The Unfriend Zone

As the warm weather finally approaches, most of us will take part in the annual ritual of spring-cleaning. For some, this means going through old winter wardrobes and cleaning and dusting to our heart’s content. For others, this means spring cleaning through their social media, deleting frivolous accounts and even filtering whom they are in contact with. “Unfriending” is an odd two-sided coin. On the one hand, there is the person going through their list of friends, choosing which ones they decide to stay connected to through these online social medias, creating the question of why we unfriend people.

“It depends on their purpose in the unfriending.  Sometimes, the Facebook friendship is really the last thread connecting people in a dysfunctional or non-existent relationship,” explained Dr. Jamie Goodwin-Uhler, psychology professor. “In that case, cutting that tie can feel like finishing up unfinished business, and the unfriender feels relief that they get to put the relationship in the past and move on.”

Goodwin-Uhler added, “But some others may unfriend as a passive-aggressive move– they feel a sense of power in having gained the upper hand. They can exclude someone from their life with the click of a button, and without saying a word, force the other person to make a move if they wish to continue the relationship.”

Back in the day, Facebook was all about the numbers. If you didn’t have at least 300 friends you were deemed uncool in the realm of social media (There was a grace period of course for those who just made an account).  However, it seems recently that being “friends” with someone on Facebook is more about the quality than the quantity.

Alex Mitchell, a junior social work major explained that she has unfriended dozens of acquaintances on Facebook for multiple reasons such as lack of contact or negative commentators. “If I don’t talk to them then why should they have access to what goes on in my life? The last time I did a mass unfriending of people was after something fairly tragic happened in my life and people were talking negatively about me and someone I care about. I decided that I didn’t want to subject myself to others negativity and hatred so I unfriended close to 300 people and honestly I’m happier because of it,” said Mitchell.

Even though there are positive reasons for unfriending someone you have no real relationship with, is it the proper way to end friendships and other relationships?

“Social media has most definitely affected social interaction and social problem solving. I witness this almost daily, especially with younger students,” said Mary Harris, specialist professor of communication, who has seen the interaction issue while speaking about social media for a non-profit group. “The audience was comprised of primarily middle school-aged children. One of the questions posed by a parent was on problem solving skills among her child and another child. It was evident that many students hide behind a screen to express themselves passive aggressively, rather than resolving problems face-to-face through nonviolent, compassionate communication,” Harris said.

Harris added, “This is very concerning to me. But what is most concerning is this is not isolated to one age group; I have witnessed similar behaviors among middle-aged adults. I think it is up to us to encourage our peers, our family, our coworkers, our students, that social media cannot and will never replace real-life human interaction.”

It may seem very passive aggressive to unfriend someone as a way of saying “hit the road,” but there are reasons why it may be best, especially if you feel that the person in particular is being a negative influence in your life.

“Unfriending cuts off the possibility of productive discussion.  If it is a relationship that you think has the potential to continue once whatever issues you have are sorted out, assertive (not aggressive) face-to-face communication is usually best,” Goodwin-Uhler said.

Letting the person know that you value his or her friendship, but there is something that has been bothering you, gives you the chance to get it off your chest, your friend the chance to speak their piece, and both of you the opportunity to get your needs met and come to a resolution.  Sometimes, though, unfriending is for the best. “If someone has repeatedly proven to not be a positive influence in your life, and their virtual presence is only causing stress, distraction, and unnecessary negative feelings, it may be time to cut the cord,” she said.

So if you decide to do a little personal reflection and social spring-cleaning, remember that these are people, and not just virtual relationships that disappear after you hit that unfriend button. It can be beneficial and a refreshing step into a new part of your life, but make sure you unfriend others for the right reasons, and without other friends influencing you.

“I’m no longer worrying about what’s being said about me on a public forum or who’s looking at my stuff and judging me because they no longer have access to my site and they no longer come up in my newsfeed,” Mitchell added. “I use unfriending to get rid of negativity or simply people whom I no longer have contact with. When it happens to me I assume the person is doing the same thing I do. I don’t take unfriending personally.  I see it as someone ridding themselves of negativity and people they don’t care about. Even now after defriending 300 plus people there’s still people I’m friends with on here that I don’t talk to, or talk to often.”