Shun Your Fake Facebook Friends with This New Feature

Finally, Facebook is helping users create a list of real friends inside their official friends list. There's no need to share everything with everyone, after all. But watch out, because people will know when they're downgraded to your D-list. (Update below.)

Throughout the next week, Facebook will create empty lists of "close friends," "acquaintances" and "restricted" buddies for everyone, according to the Facebook blog. As you add friends to these lists, their posts will be specially weighted in your news feed, and you'll be able to target status updates and photos at them. Facebook will also generate, and magically pre-populate, "smart lists" of work, school and family friends at whom you can also target content.

It's a great feature, turning Facebook relationships from binary, weirdly robotic Friend vs Not Friend associations into something more nuanced and more reflective of the gray areas of real world social interaction. There's one big downside though: Facebook lists are, by default, public - everyone can see who is on your "close friends" list and who has been relegated to "acquaintance," unless Facebook has quietly made some change to its system (none has been mentioned). The lists even show up right on your profile. Instructions for fixing this are here; you'll basically need to make a "Custom" group of people who can see your friend lists ("close friends" would be a good choice).

This feature is also long overdue. Many of Facebook's recent privacy scandals came because the company pushed content like status updates, profile photos, friends lists, and likes and interests into public view, when people in fact wanted more, not less, control over their privacy. With this feature, Facebook is taking another step in the direction of what users seem to want.

It took long enough, though. Facebook was quite obviously spurred to action by intense competition from Google Plus. But then the company's founder and CEO is not exactly known as an expert on the subtleties of human to human interaction. In the spirit of building bridges between normal people and Facebook cyborgs, BEGIN COMMUNICATION: 010001110110111101101111011001000010000001101010
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Update: Facebook will change when this feature launches, such that your friend lists can no longer be made visible from your profile. This reverses the old behavior, described in the links we used above. A Facebook spokesman contacted us to say that this should keep your lists well hidden from your friends, so people won't know the name of the list into which they've been slotted (though they'll be able to see who else is on the list with them). Very encouraging. (This update has itself been corrected!)