New studies reveal who we're most likely to unfriend and why
Spoiler alert, if you find out it's happened to you, chances are it's gonna sting
It's so tempting. We've all added so many friends (and friends of friends...and people we barely know) on Facebook, that doing a little people-purging seems in order. But if you've ever been unfriended yourself, you know it's the most incendiary of acts - like declaring you don't want even the most peripheral involvement in someone's life or they in yours. But in reality, it's just one little button, so why does the thought of clicking it cause us so much turmoil? A pair of studies at the University Of Colorado Denver have delved into the psychology and ramifications of the unfriending phenomenon - what makes us do it and what impact it has on the unfriended.
Surveyed participants who were practitioners of unfriending revealed that the top kind of person they unfriend is the high school acquaintance, followed by the friend of a friend, co-worker and the common interest friend. The most common reason participants unfriended their high school friends is because they posted controversial comments (often pertaining to religion or politics). That reason shouldn't come as a surprise - especially in such divisive and polarizing times. It also raises questions about how our relationships with friends from our youth change over time. High school, for example, is a time of experimentation and development, when our own belief systems haven't fully settled in yet, and as they do form in adulthood, who and what we want to see in our timelines might change.
The other notable unfriending category is: the co-worker. Respondents reported that they often unfriended their co-worker based on that co-worker's actions in the real world (as opposed to their behaviour online). We often seem to live dual lives; one professional and one personal, so when the two bleed together, they can create a host of conflicts. If you see someone at work that causes you great strife or annoyance for 8 hours on a daily basis, scrolling through your feed in your downtime only to see their face and activities is probably not ideal. Conversely, you may unfriend them because you don't want them to see what you are up to.
The second study focused on the emotional reaction of the unfriended and what factors determined the severity of their response. The most common responses to being unfriended were that of feeling surprised, then feeling bothered, amused and sad. It's easy to see why most people would be surprised at being unfriended, it's an act you wouldn't normally expect and it's something you would have to discover on Facebook yourself, as opposed to being notified. The biggest predictors of whether you felt more negative (both bothered and sad) about being unfriended, was how close your relationship was with your former friend and how closely you monitored your own friend list. However, if the issues were discussed between the friends before the act and if the unfriended discussed the event with others afterwards, they reported feeling less negative about the situation. The results also found that unfriending happened more between close friends as opposed to mere acquaintances, suggesting that the closely knit relationships might be the most tumultuous.
What do these findings say about how we regard our friendships? Firstly, our digital lives are irreversibly connected with the rest of our world. We really need to consider how our behaviour and perceptions in person affects the behaviour and perceptions of others online (and vice versa). Even though the digital space presents an attitude of de-personalization, mass information and near-anonymity, it can still get deeply personal. If you have hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends, each positing the (often trivial) rundowns of their daily lives, it can often be far too much content to take in. Knowing this, Facebook (and most other social media platforms) offer many different options to customize what you see in your feed, like unfollowing your friends without them knowing, stopping notifications from specific events or posts and even hiding posts containing certain words (you never have to read another Trump rant again). Furthermore, you can also customize who sees what you post, which is certainly something to consider next time to post potentially sensitive or annoying material. So with all these other options available, for someone to sift through the content of all their friends, and take the time and effort to search your name, click your profile and hit "unfriend", it's easy to see why we find this act so personally insulting. Miss Myspace yet?