The Phantom Friend Phenomenon.

I am going to preface this post with the biggest, fattest “I KNOW” that you can possibly imagine.

I know that this post does not make me look like a mentally healthy, well-adjusted adult.

I know it makes me look narcissistic and basically a total loser with no real sense of perspective.

I know.

But here’s my excuse: I have this thing about numbers. If I see a number, generally, I remember it. Without even noticing.

And so, in the same way I can tell you the registration number of my old class teacher’s car, and my grandmother’s telephone number from 1980, I know how many Facebook friends I have. It’s just a number thing, not a memory thing – as evidenced by the fact I failed to remember to collect my child from school on several occasions last term. So I know my number, as it were.

I KNOW. I’m a narcissist.

But last week, I suddenly noticed my friend count had gone down by three. I knew I’d unfriended one person for posting something racist (gross) but I couldn’t work out who the other people were.

The next day, two more were gone.

Then two more.

Now, at this point even an Evil Overlord starts to wonder if they inadvertently ‘liked’ the Hitler Youth on their timeline. But I couldn’t see anything that was any more offensive than usual. I mean, I haven’t called anyone a Twunt on Facebook for ages, honestly. And yes, I did post a status update including the words ‘just nob off already, Friday’ but I thought that was quite tame, really.


So, I did an experiment. I exported my Friends list into Excel and then exported a historical list from an earlier point in my timeline.


Really, I do. I know. I’m sad. Sad and WEAK.  If it helps at all, I am quite literally overwhelmed with self-loathing and I’m having to self-medicate with M&S Very Berry cheesecake. But admit it – you’ve thought about doing the same thing yourself at one time or another, haven’t you?

Anyway, after all this, it turns out that the five people who have unfriended me? I have literally no idea who they are.

None whatsoever.

Their names don’t ring a bell, I don’t think they’re bloggers, they aren’t anyone I’ve ever met, and I certainly don’t remember conversing with any of them on Facebook.

Which begs a question: why on earth am I Facebook friends with people if I don’t know who they are?  I have three possible solutions.

a) They are special, free friends that Facebook gives you when you’re starting out so you don’t feel lonely

b) They’re phantom friends who never really existed, and have mysteriously vapourised into Internet dust

c) I am basically pathologically British and would prefer to accept someone’s friendship request on the Internet rather than say, “Er, who are you, again?” 


The answer’s C, isn’t it?

My name is Sally and I make friends with strangers on the Internet.




Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. David
    27th April 2012 / 8:52 pm

    Oh my god. Comparing Excel exports. That’s one thing. Keeping historic exports. That is quite another. Good idea though 🙂

    • 27th April 2012 / 9:01 pm

      I know. I couldn’t *be* more ashamed of myself if I tried.

  2. 27th April 2012 / 9:17 pm

    I know someone on Facebook who has about 300 friends on her list and has met/knows maybe 80 ish of them and doesnt really know who the others are. For me when it got to the point that I didn’t know who people were I deactivated my account and started over. I like to
    know and ideally have met my FB pals. Numbers don’t bother me really, ( I do have certain OCD traits with odd numbers however, can’t abide those ) but can understand your comparing exel reports. Kind of. Sort of. In a way.
    Mary Poppins recently posted..Tots100 Film Club – Happy Feet Two….My Profile

    • 28th April 2012 / 3:51 pm

      Yes, I have a second Facebook account for people I know very well – which is handy, I think – I got fed up of not being able to post things because I wasn’t really sure of who was reading it. Gah. I should really just de-activate them both, I know.

  3. 27th April 2012 / 9:23 pm

    Yes that is embarrassing. Shameful. Er, remind me how you did it again?

    When people un-friend me I want to track them down and send them messages saying WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME?!? But I can never work out who has disappeared!

    And I think all un-frienders should also be forced to fill in a short questionnaire before the un-friending process is complete. And I want more of those pop up boxes… ‘Do you really want to unfriend Eleanor?’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘She’ll probably cry, you know, are you ok with that?’ ‘Can you really live with yourself?’

    Needy? Moi?!
    Eleanor Mum/Me recently posted..The one about roast chickenMy Profile

    • 28th April 2012 / 3:51 pm

      I absolutely LOVE the questionnaire idea. Should be mandatory.

  4. purplemum
    28th April 2012 / 10:53 am

    This made me smile. I don’t obsess about Facebook followers ( mostly because I don’t know where my follower count can be found). I do however watch my twitter followers with a little too much interest. I have to say excel reports takes this to a whole new , level. Go cleanse yourself immediately.

    • 28th April 2012 / 3:52 pm

      I feel dirty, it’s true. And not in a good way.

  5. 28th April 2012 / 1:13 pm

    A few of us were just were just twittering the other night about how you can be notified about 5 new followers on twitter and your number of followers stays the same. Re fb friends – every so often people post that they are purging towards a more manageable and meaningful friends list. Followers, fb friends…it doesn’t bother me at all. However when my Google Friends goes down on the blog I am devastated (especially as I have a teasing 99 members atm).
    Midlife Singlemum recently posted..Dancing In The Rain: Four GenerationsMy Profile

    • 28th April 2012 / 3:53 pm

      I know. I’m just annoyed at being unfriended by people I don’t even know. What’s that about, strangers? Eh? I am not interesting enough, apparently. Gits.

  6. 28th April 2012 / 2:08 pm

    I’m sorry, I can’t get over the fact you exported your friends list to Excel!

    Do you know, I dont even know where it tells you how many friends you have on Facebook. That way madness lies…
    Ruth – geekmummy recently posted..Physiotherapy updateMy Profile

    • 28th April 2012 / 3:53 pm

      What? Exporting to Excel is, like, a TOTALLY normal thing to do. In Sally-land.

      • 28th April 2012 / 4:50 pm

        Well, yes, I’d agree with you for sensible data. But your friends list? Next thing you’ll be telling me you made a pivot table of them!
        geekmummy recently posted..Physiotherapy updateMy Profile

        • 28th April 2012 / 8:10 pm

          As if. I printed it off and made a DART BOARD of the strangers’ faces, though.

  7. 28th April 2012 / 6:29 pm

    When I leach cronies on Twitter I assume they’re pornbots who’ve left for sultrier climes. The real worry is when people suddenly unfollow my blog because then it really must be something I said!
    Middle-Aged Matron recently posted..Guilty ParentingMy Profile

    • 28th April 2012 / 8:11 pm

      Oh good grief. I don’t think I should ever use that technology. I might never recover.

  8. The Young Mum Chronicles
    28th April 2012 / 7:06 pm

    This post cracked me up- sometimes I look at my Facebook friend list and wonder if I should start deleting people and get in there first, just in case they delete me and send me into a spiral of self-questioning about why they’ve deleted me. Then I realise that if they do delete me it’s probably because I do things like that.

    • 28th April 2012 / 8:11 pm

      It’s like you opened a window into my mind, right there. I TOTALLY always consider proactive defriending and then kick myself when I don’t and the stranger gets in there first. HATE THAT.

  9. TheBoyandMe
    28th April 2012 / 8:55 pm

    Actually snorted with laughter at the last option. Good one!

  10. Mum of One/Jennifer Bath
    28th April 2012 / 9:46 pm

    EXCEL spreadsheets? For facebook? Seriously, I love you.
    I think I may be a maths/control/OCD freak.
    I have spreadsheets for EVERYTHING.
    Not sure why I am still broke really. I should be running the country by now.

  11. 29th April 2012 / 7:13 am

    This post really made me smile. I could give you my usual lecture that I give my daughter about unless you have seen them in the flesh do not except them as friends lecture!!! But I guess your a bit old (um grown up!) for that one, though hang on a sec didn’t you give me the idea for that one 😉

    To be honest I think the whole thing is worth it for the self medication of the M&S Very Berry Cheesecake, if fact best check your friend count again you may need more medication!!!
    Ali recently posted..Sponsored Video – Virgin Media’s Talent SchoolMy Profile

  12. AdoptiveMummy
    1st May 2012 / 1:01 pm

    OMG I suddenly have this yearning to start some spreadsheets. Must not go there! Love this post!