Feature

Why Facebook doesn't actually want you to unfollow anyone ever

The social network's new "Unfollow" button won't sever relationships that have gone sour

There are plenty of reasons to block certain acquaintances from your Facebook feed. Maybe it's that former colleague who shares nothing but feel-good emotional porn from Upworthy. Perhaps it's that ex who wasn't athletic when you dated but somehow manages to run a Tough Mudder every weekend. Maybe it's your quiet stand partner from high school who turned out to be kinda racist. Go ahead! Give 'em the ax.

Except de-friending someone on Facebook is about as easy as unsubscribing from relentless email spam — and that's by design. You have to go to the offender's profile page, find a not-all-that-obvious drop-down menu, and scroll down to "Unfriend."

What you can do, however, is easily block his or her content in your feed while still pretending to maintain that online relationship. Right now that's accomplished by clicking "Hide" on a status update, and then clicking an option for "Hide All."

But in an apparent attempt to clarify some of its language, Facebook is now gearing up to change its "Hide All" option into something more in line with standard internet parlance. TechCrunch is reporting that the "Hide All" option will soon change to "Unfollow." You'll still be "friends" with that individual; you just won't see his or her content showing up in your feed. The change, according to a Facebook spokesperson, is to "help people curate their News Feed and see more of the content that they care about."

If that's a bit confusing, well, that's also by design. Your social connections and the data they harbor — like what TV show you share with someone, or where you went to school with so-and-so — are the currency that gives Facebook its latent monetary value. The company uses its massive storehouse of information to not only better sell you stuff, but to charge advertisers accordingly for what it claims to be more efficient real estate. It's in Facebook's best interest to get you to cough up as much data as possible.

That's the trade-off that makes Facebook free to use, of course. The scheme appears to be working just fine, business-wise.

But that leads us to what's most odd about today's update. Facebook likes to view itself as the digital representation of the real-world you, but it is apparently perfectly fine with tethering you to individuals you wouldn't otherwise have a relationship with were it not for Mark Zuckerberg's desire to connect every dot in the world. It doesn't matter if that signal is weak or non-existent. Facebook just wants to know who you know. Or knew.

From time to time, the dissonance between Facebook's stated mission to foster relationships and what it actually does becomes apparent in feature updates — in this case, an Unfollow button that severs everything between you and another person except the connection itself.

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