Unfriending on Facebook often kills actual friendships, study shows
All of us with Facebook pages have grappled with the dilemma of what to do about the so-called "friend" who posts crap way too often. But before you choose to unfriend someone, think twice -- because cutting the cord online can, and often does, end friendships in the real world, too.
That's among the revelations in a University of Colorado Denver study, which found that 40 percent of respondents said they'd avoid a person who dared to unfriend them.
The person behind the study is Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, who's made the scholarly investigation of Facebook something of a specialty. Back in 2010, we wrote about his look into the causes of unfriending.
The top five reasons for unfriending listed by that group of respondents were, in order, frequent, unimportant posts; polarizing posts; inappropriate posts; and everyday-life posts -- the designation for items of the what-I-had-for-breakfast variety.
What was his goal this time around?
"The investigation was basically to determine what happens at the end of the relationship in terms of, 'Will the person avoid the person who unfriended them?,'" Sibona says. "From the perspective of being unfriended, I wanted to know if there were some real-world consequences."
This question was fueled in part by a common response to posts about social network research, including his own: "Nobody cares."
That didn't ring true to Sibona. "I think that's short-sighted," he allows. "Facebook is the number one place where Americans spend time online. They're spending a long time there, and it seemed to me that there would be an impact from unfriending, even though the vast majority of people say, 'You shouldn't care about that. They're not real friends. They're fake friends.'"
Turns out his instincts were borne out by research. For the study, published by the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, he analyzed 582 survey responses collected using another ubiquitous social-media service, Twitter. And he discovered that "about 40 percent of the time, the person who was unfriended will avoid the person who unfriended them. They'll be uncomfortable seeing them and will actively avoid seeing that person."
This behavior is hardly universal. Sibona points out that "about 50 percent of the people said it wouldn't make any difference" -- meaning they wouldn't steer clear of an unfriender or an unfriendee -- "and about 10 percent were in the middle."
The study doesn't stop there. "The investigation continued into some deeper-level stuff, like, 'Does unfriending on Facebook resemble friendship dissolution in general' -- and in many ways, it does."
Continue for more about unfriending, including the complete study.