Surprise! Unfriending People On Social Media Has Real-Life Consequences

I walked into the living room recently to see my younger son (he’s seven) with his head down on the table. This isn’t normal behaviour for him, so I asked him what was wrong and he didn’t want to talk about it. My two boys were playing Minecraft – a complete obsession for them at the moment – on XBox Live, so I assumed it had something to do with that. I asked my older son (he’s nine) what happened and he told me he was “trying to fix it” which led me to ask, “Fix what?” They were desperately trying not to tell me what happened. My younger son accidentally unfriended one of his brother’s friends on Minecraft. For those of you unfamiliar, when playing XBox Live, you can have friends play online in your game or their game at the same time if you are ‘friends’. I helped them sort out the problem (my older son’s friend was being unreasonable) and eventually everything worked out and they went back to playing Minecraft without any problems. There was some unnecessary drama involved in this and it made me think that this is just the beginning of their social media adventure.

An article I read recently spoke to something similar to what happened with my boys. A research study, done mostly on Twitter, found that there are real-life consequences to unfriending someone on social media. I am pretty sure that anyone that has used any social media platforms since the creation of social media could tell you this is true. I discovered about a week ago that someone I know in real life, although we don’t really hang out really anymore, unfollowed me on Twitter. I was kind of hurt at first, but then rolled my eyes at the whole thing because what is the point in worrying about that? Maybe my twitter feed was just too real for this person to deal with?

“Researchers found that 40 percent of people say they would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook, while 50 percent say they would not avoid a person who unfriended them. Women were more likely than men to avoid someone who unfriended them, the researchers found.”

I have unfriended/unfollowed people on social media and feel kind of uncomfortable about the thought of seeing that person, but straight out avoidance isn’t something that I would do even though I can see how someone would do that. We are definitely not talking about unfriending/unfollowing an ex on social media because that’s an entirely different topic.

Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Denver Business School and study author, says,

“The survey results show the effects of being ostracized on social media, citing respondents who reported reduced self-esteem, feelings of not belonging and a loss of control after being unfriended. Respondents also say they had a worse mood after a social media breakup. 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. 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.”

My son putting his head down on the table is an image I can’t get out of my head – that’s how he dealt with just accidentally unfriending someone. I imagined him, after reading the article about this study, trying to avoid a third grader in school. The research found that there were factors that would predict if a person would avoid another person that unfriended them.

  • 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.

“People who are unfriended may face similar psychological effects … because unfriending may be viewed as a form of social exclusion,” Sibona said. “The study makes clear that unfriending is meaningful and has important psychological consequences for those to whom it occurs.”

So what do we take from all of this? Well, if you’re a seven year old hopefully someone is paying attention to you (and kudos for reading this this far – if you need help pronouncing the words I’ll be more than happy to do that) and will help you through it. If you are a bit older than seven, this kind of thing does hurt and it takes time like anything that hurts to get over. Get your Kübler-Ross on and work toward acceptance.

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