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February 11, 2013 at 1:25 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Facebook: Real-life Implications in a Virtual Realm

By Anne Christen More Blogs by This Author

In 2013, 27 percent of Facebook users in the United States plan to spend less time on the site, according to a study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The reasons for this are varied, but the most common motivation was not having enough time for the site, with "21 percent saying they were just too busy with real-life responsibilities to read, like, and comment on posts. In addition, 10 percent called it a waste of time, another 10 percent cited a general lack of interest in the content, and 9 percent said they were unhappy with the amount of drama and gossip on the site."

If it’s so easy to leave Facebook, it should be equally easy to un-friend those whose posts you don’t enjoy, right?

But not so fast.

Virtual Reality

While most consider social media to be nothing more than fun, these sites do carry over into reality. Researchers say that un-friending someone on Facebook can have serious consequences in the real world. As a result, you may need to think twice about how you manage your Facebook page.

FB Photo

Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, found that 40 percent of people would avoid anyone who un-friended them on Facebook if they saw them in a tangible setting. The study was based on 582 survey responses gathered via Twitter. Sibona found six factors that predicted whether someone would avoid a person who un-friended them:

  1. If the person discussed the event after it happened
  2. If the emotional response to the unfriending was extremely negative
  3. If the person unfriended believed the action was due to offline behavior
  4. The geographical distance between the two
  5. If the troubled relationship was discussed prior to the unfriending
  6. How strong the person valued the relationship before the unfriending.

This study highlights how relationships are changing as the world becomes ever more connected by the Internet. It also clearly demonstrates the power of social media in the real world. Whereas users may have, at one time, dismissed their actions on sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that these sites carry important psychological consequences. And, as "traditional face-to-face communication is replaced by more remote online interactions that each have their own rules, language, and etiquette," we must learn how to harmoniously mingle our online and offline relationships.

Friend Clutter

Still, many people continue to ask what should be done about Facebook friends you hardly know in the first place and don’t really care about knowing at all. Sharing information with these people, as well as those with whom you’re very close, can create an "awkward hodgepodge" that ultimately leads to clutter.

Friend clutter can be a problem when you no longer want certain people involved in your life. If that sounds heartless, consider this scenario (which I’ve had happen to me): your very closest friend, the one with whom you share everything, abruptly stops talking to you because her life has evolved in such a way that you’re no longer welcome. When this happened to me with my best friend, I had to accept that she had two young daughters and a husband, whereas I was single and childless. She wanted to be with the parents of her daughters’ friends, not gossiping with me.

Some Facebook relationships are similar. They start out wonderfully, only to evolve in such a way that they no longer suit your needs or wants. The profound truth behind friend clutter, however, is that we as a society don’t handle endings well. As sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot wrote in the book Exit: Endings That Set Us Free, "We celebrate the new – marriages, homes, babies – but there is little appreciation when we decide it’s time to move on. As such, we need a language for leave-taking that allows us to gracefully unfriend a person on Facebook, explain why and move forward in the knowledge that relationship is satisfactorily completed."


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