For many of us it’s easy to find ‘friends’ on Facebook. Once you’ve got started and added a few friends it can often be easy to find other people you know. And the more links you have the easier it is to grow your network.

But how many of us have actively ‘defriended’ someone on Facebook? (And, incidentally, is this a word? The answer, it seems, is yes – see below). In real life we may lose touch with our friends, or chose not to have contact with them. But we probably haven’t publicly said ‘I’m not friends with you anymore ‘since we were at school.

What is the etiquette, then, of pruning one’s list of Facebook friends? If we defriend someone, is this displayed on our respective News Feeds pages? And will this cause intrigue? And what happens if others then start to defriend the same person? Will they lose face?

Well I took the plunge recently, when I defriended someone for the first time. This was someone I had messaged, asking if she was the person I’d know when in Newcastle. It turns out that she wasn’t – but, as her message was ambiguous, I needed to befriended her to verify this. As we didn’t know each other, I defriended her – and felt slightly guilty as she only had one other Facebook friend. But at least this action wasn’t displayed on my page.

I do think we will need to start to defriend our Facebook friends. It would be helpful if there was a Facebook application which could help manage one’s friends, perhaps in some automated way. But we will still need to grasp the nettle and let go at some stage.

Perhaps we need a Letting Go Of Your Facebook Friends day?

PS A Google search for defriend revealed several definitions, including this one from the Enclopedia Dramatica:

To “defriend” is to remove someone from your LiveJournal’s Friends list; it is tantamount to “throwing down the gauntlet” and declaring one’s friendship at an end. Unsurprisingly, many people consider defriending a severe blow to their pride and reputation, and thus the act of defriending tends to stir up a lot of Internet drama.

and this one from the Urban Dictionary (which demonstrates that the term pre-dates the popularity of Facebook):

  1. To remove someone from your livejournal friends list.
  2. the act of removing a friend on your Myspace friend’s list. 
  3. defriend smbd v , transitive de + friend; cf. befriend – to break off friendly relations (with smbd)

I should add that, as Andy Powell has observed recently, the Urban Dictionary has also defined the term Facebook limbo to refer to “the electronic space between accepting and rejecting a facebook friendship“. Is it worse to be rejected or to be ignored, I wonder?