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

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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  1. There is also a business way to look at it. If they unfriend me, they will miss out on possible jobs in the future. I use FB 75% for business.

  2. I never unfriend people just incase I were to ever run into them in real life, plus it’s kind of mean/rude. If someone’s statuses or pictures are annoying me, I just unsubscribe from their status updates. If anyone doesn’t know how to do this, you just go to that person’s profile, hover your mouse over the “friends” button. (Dont actually click the button just hover!) and a list of options will appear, click on the option that says something like “don’t show status updates in newsfeed.” And if you ever do decide you want to see their status updates in your newsfeed again, you just hover over the friends button click the option again.

  3. I had someone unfriend me because I didn’t like My Little Pony. I’m not kidding. This happened a month ago and as you can tell from my picture, I’m not 4….and niether is the person who likes My Little Pony. The person posted something about their love of My Little Pony and asked who else loved it and I made a joke like, “I used to love it but not anymore because I’m not four!” Apparently, this was so offensive that I was defriended.

  4. I hate that social media drama. You can’t even un”friend” people that haven’t been talking to you for ages because they feel hurt about it. I mean, come on, why should I have you on my “friends” list if you obviously aren’t interested in keeping in touch? This whole thing tends to get out of hand sometimes.

  5. I have unfriended one person on fb that I know locally, haven’t seen him since. But I sent him a message explaining why. He was posting “gay” jokes all the time and I finally told him I wasn’t going to stay friends anymore as I couldn’t put up with the things he posted and thought were funny. Should we happen to run into each other it will be very awkward.

  6. There are a few people on facebook at I would really like to delete but would never have the guts because of what it would mean in real life.
    However, I have been deleted by people as my friend count has occasionally decreased, most of the time I have no idea who it was so obviously I wasn’t upset, I do know for sure a few of them but I really couldn’t care less.

    • Same here. From time to time I realize that there are less people on my “friends” list but I hardly ever find out who the person unfriending me was…

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