How many times have you thought about unfriending people on Facebook? Don’t lie to yourself and me. We all been there, we all had these thoughts, and some of us actually did it. Social media specialists, psychologists, sociologists and other researchers analysed this unfriending phenomenon and gave interesting results. According to the studies from the University of Colorado Denver, we mostly tend to unfriend high-school friends, a friend of a friend, work friends, and common interest friends. The two main reasons why we remove people from our online lives are related to political and religious arguments, opposite opinions or harsh arguments. I was quite surprised seeing these results because I expected something else; something more personal. However, just like any other sociological research, this one also has a result called ‘other.’ It seems we unfriend other people for other reasons. I have an idea who others are based on my personal thoughts, reasons, and experience of decreasing my online community.
Since 2004, then Mark Zuckerberg decided to shake our lives by launching Facebook, we started living in the new era of social media. After twelve years, the line between online and offline lives became paper-thin and blurred. On one hand, we became more connected to each other; on the other, we have doubts do we really need to be so close with distant relatives, classmates from primary school or old co-workers we never liked? Surprisingly, lots of articles I recently Googled pointed out that it’s better to use ‘unfollow’ button instead of ‘unfriend’ when dealing with distant or annoying people. Unfriending means that we do not want to keep in touch in real life. What is more, by unfriending we may let people feel depressed, sad, hurt or offended. It seems that researchers suggest us to maintain fake connections in order not to look arrogant or unfriendly. For many years I’ve been thinking about unfriending particular people, and I did it several times. I felt uncomfortable, ashamed and always thought ‘What if I met him or her?’ However, I discovered that Facebook friends or old friends that we still keep in our online circle could run to the opposite side of the street, pay lots of attention to their shoes or turn their head up, down, to the left or right when we bump into each other. I am not judging; I have done the same things. That’s why I started thinking if we do not even want to say ‘hello’ to each other, why are we connected?
Sarah Buglass, a Ph.D. student in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University in her research ‘The social dilemma of dealing with Facebook troublemakers’ reveals one of the reasons why we choose ‘unfollow’ instead of ‘unfriend’ people we are not willing to communicate. People are afraid of ruining their reputation:
The social repercussions of unfriending someone reach far beyond the boundaries of the online network. People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives. Remaining online friends with troublemakers appears to be a social necessity for some.
Indeed, removing close relatives, current co-workers, friends from school or college we don’t like may cause tension in real life and, ‘unfollow’ button helps a lot. But we graduate, change jobs, get divorced and end up relationships. If all these life changes end up positively, there’s no need to think about reducing the list of online connections. But let’s be honest, it rarely happens. People from the past should stay in the past. If a person from the past runs to the opposite site of the street or hides in the shop when he or she sees you, there’s no need to pretend to be connected.
I believe we are connected because we are curious what happens in the lives of people we used to know. We are interested whether our old bestie is going to marry or who our ex started dating. Social media is perfect for stalking, and all of us used this advantages at least once in a lifetime. The problem is that keeping old friends and exes in our friend-list prevents us from moving on. The past frequently shows up in our news feed, and we can stalk them every single evening without being caught. In this case, we focus on the memories and relationships that went wrong instead of learning from our mistakes, developing ourselves and creating new, better connections. Sadly, it takes lots of effort to realise it and unfriend the ones we loved. According to the study by Tara C. Marshall, Ph.D. from the Brunel University, checking out on our ex-lovers is quite common:
Recent estimates have suggested that one-half to two-thirds of people have made contact with an ex-partner through Facebook, and that over half admit to having looked through an ex-partner’s photos to find pictures of an ex-partner with a new romantic partner. Not only is Facebook surveillance of ex-partners relatively common, then, but people who engage in it tend to perceive it as harmless.
The researcher pointed out at my secret thoughts that Facebook stalking is actually harmful. We may do it intentionally or not intentionally; however, the fact is that we use aggregated information for our own Facebook posts or other actions, such as liking pictures or commenting. From the ex-girlfriend’s experience, I can say that it’s purely sly and insidious actions. The same research confirmed my personal confession:
<…> monitoring an ex-partner’s Facebook photos and other forms of covert provocation (such as writing a status update to make an ex-partner jealous) is associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in offline obsessive relational intrusion (e.g., showing up at the ex-partner’s classroom or workplace).
The realisation that these actions are truly harmless not only for the ex but for us as well, sadly, comes up uneasily. Nevertheless, we understand we are disturbing our loved one to move forward, we do not understand the damage we create until we become in the target eye of the ex. Unfortunately, we barely understand that real love is about wanting the best for the one you love. We may not be their source of happiness; therefore, we cannot prevent them from looking for happiness and trying again without us. By ruining their lives, we are ruining ours. Looking for ways to get in touch with our ex shows only selfish desires to get what we want. It’s not love. It has nothing in common with love. Facebook stalking and passive aggressive posts prevent us from being satisfied with our lives, improving yourself and moving on. That’s why many online articles agree that unfriending your ex should be one of the first tasks after the breakup. It may sound childish for some people because ‘it’s just Facebook.’ However, it’s a powerful communication and manipulation tool. Of course, we can choose what to share and whom to share. Though, by leaving people from the past in the friend-list, we indirectly tell them we want to keep in touch for some reason. We may even give them (false) hope to renew our relationship.
The same situation is with old friends we have no interest in talking in real life no matter how good or close we were. Facebook allows categorising friends and sharing our posts to particular people. I tried to do that. Oh, dear it’s complicated. Why should we make our online lives so difficult? If we do not want some people to see pictures from our wedding, why keep then in the friend-list? I thought maybe I am narcissistic and believe that someone is so damn interested in what I share on Facebook. However, like after like, comment after comment, I became annoyed that some people are indeed interested. Actually, interested too much. Here I had two options – either to create those categories and every time think which one to choose, or do not post at all. I had that period in life when I deleted old posts and posted nothing. But my narcissistic nature wants to share some details of my life. Sadly, not with everyone.
Facebook lets you make lists and decide who you want to share what with, but then you become a part-time social media curator and organizer. You’ve got lists of ex’s you don’t talk to, lists of ex’s you’re friends with, lists of friends with kids, lists of relatives you don’t really know very well. Who wants to spend all this time putting people into categories of categories?
Sarah Newman decided to delete Facebook and quit on social media entirely. It’s just too fake and public. Indeed, we share our private moments with strangers. There’s no other name for the classmate from the primary school whom we haven’t seen from the graduation. However, I don’t feel like quitting social media. I am in love. In possessive and obsessive love. Stalking, though, it’s not included in this passionate love affair anymore. I am not afraid to say that I was an ugly stalker once; however, I had to admit that if I do not care how I make others feel, I should care about my own well-being. Everything started from unfollowing certain friends, their friends, ex-boyfriends and strange love affairs. Later I realised that unfollowing is just an illusion. We are still ‘friends.’ I still have a chance to see how he or she lives, and they have the same opportunity. We may stalk each other secretly and without being caught; however, we can be those nasty stalkers who like and comment posts. I asked myself do I want to live in illusion or should I finally move on from the past?
Recently I unfriended more than 250 people. Some of them I loved. Some of them I called my best friends. Some of them I even can’t remember. No matter how silly it may sound, decluttering my friend-list made me feel better. It’s like a symbolic action and payment for the better future. I realised it took me years. I haven’t talked with some people for years, and I hope to never talk with them again. I realised that I am connected with lots of people from the old workplaces and various projects on LinkedIn – so-called social network for professionals. Meanwhile, Facebook is an alternative version of our real lives. Before starting elimination process, I said to myself ‘when in doubt, ask yourself what the first thought comes up to your mind is? If it’s positive, keep him/her. If it’s negative, remove him/her’. Sadly, I had to remember lots of negative things. I have no doubts that this removal will bring me more negativity in the future when some people may notice that I disappeared. But I know what I’ll do then. There’s another amazing button. It’s called ‘block.’ Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no other way to fight the stalkers and people who do not understand that our friendship/relationship is over – just block them. It may sound silly as well. However, if someone would start following you on the street, how long would you take without calling the police?