What Really Happens When We Unfriend Someone On Facebook?

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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 

One study showed that unfriending someone on Facebook had real-life consequences.
One study showed that unfriending someone on Facebook had real-life consequences.

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 jerk.

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. And the most common reason for unfriending your old pal is because he or she posted offensive rants concerning religion or politics.

Frequent and uninteresting posts were also cited as reasons for unfriending. Coworkers were often unfriended because of things they did in the real world rather than what they posted on Facebook.

While those you unfriend on Facebook don’t actually receive a notification telling them they’ve been unfriended, chances are they’ll likely notice that you’re no longer listed among their friends. Additionally, they’ll probably 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. 

Think before you unfriend, unfollow or block 

Before you unfriend someone on Facebook, adjust your settings so you don't see their updates.
Before you unfriend someone on Facebook, adjust your settings so you don’t see their updates.

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. 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 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, just visit his or her page and uncheck the “following” option next to the “friend” button.

But if you have real drama that needs sorting, don’t 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 and use this option sparingly.

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— Katherine Marko

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