The Hard Facts: That’s What Unfriends Are For

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“[Researchers] found the number-one reason for unfriending is frequent, unimportant posts. … The second reason was posting about polarizing topics like religion and politics. … Inappropriate posts, such as crude or racist comments, were the third reason for being unfriended.” (“Top Reasons for Facebook Unfriending,” Science Daily 10/5/2010)

Breaking up with a real-life friend can be harder on women than breaking up with a romantic partner. Breaking up with an online friend is not nearly as tough. But I’d imagine it’s plenty more common.

We’ve already discussed the etiquette of unfriending. But a recent study gets at the root of why we do it in the first place.

What’s interesting here is that we seem to “punish” people online for their behavior in that same space. None of the top three reasons for unfriending had anything to do with real world antics. We’re less likely to unfriend someone because we’re mad at them or because they broke up with our best friend than we are for, say, sharing too much about their Farmville exploits. In fact, according to this study, 57 percent of those surveyed unfriended for online reasons, while only 26.9 percent did so for offline behavior.

Apparently, we like to keep our universes—the real and the virtual—separate.

Real-life friend breakups can be so complicated that it’s refreshing to have the major unfriending culprits so neatly identified. There are lessons to be learned here, assuming you hope to hold onto your Facebook friends.

1. People who want to know everything about you don’t want to know everything about you. It’s awesome that you took a nap today. And that you woke up. And that you peed. And then went back to napping. Way to go. But unless your only Facebook friend is your mom (and even she might not be interested in your toilet habits), keep it to yourself. A random thought every now and then is acceptable. Links and videos are preferred. But constant trivial streams of consciousness? Not so much.

2. Politics and religion belong on Facebook like they belong at the dinner table. Personally, I don’t mind when people post about politics. Religious posts might turn me off, though, as it strikes me as a bit of a church and state scenario. The long-established separation of church and Facebook.

3. The crude and racist post thing should go without saying. Thankfully, I’ve never encountered a racist status update from a Facebook friend, but recently there was a TMI post that made me want to crawl into a hole. Any status update that starts with “So I was getting it on with this girl…” should get an automatic unsubscribe.

I’ve never unfriended anyone on Facebook. I’m too nervous that they’ll see. But if I did, it would likely be for public fighting. Back in the day I discussed a New York Times article about a couple who fought publicly (and viciously) on Facebook. How awkward?!? Please keep your marital problems between you. I don’t need to be privy to that.

Have you ever unfriended someone? What was the reason you gave her the boot?


Filed under The Search

17 responses to “The Hard Facts: That’s What Unfriends Are For

  1. Karen A.

    Sure, I unfriend people all the time. To me, facebook is like a huge casual gathering, I wander from one group to another and sometimes I just loose interest in what is happening way across the room. Nothing personal, just takes more time than I am willing to spend, so I parse as needed. Social networking for me has almost none of the emotional connection of a face to face, or even over the phone, friendship.

  2. Lindsey

    Haha! I just unfriended someone for the first time this week! How appropriately timed, Rachel.

    First a little background…. I’m responsible for human resources and payroll in my current job. I have received a few friend requests from people I work with, but I definitely prefer to let them ask me, not vice versa, for professional reasons. Anyway, one of the guys who works out in production sent me a friend request many months ago, and I (maybe somewhat unwisely) accepted. I definitely do not accept every random request I get, but if I know the person enough that I’d recognize them out in public and say hello, I’ll usually add them. And that is really all I could say about this person — I really don’t *know* him at all, but I wouldn’t ignore him if I ran into him at the grocery store. So, a few days ago I get a message from this person on Facebook asking if he could get a payday advance for groceries. I couldn’t believe it…. it was like our FB “relationship” was his own little shortcut route to bypassing any red tape to get his paycheck early. The next day I unfriended him, and he did not get his payday advance. Now, before you think I’m cold-hearted for not understanding a person’s need for basic necessities such as food, I do hear people’s similar sob-stories quite often and have had to become a decent judge of character. Later that day, his supervisor told me this guy was throwing a party that night.

    I unfriended this person and never felt one regret.

    • Marcia

      Hey, Lindsey, I too am an HR Manager and dread when I get a friend request from someone at work whom I barely know. It’s awkward, but I usually just ignore the request until it eventually goes away! In HR we have to be so careful about safeguarding confidentiality, that I don’t want to open up any communication channels outside work. I certainly can relate to your recent experience of this employee trying to use a back door approach to you for his own gain.

      • Anonymous

        Agreed Marcia! Lesson learned. As much as I dislike the “ignore it til it disappears” route, I think you’re right…. sometimes we have to be more careful about the “friends” we accept.

  3. megan

    “Politics belong on Facebook like the belong at the dinner table”-seems like the real world and the virtual world aren’t all the separate to me…Public fighting is awkward no matter what realm you’re in, and I’d say that a lot of the ‘netiquette’ rules are based on real life preferences…

  4. No, but I am tempted to do some fall cleaning and go on an “unfriend” spree and weed out some people. My reason would be because I’ve accepted too many people that I have no real connection to, other than we might have gone to kindergarten together. I am hesitant to post and share things with virtual strangers. So I want to only keep people that I have actually or want to keep in touch with. Sort of like that rule of cleaning out your closet- if you haven’t worn it in a year/spoken to them in a year, out they go.

    As for annoying posters- I simply hide them, so I can’t see their posts, but I don’t have to “unfriend” them.

  5. Ana

    Oh yeah. Usually for frequent boring updates (farmville, etc…) or the constant stream-of-consciousness you mentioned in Rule #1. Also for too much profane/disgusting commenting (from high school/college-age male cousins usually…don’t they know their MOMS are on there???).

  6. Jen S

    I’ve unfriended people for racial comments (I’m embarassed to even say I know them). Also, I’ve been really tempted to unfriend a good friend of mine in real life, who constantly is complaining about how her life is so horrible. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but I’m very tempted!

  7. MCafiero

    I unfriended several professional contacts after leaving my last job. They were people who never reached out to me after I left (I didn’t expect them to) and who I felt would be better suited as LinkedIn contacts versus Facebook ones. Who would want to hear about how great my new job and life in Seattle would be? Who would want to be reminded why I left in the first place?

    Needless to say, some of those unfriending victims became very upset with me and I later found out there was an entire gossip-y discussion about my “antics.” One even contacted me to ask me to confirm whether I unfriended her and demanded to know why.

    I didn’t understand the anger, particularly because I felt a true friend would’ve kept in touch with me…beyond Facebook-stalking. Just because you can read a status update doesn’t mean you have any idea what’s going on in my life.

    It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s Facebook, people. Get over it!

  8. I did unfriend someone last year. This “friend” who I knew as a teenager was friending my women friends on facebook based on their profile picture. My friends thought he was a relative and so accepted the friend request because we share the same last name. So strange and weird that I had to unfriend him.

  9. Lorrie Paige

    I unfriended people simply because in real life, the friendships and acquaintances fizzled-out so it made sense to unfriend them online as well.

    I never understood being “friends” with hundreds of people. I’m only FB friends with people I know personally or people I really would like to know personally. I make it a point to regularly visit each and every FB friend and comment on their page. Can’t do that with hundreds of FB friends. For me, it is and always will be quality or quantity. I never collect friends as if they are trophies–whether offline or online.

    I rarely go to Facebook, and deleted my MySpace account months ago.

    Actually, I love Twttter best of all these social networks because Twitter is the most genuine, least fake network in that you’re either simply “following” someone or being “followed”. Smart words to use!, considering most are probably not your friends anyway, in the real sense of the word, friends. I love that kind of direct honesty Twitter shows. And if they are your real friends–great; they are your real-life friends who you are following or are following you. 100% truth.

    The word “friend” is used WAY TOO loosely….

  10. Annie

    What about friending people? Do you have a rule about who gets accepted? On facebook I don’t friend anyone I don’t know. I like the “I would stop to talk to them on the street” rule. But recently someone my fiance went to highschool with “friended” me and when I tried to explain that I didn’t want to accept him as a friend on facebook because I had never met the guy my fiance got pretty upset. He thinks the fact that they are friends on facebook should be enough for me. Anybody else run into that with their boyfriend/fiance/spouse?

  11. Jean

    I think I would have a very hard time “unfriending” someone on Facebook. I would feel so bad about it. The person would have to something very offensive indeed for me to do it. Fortunately, my Facebook friends really are my friends. They are all people I would see in person, email, call on the phone, etc. It’s a lot easier to keep up with 20 people than 200 or 300 people. Just like Lorrie, I like to comment on my friends’ pictures, stories, etc. That’s just not possible once you have too many friends.
    Annie, Fortunately my husband isn’t on Facebook, so I don’t have the same problem. I feel for you though…

  12. TJ

    My friend Kelley has a quote that she posts on FB at election times that goes something like, “Baby pics, not politics.” I love it. It rhymes. It’s true. It’s perfect.

    And I don’t unfriend so much as I hide folks. Any research about “hiding” yet? 🙂

  13. Virginia

    I agree with Annie, I’m picky about who I friend in the first place. But once they’re in, I usually keep them around. I just block the farmville/game alerts, instead of unfriending people.

  14. I’m definitely a big fan of hiding, which I employ far more than unfriending.

    However, I have unfriended a few people recently. One because he made one too many suggestive comments on my status and I was tired of explaining how I knew him to my mom and boyfriend (and therefore wondering who else was wondering who this creep was). The others were cut because if I saw them walking down the street I might pretend I didn’t see them, so we probably shouldn’t be Facebook friends.

    The other technique I’ve employed to prevent FB drama is that when I’m posting something like pictures from a trip to a city where I have an old friend who might be offended I didn’t call her, I simply block her from being able to see the album. That’s a little high maintenance, but I’ve done it…

  15. suneeti

    as always, great/timely post. i finally took the big step and unfriended someone last year, and then was recently re-friended by the same person (about 6-9 months after the unfriending). not sure if the individual even realized we had been friends/i had unfriended purposely (i doubt i’d have the guts to re-friend someone if i noticed i was de-friended!), but i felt guilty ignoring the request, so i accepted it (and have hidden status updates to avoid being mildly annoyed with myself every time i see a post). so far, this has been my only experience unfriending, though i am often tempted for the reasons listed above, i.e. crudeness or overt political/religious statements that make me wonder how we ever had anything in common in the first place. but then it’s kind of like when you hear a statistic on npr about that 30-50 percent of americans who have diametrically opposing views as you do and you wonder who they are/what makes them tick. so there is part of me that kind of likes reading the FB thoughts of people who are/have become so dissimilar, since it’s probably the only insight i’ll ever have into people like them (i have a tendency to have even less patience for these people offline in the “real” world…fatal flaw/good sense, not sure which it is). i guess it helps to have the option of “hiding” updates.

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