Ivy League grads are purging Facebook friends for "Defrienduary" — and we're obsessed

ByDavid Walter

You've heard of Drynuary. No-shave November. Yom Kippur. Lent. Now, consider a new detox holiday: Defrienduary. 

The premise is simple: one Facebook defriending per day, every day, throughout the short month of February. Think of it as Marie Kondo-ing your News Feed. Social self-care. Media minimalism. 

If Facebook is intolerable — filled with racist rants from randos and dominated by former friends from decades past — you can reclaim it. Purge your feed. Nuke your network. You owe it to yourself. 

Don't worry if you haven’t heard of Defrienduary yet. This social media slimdown hasn't yet swept the nation. What it has done, though, is hold a community of Ivy Leaguers in anxious thrall for several years running — and in the process, taught them to bridge the gap between IRL and online friendship.

A brief history of Defrienduary

Erica Liger/Facebook

In 2008, a young woman named Erica returned to Princeton from a year off. "I had all these people in my friends list who I'd met at orientation, or had been in a class with my first semester, and I hadn't seen them in two years," said Erica, who goes by Erica Liger on Facebook. She decided to cut them and get a fresh start. A holiday was born.

"I think everyone has people on their friends list who are these… extras," she explained. "If I'm not friendly enough with you to interact with you, and you're not friendly enough to interact with me? Then I don't want you to be able to go through and stalk all my pictures and see who I am interacting with." That doesn't feel safe, she added.

Erica kept up with Defrienduary in the years that followed, publicizing her actions and encouraging her (surviving) Facebook friends to join in. The holiday, by her estimate, has spread to "literally dozens" of people, resulting in "over a thousand" defriendings.

Erica Liger/Facebook

The Defrienduary detox

"Every year I almost get a little more excited for it," Erica said:

It just feels like a relief in terms of getting people out of my life. Not necessarily people who've done anything wrong. Just people where I don’t know enough about their lives to notice that they're not on Facebook anymore, or where they barely use their account. The goal is, I want my feed to be people who are actually my friends, you know? I want to see people who I care about their lives and they care about my lives, in a very interactive kind of way.

Defrienduary brings the trends of detoxing and mindfulness into the digital realm. In the same way a decluttered apartment can be a status symbol, so too can a pared-down friend list. After nine years of carefully excising her friend list, Erica claims just 237 connections and zero Facebook fatigue — that feeling of looking at your feed and just feeling bored, blah or exhausted.

"I do feel like I'm actually friends with nearly all of those people [on my list]. Like, if I were to get married and have a wedding, I could just send my wedding invites out to my set of Facebook friends and be happy that all of them came. It's people who I know and who I do — in at least some capacity, in the internet sense of the term — care about," she said.

Erica Liger/Facebook

Perhaps unexpectedly, Defrienduary can also bring people closer together.

"I notice around New Years that there are people who come out of the woodwork," Erica said. "And I start getting more likes the last couple weeks of January. Which to me very much feels like, 'Hey, I am still interested in your life, I still want to interact with you, even if we're not interacting every day.'"

Erica Liger/David Walter

The biggest misconception about the holiday that it is somehow mean-spirited. Most people who get defriended, devotees say, are people who probably won't notice in the first place: Do you really think that guy you met once at a college party is checking up on your Facebook?

"Defrienduary isn't about cutting people out of your life: It's about pruning branches that are already dead," said Brandon Michael Lowden, who has been participating in Defrienduary since the early 2010s. He appreciates the chance to reflect on who he truly feels connected to. "It's about examining the actuality of the relationship. If I saw this person on the street, would I even recognize or talk to them? If the answer's no, what are they doing on my friends list?"

Brad Baron/Twitter

Even for spectators, it creates a little extra excitement in an otherwise dull month — like an annual Hunger Games with a cast of 28 unlucky tributes.

"Every year I hope I don't get culled from Erica's friend list, because I find Defrienduary to be such a delight," said a lawyer in New York, who wished to remain anonymous to protect his friend-list status.

The rules of Defrienduary

For those at home who want to participate in Defrienduary, there are just a few guidelines.

1. Aim for a cadence of one defriending per day throughout the month of February (plus four defriendings on Leap Day every four years)

2. No defriending before February. Sometimes defriendings made in the heat of the moment — say, during a contentious election season — are the ones you come to regret most. Better to spend a few months mulling it over and then making a considered (and satisfying!) cut.

3. If at all possible, set up a separate Facebook account for work acquaintances. This avoids hurt feelings. (In her real life, Erica is a nurse-midwife. "Which is ironic because I'm bringing people into the world to become friends with people," she said.)

4. Repeat annually as needed.

And honestly? You'll probably need it.

"Maybe someday I'll stop doing Defrienduary, but I just don't see a time when that's going to happen," Erica said. "Because there's always going to be that ebb and flow of relationships changing over time. And that's OK! It's OK to recognize and respond to changing relationships, and not feel bad about it."

David Walter is a journalist who was cut from Erica’s friend list two years ago. It was an honor to last that long.