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To unfriend or not to unfriend on Facebook

Published: April 9, 2016 | Last Updated: December 13, 2016 By | 26 Replies Continue Reading

Whether to unfriend or not to unfriend on Facebook

In this guest post, journalist Cindy La Ferle tackles the thorny issue of whether to unfriend or not to unfriend on Facebook.

She makes the point that the stress of being over-connected to hundreds of “friends” might lead us to rethink how – and why — we’re using Facebook.

Spring cleaning and “de-cluttering” are popular topics this time of year, resurfacing in countless shelter magazines and on TV talk shows.

Over dinner recently, several friends confided that they’d like to extend the benefits of spring cleaning to their social media accounts. One pal said that monitoring the updates of her many Facebook “friends” left her feeling exhausted at the day’s end. She knew things would be easier if she could trim her list of friends in half.

When Facebook was launched in 2004, a whole new world opened up to us. We accepted friendship requests from nearly everyone who sent them — former coworkers and classmates, estranged relatives, shirttail relatives, close friends, fringe friends, and even virtual strangers. The more the merrier.

But once the novelty wore off, keeping track of all those people started feeling like another chore on our growing list of social media obligations. There’s a scientific explanation for this: We’re simply not wired for intimacy with crowds of people.

A widely quoted study conducted by Oxford University professor Robin Dunbar revealed that the part of the human brain used for conscious thought and language — the neocortex – can’t reasonably manage more than 150 people in a large social group. (These would be the friends/associates included in your widest social circle – the ones you’d invite to your retirement party, for instance.) Furthermore, Dr. Dunbar found that we can handle up to 15 close friends, including the five best pals we’d trust with our deepest secrets.

It’s nothing personal

Over the years I’ve accumulated more than 700 Facebook friends. In a nutshell, this boils down to the fact that I’m guilty of not keeping up with everyone on my friend list. I’ve even been scolded for missing photos of new babies and spring vacations — most of which get lost in my never-ending news feed. Real friendship is reciprocal, in my view, so this bothers me.

To make Facebook more manageable — or user-friendly — I tried to shepherd the folks I don’t know as well to a different Facebook page – a professional page. There, I posted news about my writing life, plus links to my published columns and articles. The long-range plan was to limit views of my personal page to intimate friends and close relatives.

But there wasn’t much interest in my professional Facebook page. The majority of my friends ignored it – and continued to visit my personal page. In fact, the silly photos of my dog and cats earned five times as many “likes” as the links I’d posted for my published work.

Still, I didn’t have the heart to unfriend on Facebook and delete the loose affiliations on my friend list – with the exception of a former high school classmate who tried to provoke arguments with me on everything from politics to pizza toppings.

Reasons to unfriend on Facebook

For a wider perspective, I polled my Facebook friends for their thoughts on un-friending. Did they think it was rude? How often did they un-friend people — and for what reasons?

I received close to 60 responses – including private messages with anecdotes detailing several off-putting episodes. One story involved a Facebook user who habitually posted “nearly nude” selfies to document her weight loss.

The majority of responders admitted they’ve un-friended a few people for different offenses. These included: extremely “polarizing posts” about politics or religion; racially biased comments; too many posts related to an agenda or a cause; invitations to play games; or too much profanity.

A few responders said they were annoyed by “the attention seekers” who posted too many updates throughout the day.

The attention seekers, however, were typically “un-followed” rather than un-friended — which means their updates no longer appear in the un-follower’s news feed. Un-following, to me, seemed like the most humane course of action, given that a recent psychological study found that people who post on Facebook several times daily are more likely to be in emotional distress or lonelier than users who post less frequently.

Other responders listed “lack of interaction” as a reason for paring down their friend lists. As one responder explained: “If people ignore my updates, I don’t have a problem deleting them, especially if I don’t know them well. To be fair, I wouldn’t blame the same people if they un-friended me, since our connection wasn’t strong to begin with.”

For the most part, however, nearly all responders said they enjoy using Facebook and find it fascinating.

“My Facebook friends are a wonderful collection of people,” one grandmother told me. “There are the foodies, the yogis, the political, the religious, and artistic posters….Some make me laugh or cry or make me just shake my head. I think it is a wonderment to have such an array of people in my life.”

Managing our connections

As life coach and author Martha Beck wrote in an essay titled “Logging Off: The Power of Disconnection,” our ability to connect with one another is a valuable resource that deserves to be managed well. We have to be discerning.

“It may sound cold-blooded to say you must divest yourself of the relationships that give you consistent losses, but unless you do this, you’ll soon run out of capital, and you’ll have no energy left to invest in anybody,” Beck advised.

In the spirit of spring cleaning, I agree that it’s not a bad idea to step back and take inventory of the friends we’ve all accumulated since joining Facebook. We might ask ourselves what we expect from all these connections — and which ones deserve our attention.

On days when I’m drowning in too much information from too many people, I’m still tempted to trim my friend list. But I’ve finally learned how to use Facebook’s complex and ever-changing privacy settings. And unless things get terribly ugly during election season, I plan to keep all my Facebook friends on board.

For the most part, I’ve grown to accept Facebook’s many drawbacks along with its countless advantages. To get clear, I often take a Facebook break for a few days, and make an effort to spend face time with the real-life pals I’ve neglected. Later, I return to my online social networks feeling refreshed and ready for the ongoing photo parade of adorable babies, new pets, and exotic vacations. 

Do you have more Facebook friends than you can reasonably handle? If so, how do you manage a large network on social media?

Have you ever un-friended someone on Facebook? If so, why?”  

Cindy La Ferle (www.laferle.com) is an award-winning journalist and author who specializes in lifestyle topics.

Journalist Cindy La Ferle

Journalist Cindy La Ferle

On the web: Annoying Facebook Friends: How to Avoid Them without Having To Delete Them

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Comments (26)

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  1. Sarah says:

    I find it really difficult to decline a facebook friends request of people I know and am in current contact with, but if I never defriended people, I`d probably have about 500 friends by now, and I think there is issues with that re privacy – it`s important to me for my facebook posts to feel private rather than public (that`s what twitter is for).

    Therefore, I kept everybody I had a *brief* relationship with (people you met on holidays or ONE night out, people you used to work with but no longer have anything in common with after one of you moves, 20 year old bridesmaid of your friend who only befriended you in order to arrange things, etc), so I do spring clean and unfriend, but *only* those people who I would not be offended if I found they unfriended me first (they sometimes do, see examples above).

    The fairly new unfollow-function has its uses, but I also think it poses a danger of us hanging on to too many facebook “friends” and eventually forget about who we are posting to.

    I`ve got around 100 facebook friends at any given time, and I feel all I write is only read by people I know really well and whom I would tell the same stories face to face.

    And I feel really, really comfortable with that.

    PS: I think the much discussed facebook bragging is really a problem of people having too many readers who they want to impress. I never felt the need to do that, because all the people I have on my list are close and know everything about my life anyway.

  2. XFFB says:

    I unfriend / blocked /unfollowed ( the worst “so called friends”). In this social network you can never identify the real friends are…someone criticizing me for my post in FB (like, my daily work of ART ( which is I just want to share my lil talent of it), sometimes my EMO quotes ( to express somehow my feelings) , sometimes my OOTD pictures ( to show a lil fashion in ME ). I think having this FB account you have the right to post whatever you wanted ( except for posting rude words or photos ) . So, adding a friend in FB we should be wiser enough. Now, m thinking of limiting of using FB to avoid conflicts.

    • Cindy La Ferle says:

      I find that people use Facebook for a variety of reasons, which means not all of us are going to “get” or appreciate what everyone is posting. In the past year, I find that people keep reposting “news” that we already get elsewhere — like news of Prince’s death (!), etc. There’s a lot of “rehashing” and recycling on Facebook, which is why it seems to be less interesting to people, according to new studies. If you are posting art and original content, I’d say you’re probably pleasing the people who are most likely to be the people you’d want to be friends with, anyway. Let the others compare baseball scores and worn-out recipes — if that is the sort of thing they like to do on FB

  3. Cindy La Ferle says:

    Thanks so much, everyone, for taking time to comment on my guest post. I enjoyed researching this topic– and it was great to get so many different points of view. Since it was posted, I’ve received many more private messages from Facebook users who have A LOT more to say about un-friending.

    One user told me that I “missed one of the most important reasons” for unfriending on Facebook — hurting people’s feelings. Several people told me similar stories of feeling left out or having friendships seriously wounded due to careless Facebook posts. As one person put it, “My wife stopped using Facebook because she was getting tired of what she calls ‘HERE ARE PHOTOS OF THE PARTY YOU WEREN’T INVITED TO’ Syndrome. Too many people say and do hurtful things on Facebook that they wouldn’t think of doing in person.” I’m sorry I neglected to include that point in my post.

    Thanks again to everyone who commented!

  4. Renee2776 says:

    Like I’ve said to one of my best friends. This is the year of “getting over yourself”. I share a facebook page with my boyfriend and when I look in our feed at some of the ridiculous attention seekers posting 80 “selfies” a day, it makes me question why I’m back on there lol. I used to have my own private account years ago. I deactivated it due to people I knew that would start fighting with one another on posts on my page. I got to the point where I found myself blocking a number of people and thought, “this is ridiculous”. I really don’t need people to know my every move, etc. I keep in touch with my family the old-fashioned way – by phone or e-mails. Being back on Facebook through a shared account is a bit better…I barely invest time looking on it. When I do, I just see something ridiculous that makes me glad that I’m not 100% invested in the account I have…people sometimes don’t know if it’s me or my boyfriend posting something unless I put my “signature line” at the end…I don’t feel tied down to it. For a lot of people, this social media networking becomes their whole life. I refuse to let that happen. I’d rather spend time in the real world.

  5. Ariane says:

    FB…………uggg, don’t get me started. WORST thing ever!

  6. ShootingStar says:

    Hmm where do I start?! Well the question is about unfriending someone…I will only do it in rare cases when the situation has become uncomfortable, etc. I’ve had stalkers so yeah. Honestly though I will unfollow ppl. I think it’s hurtful and does more harm than good to delete someone. I’ve had a couple “good” friends out of the blue just delete me. To be real I think it was their own insecurities or didnt like that I commented/liked something my boyfriend posted. My boyfriend hardly posts, but when he does you bet I’ll support him. Even if that makes others upset. I hate how everyone can see just about anything. On average I post something once a week (pic mostly) and I’d say a good 1/2 the time it’s cuz I am supporting someone. Like for instance I posted a funny pic of my very good friend and I moving (into her new place). Even if I am not posting (which isn’t alot) I’ll always comment/like when I see something I like or something that supports others. I seriously can’t stand when one person posts about fitness a dozen times a time or the person that does the same selfie everyday, etc. I scroll right past that crap. Sorry to say, but a variety is good in life! And alil mystery is always good! Even though I grew up “popular” I am more than glad that I didn’t have to go through middle school or HS through social media! In HS we did have MySpace and FB hadn’t gotten popular yet…that along with flip phones was ENOUGH to deal with. School is hard enough!!! This whole social media has made ALOT of younger people feel more entitled and vein.

  7. Ursula says:

    I am in my 50s, and I am very, very glad facebook wasn’t around when I was growing up. I am pretty tenderhearted, and I think being unfriended at a young age would have wounded me. OTOH, maybe I would have toughened up! But I can see fb causing emotional problems in not a few people. The author is right: We didn’t evolve having this many connections.

    • Ben says:

      One of the interesting differences between a website like this and Facebook is this site does not have advertising on it. This sight exists for the sole purpose of helping people cope in their daily struggles. It gives useful information to help enlighten people. I loved the article the other day about how come it’s hard to get over your first love. That was a piece of information I had never heard and helped me realize I’m more normal than I thought. Some of the most rewarding times in life revolve around helping others without any expectation of receiving anything in return. I haven’t seen any posts by anyone on here complaining they were ripped off by this website.

  8. Bizzy says:

    U love facebook and have quite a few friend and are active on it. I think it has been a great tool to reconnect with people from the past, meet new people, and keep up with people in your network. I don’t get it when people get so uptight about it. So what if people say things you don’t agree with? Like they said with TV (you can change the dial) you can scroll by. I don’t unfriend people because I think it is rude and it hurts people. Just don’t get why some people have such strong negative reactions to Facebook. It is just a tool!

    • Lucy says:

      If it works for you, great! Not everyone sees it as a great tool. You don’t know their experience.

      • Bizzy says:

        Then you are best to get off it. If it upsets you that much–simple as that. It just isn’t that big of deal.

  9. Lucy says:

    I wish FB had never started and would be thrilled if it went away. Or a better version were created. A version with better privacy options for users. I’m glad it wasn’t around when I was in high school.

      • Jody says:

        Here, here, I would like to control who can/cannot read my posts and it is for this reason I don’t comment about certain topics because everybody will read it. And why do your friends have to know which groups you belong to and are able to read any posts/comments you might post there e.g. a friendship blog….each time somebody comments the post comes up on the newsfeed, hence why I don’t bother.

  10. Holly says:

    I never had many friends in real life, so I only have a little over a hundred on Facebook, most of which I would never call ‘friends’ they are simply ‘Facebook friends’…or newsfeed filler to me. I use Facebook to keep in touch with my close friends, find out interesting news, and I rarely post updates. I ‘like’ posts based on the content rather than the person who posted them.

    I don’t care if I get unfriended, and the only people that I have unfriended so far have been strangers. That said, Facebook definitely makes it trickier when you find out your (now ex) best friend is distancing from you. I have unfollowed her, but due to my OCD tendencies found myself on her page regularly. I would block and delete her to help myself, but I would feel like I was being childish for doing that. So I’ve opted to keep a count of how many days free I am of checking her profile and reward myself every so often. Gosh, that sounds so terrible…I should probably take a break from Facebook XD

  11. Bridget says:

    I have friends because people asked. Some apparently think more is better, a status level. Hardly anyone comments on my posts. Makes me wonder if they clicked unfollow after they sent a request. I use it to read about shows I am interested in, subjects. Rarely visit the pages of people listed as “friends”. I have been unfriended. They no longer show up as friends. I figured they were curious and then bored by my page, so they unfriended me.

    I unfriended a brother, because he ignores me. It took me two attempts and a note stating I should have saved all the money I spent on his kids when they were growing up.

    The straw as they say, was when he ignored the fact that his youngest brother was terminally ill. I decided what’s the point. He made it clear he wants nothing to do with me. Allowed his now ex-wife to celebrate the death if his mother and when his wife said I was NOT family, he asked me
    to leave very early on the Friday after Thanksgving.

    I say I won’t like a person’s post, because they ignore me, but if it’s funny I do. What really urt was someone who wishes EVERYONE a happy birthday except me. His birthday is the day before mine and even though I wished him a happy birthday, he ignored mind and yet he said happy birthday to public people.

    I use Facebook for my own reasons. If folks don’t respond to my posts…. so what!!!! People think having a lot of Facebook friends is a status… whatever. I now only accept those that there is a connection. No connection… request ignored.

  12. IBikeNYC says:

    I am very much an introvert and found myself (as it were) standing, ignored and alone, in a corner behind the kitchen door at the FB party just as I have been at virtually (ha ha) every real-life party to which I have ever gone.

    When I got literally ONE (brief and NEVER followed-up on) comment about the photo I posted of myself IN MY HOSPITAL BED OVER CHRISTMAS, it made me start thinking it was time to take the hint.

    At the beginning of the following September — seven months ago today, in fact! — I deactivated my account.

    So far, NOBODY has (said they) missed me.

    • greyhoundloner says:

      I hate that. I’ve been popular (enough) and I’ve been not. My life has changed dramatically due to health issues and the need to care for an elderly parent.
      FB is often my only contact with the outside world. Literally maybe 10 people speak to me fairly regularly, and the rest just lurk (I assume) or ignore.

      I have heard that FB has rearranged how you see feeds now. And that we don’t see but a small percentage of what our friends DO post.

  13. Amy F says:

    I often use the option of unfollowing Facebook friends as an interim step to unfriending as a way to preserve friendship, particularly if we have mutual friends. It keeps the peace and I avoid feeling frustrated. At times I do feel like I have to many FB friends at nearly 300, but when I go through my list and look at who I might remove, I find reasons to keep them: perhaps we share a love of kitten videos, maybe we went to high school together only see each other every 5 years at reunions, but I generally like the individual and love seeing pictures of the kids and grandkids.
    I love Facebook for 2 reasons: staying in touch with people, and connecting with people who share similar values and interest often through FB groups. I chat weekly during the TV show Scandal with fellow fans and friends, a few are real-time friends but through that group I found others with whom share political and social values. I’ve had a group of breast cancer survivor friends for over a decade, many I’ve met in real time and are close friends. One of my friends moved across the country, so in between visits and phone calls we can keep stay connected on day to day life. I have a chronic illness and don’t get out as much as I once did, so Facebook is helpful to maintain human contact when I’m feeling too sick to socialize face to face.
    I’ve unfriended for childish behavior (middle school mean girl), poor Facebook etiquette (disrespecting of my boundaries) and realization of divergent values (prejudice).

  14. Arlene says:

    Most of the people who use facebook or fakebook, as I call it, are just using it as a tool to pretend they are happy, rich and famous which can leave the rest of us feeling like our life is an unexciting bore. Many of the folks I know, who are divorce ready, are posting the happy vacation couple pictures, but I know the underbelly and she just slept with his best friend, threw her out and are now pretending all is well. Some of the pictures posted aren’t even current….they could be from years ago. Other girls at an expensive golf weekend, all doing the happy selfie have real serious girlfriend issues and you wonder how did that picture get taken? Others are test driving a fancy car, hoteling it up until their credit cards are maxed out. Its being used as a tool to boast even if what you are boasting about isn’t even true, but we followers will never even know. It also seems to be the trend in 2016 to not keep up with the Jonses but the Kardashians and people are going to great lengths to do stupid things like they do just to have something to post And there never was a family that was a bigger mess? Is is a gift or a curse. I think for the right reasons as face to face interaction seems too much trouble it is nice to congratulate a new Grandma, Graduate or in some cases be informed who has passed as newspapers are gone but when posting fake pictures, and encouraging people to live outside their means for picture sake, its a curse

    • Ben says:

      I’m so freekin tired of the Kardashians… Who ever appointed them as desirable role models… Gag me with a spoon….

  15. Ben says:

    “The good is the enemy of the best.” – Bill Wilson Why stop at culling Facebook friends? What value has Facebook really given us? We have been led to believe that computers have brought us closer together. Have they? Computers are great for mundane accounting tasks and figuring stuff. Email has certainly replaced snail mail. If Facebook works for you great but there is life after Facebook. I like enjoying people in “real life.” I like knowing what “real friends” are. It seems that every generation gets challenged with new ideas. Prohibition seemed good at the time then did not do what it intended. Rock n Roll was thought to be a tool of the devil by some when it came out. Baseball certainly benefited by computers as told in the movie “Moneyball.” Before I got off Facebook someone I know on there had over 1300 “friends.” In real life I have a few good friends. It works. As my father used to say, “If it works don’t fix it.”

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