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Friending and Unfriending on Facebook

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

A new study done by PhD student Christopher Sibona at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, shows that unfriending someone on Facebook or Twitter can have negative consequences. It also revealed some of the differences in the way people relate on social networks as compared to face to face interactions. This is important because the Internet with its social networks has become a major way for people to manage social interactions. Unfriending someone on one of the social networks can result in the individual doing the unfriending being avoided and shunned in real life.

Being shunned on social networks is a very real phenomenon. Being ostracized this way results in lowered self esteem and feelings of depression and of not belonging. Anyone who has participated in an online community support web site can testify to how  much emotional power can be stimulated by online relationships. In fact, sometimes the interactions can generate even more power than face to face relationships because the anonymity of the web allows for a lot of projecting of thoughts and feelings and, therefore, a lot of distortion about what is really being communicated.

According to Sidona, there are four main reasons why people are unfriended on Facebook:

1. Frequent, unimportant posts
2. Polarizing posts usually about politics or religion.
3. Inappropriate posts involving sexist, racist remarks
4. Boring everyday life posts about children, food, spouses etc.

According to Sidona:

Relationships are changing as the world becomes increasingly connected by the Internet. It is estimated that Americans now spend about 25 percent of their time online using social networks like Facebook which has over a billion members. The result is that traditional face-to-face communication is giving way to more remote online interactions which have their own rules, language and etiquette. The cost of maintaining online relationships is really low, and in the real world, the costs are higher. In the real world, you have to talk to people, go see them to maintain face-to-face relationships. That’s not the case in online relationships.  Also, in the real world when a friendship ends it usually just fades away. On Facebook, it can be abruptly terminated with one party declaring the friendship over. Since it’s done online there is an air of unreality to it but in fact there are real life consequences. We are still trying to come to grips as a society on how to handle elements of social media. The etiquette is different and often quite stark.

What is complicated by all of this is that, for those who feel isolated and lonely, rejection on a social network can feel all the more painful because it is often sudden and unexpected. In addition, internet relationships are not a substitute for those in the real world. Face to face, relating takes on a deeper meaning. For example, in real life, people communicate non verbally through body language, tones of voice and facial expressions. All of this is absent on the internet. You cannot shake hands on the internet as you can in real life. That brief touch can make a real difference.

What are your experiences with social media?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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