We sure learn a lot about our Facebook pals. Sometimes more than we ever wanted to know: what they had for dinner (boring), who they had dinner with (interesting), their rants regarding politics and religion (annoying). Unfriend! — now what?
I don’t like you anymore — goodbye!
After feeling bullied by so-called “besties,” Sandra decided to dump those Facebook friends who didn’t seem to have her best interests at heart — a move she quickly regretted. Some of the friends she unfriended were still in her social circle, so seeing them felt awkward. And worse, when she tried to re-friend those same friends, they rejected her invitation. “It was like being in high school all over again,” Sandra said.
In real life, friendships sometimes drift apart — that’s normal. If you bump into that person again, then usually you’re happy to see them. Yet, when it comes to being unfriended, that’s a different scenario. Unfriending is like saying, “I don’t like you, don’t like what you have to say and don’t want to see your stuff — goodbye.” You’re not exactly going to be all warm and fuzzy the next time you run into each other. But, what option do you have, when a Facebook friend is just so annoying? Well, if you’re like most people, you’ll do nothing.
Social repercussions of unfriending
A study out of Nottingham Trent University in the UK found that Facebook users tend to put up with bullying in their network for basically the same reason they did in high school. Because as obnoxious as those “mean girls” and bullies are, they’re still popular. And I suppose that suggests, for some, the thought of being out of the loop is too much to bear — no matter what the cost.
“The social repercussions of unfriending someone reach far beyond the boundaries of the online network,” said Sarah Buglass, a Ph.D. student in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, while discussing the study at a British Psychological Society conference. “People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives. Remaining online friends with troublemakers appears to be a social necessity for some.”
Online troublemakers seem to be popular among their peers. Consequently, some Facebook users look the other way and remain online friends so that they don’t have to suffer the repercussions by unfriending the person.
Most likely to be unfriended
Recent studies from the University of Colorado, Denver surveyed 1,077 people on Twitter and found that the most common type of friend to be unfriended on Facebook is a high school acquaintance.
Another study found four common online reasons for unfriending on Facebook. The four online reasons were frequent/unimportant posts, polarizing posts (politics and religion), inappropriate posts (sexist, racist remarks, etc.), and everyday life posts (child, spouse, eating habits, etc.), in that order. A different study mentioned seeking attention, bragging, or stalking; and other irritating behaviors (e.g., using bad grammar) as common motivations for unfriending.
There were also “offline” reasons cited for unfriending, which were disliked behavior and changes in the relationship. However, the research showed that “online” reasons are more common as a trigger for unfriending, with 55% of people unfriending someone for their online posting behavior, and only 28% for their offline behavior.
What Really Happens When You Unfriend Someone?
While those you unfriend on Facebook don’t actually receive a notification telling them they’ve been unfriended, they may notice that you’re no longer listed among their friends. (Although some people may use apps or third-party software to notify them of any unfriending).
Additionally, they might notice your posts are nowhere to be found on their newsfeed. And once they visit your page, they’ll find the “add friend” button staring back at them, instead of the “friend” button. This can sometimes lead to awkwardness, so it might be worth using your privacy settings further to limit these people’s knowledge of your life before you unfriend them.
Think before you unfriend, unfollow or block
It should go without saying that unfriending someone whom you have a “real-life” relationship with is not the best way to communicate. All in all, unfriending is pretty unfriendly, and should only be used as a last resort. It’s really not something you should do flippantly. Just as in real life, online friendships can sometimes be complicated. But people tend to forget that.
A survey of Facebook users who had been unfriended found that there were negative emotional reactions to the event. Rumination was common when they had used Facebook to connect with existing contacts and was more likely when the unfriender was a close contact. Participants also responded with greater rumination and negative emotion when they knew who unfriended them, and when they had been the ones who originally initiated the Facebook friend request.
Other Options Rather Than Unfriending
Consider a less drastic option, whenever possible. If your brother has posted one too many pics of his dog drinking from the toilet, or your friend has posted her one-millionth selfie, simply hide their posts from your newsfeed. That way, no feelings will be hurt, and you remain Facebook pals.
If you want to reduce someone’s posts in general, you can tag them as an Acquaintance. For that, go to your Profile page and click on the Friends” tab at the top. For each friend, you can click on the Friends box next to their name to bring up options, one of which is to tag them as an Acquaintance.
But what about the people who you really care about—the ones you want to see everything they’re doing on Facebook? In the same place where you can tag people as an Acquaintance or Restricted, you can also tag them as a Close Friend. Using these tools to categorize your contacts will help you have the experience you want on Facebook, without having to cut ties with anyone.
You can also use Facebook’s privacy settings and tools, to ensure your personal information is secure, and anything you post is only reaching those who you want to see it.
If you really can’t take any more of your niece’s political rants, then unfollow her — she won’t be any the wiser. To unfollow someone, head to their profile, then tap the “Following” button in the upper right. There, tap the Unfollow option at the bottom of the menu. If you change your mind at some point, you can always come back here and follow the person again. You can also click the three dots at the top right-hand corner of a post, which will show the options to hide, unfollow or snooze posts for 30 days.
Facebook has even introduced a “take a break” function, where you can change how often you see someone on Facebook, limit what you share with that person, or edit past posts with them. These controls can be found under the Privacy and Safety section in the Facebook Help Center.
You can also choose to have someone removed from your On This Day Feed so that Facebook won’t resurface a person’s posts from years past. To do this, go to the left side of your News Feed and scroll down to On This Day and click on it. At the top of the On This Day page, you’ll see a button for Preferences. Click on it for the option to prevent specific people and dates from being included.
In the case where you have real drama that needs sorting, and it’s to do with a “real-world” contact, it’s probably wise not to unfollow, unfriend, or block your friend. Hash it out in real life — over coffee. Feelings get hurt when people become unfriended. So think before you unfriend your “real” friends, and use this option sparingly.
Your Safety is Always Number One
In this age of mental health awareness and with the unfortunate dangers of the online world, your safety and wellbeing must be put first. So if you have any fears about bullying, harassment, discriminative content, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable, you should never hesitate to take the appropriate action.
If you don’t want someone to see your profile, add you as a friend or send you a message, you can block them. Posts and people can also be reported to Facebook if you have concerns about anything they are sending or posting. When something gets reported to Facebook, they review it and remove anything that goes against the Facebook Community Standards. They don’t include any information about the person who filed the report when they reach out to the reported.
Clinical psychologist Suzana Flores knows the impact of lingering relationships on social media. “Seventy percent of people stalk their exes on social media,” says Flores, author of “Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Our Lives.” It’s not always necessary to unfriend or unfollow, but if your social media use starts interfering with your sleep, mental health, or daily responsibilities, it could be a good solution.
Clearing Out Your Friend List
Recent trends promote “spring cleaning” your friend list, to minimize the amount of unwanted content you consume every day, and lighten your mental load. After all, in many cases, a quick look through your list of “friends” will reveal dozens of people you hardly know at all and really don’t need to stay in touch with.
In fact, in 2010, Jimmy Kimmel declared November 17 as “National Facebook Unfriend Day,” in an attempt to inspire people to remove those “friends” on social media that they barely know, and in some cases, have never even met.
Clearing out connections can be a mindful way to make more room in your newsfeed for people you’re close with, which is a more rewarding way to use social media. Research suggests that we struggle to maintain more than 150 real-life friendships at once. It’s called “Dunbar’s Number” after the Oxford University anthropologist who discovered the phenomenon. He claims that any number beyond that starts to “strain the cognitive capacity of the human brain.” According to Dunbar, that figure translates into the online world too: “The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends, but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world.”
This is another good reason to be more mindful about who you maintain contact with online. On the flip side, if you notice that someone has unfriended you, take a moment to observe your feelings. Remember that, even though it might feel like a rejection, it’s perfectly normal for connections with others to change over time.
Ultimately, put your happiness over the potential of offending anyone you unfriend. Social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, can be detrimental to users’ mental health when people compare themselves to the people they follow.
Several studies have found the benefits of creating positive social media environments. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found anxiety and depression more prevalent in social media users who had negative interactions on social media, and less common in users who had “positive interactions, social support, and social connectedness” on social media.
So use those categorizations, Hide, Snooze, and Unfollow functions to your benefit, and create your own positive social media environment which supports you to thrive.