February 9, 2013

The Real-Life Side Effects Of Facebook Choices

Unfriending people on Facebook has gotten some attention recently, although the interest in unfriending is not new. According to a redOrbit article from 2010, Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student in Computer Science and Information Systems at the University of Colorado Denver, first researched the unfriending phenomenon on Facebook three years ago. In that study, he looked at the reasons why people are unfriended and found these four reasons:

  1. Frequent, unimportant posts
  2. Posting about polarizing topics, namely religion and politics
  3. Sexist, racist, or otherwise inappropriate posts
  4. Offline behavior.

Well, Sibona is at it again. On Monday, February 4, 2013, the University of Colorado Denver released Sibona’s findings about unfriending people on Facebook. This time he studied the real-life consequences, and boy did he find some!

Sibona studied 582 survey responses gathered via Twitter and found six factors that predicted whether someone would avoid a person who unfriended them. The number one predictor was whether the person who ended the relationship talked about it to someone else, which relates to the others:

  • If the person discussed the event after it happened
  • If the emotional response to the unfriending was extremely negative
  • If the person unfriended believed the action was due to offline behavior
  • The geographical distance between the two
  • If the troubled relationship was discussed prior to the unfriending
  • How strong the person valued the relationship before the unfriending.

He further found that 40 percent of people surveyed said they would avoid anyone who unfriended them on Facebook. Of the other 60 percent, only 10 percent were not sure what they would do. And to add even more depth to his findings, women more than men said they would avoid real-life contact with the unfriender.

As the press release notes, “People think social networks are just for fun…But in fact what you do on those sites can have real world consequences.”

I could not help but think of my own Facebook account after reading this information. First, I do not spend much time on Facebook. I may check it regularly, but for only a few minutes. I do not peruse the site like many others do. Also, I have only been a member of Facebook’s current incarnation for about a year and a few months. However, even with my limited exposure and in that short time, I have an experience that relates directly to unfriending and real-life reactions.

About this time last year, my dear friend unfriended me on Facebook. I saw this person daily as we worked together, spoke to them daily after work, spent weekends with them, and even vacationed together the previous summer. We were good friends. Then, all of sudden, I no longer saw this person’s posts. I was hurt not because Facebook was so important to my life, but because I did not understand why we were no longer connected via Facebook.

My friend was the original reason I joined Facebook, so to have this person unfriend me so suddenly with no explanation really hurt. Naturally, I confronted this person the next time we spoke. My friend explained the decision (unfriending for work purposes), but I did not understand why this person could not just talk to me instead of suddenly foisting me out.

It was not the fact that we were no longer Facebook pals that hurt me. It was that my friend did not talk to me until I confronted them about the situation. Suddenly, I realized I could not trust someone who would so flippantly cast me out of even a virtual life without even the simple courtesy of a warning. Their actions showed me that I valued the friendship differently.

Friends should be able to talk to each other before doing something so noticeably drastic. I understood my friend wanted to separate work from Facebook, but our relationship was close enough that they should have talked to me.

I am sure many people have unfriended me, and that is totally fine. However, one who is supposed to be my close friend and confidant is a different story. Obviously, I am not the only person to have such a reaction to a Facebook unfriending. My experience obviously falls under the sixth predictor: how strong the person [i.e. me] valued the relationship before the unfriending. I do not avoid my friend, per se, but I also no longer spend time with them nor share my life with them. We work together, but that is now the extent of our relationship. The Facebook unfriending started the unraveling of our friendship.

I know the real-life ramifications of Facebook unfriending. Unfriending is not the only consequence, though. Posting radical ideas, inappropriate pictures, dangerous criticism, and even the simple melodrama can really affect how people view us. Furthermore, lawyers have been known to use social media like Facebook in myriad court cases such as divorce, child custody, and many others.

As Sibona said, social networks are thought of as just for fun, but they are so much more. This is why it is important to think about our actions on those.

Image Credit: wong yu liang / Shutterstock

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Email


Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

Send Rayshell an email