Unfriending on Facebook May Affect Relationships

By: Jenna Savage


We’ve heard it before — be careful with what you do online. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to keep that in mind. Social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can seem like they’re just fun ways to interact with other people, but it turns out that what happens on the Internet doesn’t stay on the Internet. In fact, what you do online can result in real-life consequences, a recent PsychCentral article reports. In particular, unfriending someone on Facebook or other social network can lead that person to avoid you in real life.

According to the article, a University of Colorado Denver Business School doctoral student named Christopher Sibona conducted a study using a Twitter survey. He examined 582 responses, which showed that 40% of participants would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook. Of the remaining 60%, 10% were unsure of what they would do and 50% said they would not avoid the person. They study also found that women were more likely to avoid those who had unfriended them than men were.

After examining the surveys, Sibona came to the conclusion that there are six factors that can determine whether or not a person would avoid someone who unfriended them. These included whether the person discussed the event, the emotional response, and whether the relationship had already experienced trouble. However, the strongest predictor was whether the person spoke about the unfriending to other people, as participants saw such discussions to be indicators that the relationship was over.

Because Americans are spending an increasing amount of time on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, it’s important for them to keep in mind that what happens on those services can have consequences. Sibona believes that the lack of face-to-face communication within online relationships lowers the cost of maintaining those relationships. And whereas face-to-face relationships generally fade slowly, removing someone from an online friends list is abrupt and often seen as a declaration of the end of a relationship.

Sibon’s study will be published by the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences. He plans on continuing to research the differences between the etiquette seen in online relationships and that which is seen in face-to-face relationships. However, his current research gives us an idea of just how powerful a tool social media can be in ostracizing a person.

He stated that unfriending could be viewed as a type of social exclusion, and could lead to even more negative consequences, like psychological symptoms of reduced self-esteem.

Ultimately, it’s important for users of Facebook and other sites to keep in mind that what they do while online could affect their real-life relationships.