circle" which is limited to people you really do want in your life. If you don't do that, then you end up deserving the flood of lunacy that social media will inflict on you.
Most importantly, remember that the most important feature of social media is communication: if you are linked to somebody on a network, and you cannot be open with them about something you found offensive, then why are you linked on that network at all?
People do turn up again. The world is a much smaller place now, and actions like this have palpable consequences. I find myself avoiding certain places like the plague: for example I totally dropped out of Running Amach after my former cronies all joined en masse. I was really annoyed but to be honest, I brought that on myself. If you are going to dump an individual or group socially you better be willing to deal with running into them again later on. Also, I should have massively turned down the volume on the pair of them on Facebook. By going to the trouble of wading through my Friends list, and picking them out for defriending, I implied they had done something to derserve that, when really, they had not. That I found myself still paying for that, 3 years later, in retrospect, is not surprising.
That's why I suggest being vigilant before you let people get too close. I have a simple rule with Facebook: no friends you wouldn't give your mobile phone number to. If you don't know them personally, let them at least be a friend of an existing friend, or somebody you've engaged with extensively on other networks. Or maybe a former classmate or someone you've a big shared interest with. These often turn out to become great friends. But don't think that you can quietly turn off the link without somebody becoming upset about it. They will be deeply, bitterly hurt, and possibly quite angry and offended. If its just irritation or awkwardness, like my situation, its up to you to establish why you're cutting the cord. But don't do so unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences, because there are good odds consequences there will be, even if you are fortunate enough to be banishing somebody mature and understanding. I do believe there is such a thing as karma, and brutality you deliver, always comes back your way and "virtual" does not mean "free of malice".
And you know, looking back, was I right or wrong? I don't know. They tolerated a fair bit of angry drunkeness over the years. They tolerated breakups, partners who wouldn't let me talk to them, mutual friends who then fell out with everyone. I wasn't exactly a great friend myself. They tolerated me, and I rejected them. Then I rubbed salt in the wound by picking them off my social media lists.
Its no wonder then, I got that earful of abuse in 2011, and for this I still pay a price. I left Running Amach the moment I spotted they'd all joined, en masse. I couldn't go out for fear of them all turning up and things turning ugly after a lot of alcohol. A couple of years ago I went out to a pride event and spent the whole night bypassing the corner where I'd spotted some of them.
I realise that while there was a need for a hiatus in the network of relationships, I effectively inflicted blame on them on a set of patterns and scenarios I'd effectively allowed to centre around myself. I still pay for that now: these days I just go out with a couple of people I know and trust well. My peace of mind was achieved but it came at a cost.
So next time you feel your temper and patience fraying, and your forefinger hovering over the block or disconnect button, think again. If you are on Twitter, you can mute the person. If its Facebook, unfollow them first, place them in the "Restricted Friends" group if they really bother you, only sever a relationship if it genuinely is a problem, if they are really genuinely harrassing you.
Liking your posts, by the way, isn't harrassment. Posting annoying little amorous messages, as I recently had from an online contact, is annoying, but ultimately harmless. (Attempting to invite themselves over to stay with me was starting to push a boundary but straddling it. Its not a crime to like somebody a bit too much.) If you've any kind of public profile, either realise you're going to be inundated with people liking you, and have a proper strategy for that. Don't fall into the trap of allowing your personal account to merge with your professional online presence. What you say WILL drift off into the world. Your every gripe might as well be public announcement. It might be time to get your agent to setup a website and a Facebook group for yourself. (If you do this, after having several 1000 anonymous "friends" announce you are splitting off your account by the way - PantiBliss did this beautifully on Facebook a few years back. He simply explained that he had hit the 5000 friend limit and was moving to a page, so don't be offended. It worked).
Now don't get me wrong. A periodic cull isn't a bad thing. But if you've been interacting with somebody for 4 or 5 years, you'll hurt their feelings. Be careful how you do these things, because, there is such a thing as karma, and as they say, what goes around comes around.