You may want to think twice before unfriending someone on Facebook. That’s because new research has found that serious real-world consequences come from unfriending someone on social media.
In particular, 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.
"People think social networks are just for fun," said study author Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Denver Business School. "But in fact what you do on those sites can have real-world consequences."
Some of those consequences highlight the way social media relationships affect people in the real world. Sibona 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," Sibona said. "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."
The research, which was based on 583 responses gathered through Twitter, also found there were several factors that would predict whether or not a person would avoid someone who unfriended them. Those factors were:
- 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."
The study was published by the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.
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