Facebook is useful for so many things, and yet mostly what it is good for is providing you with new and technologically advanced ways to feel miserable. One of the most effective weapons Facebook offers in the quest to destroy your self-esteem is the ability of people to defriend each other. Nothing cuts deeper than discovering you've been deleted by someone on Facebook, or really any other social networking site. Most people will do anything to avoid that painful fate. So, lucky for you, a new study has come along that's established what the hidden "rules" of Facebook are and how not to break them. Using their fancy data, these kind researchers have devised a highly scientific formula for ensuring no one ever defriends you again.
It's actually so simple it might blow your mind. Are you ready for this? Here we go: Don't be an asshole. Who knew that the solution to successful social networking was so elegant? Well, you did, probably, assuming you've managed to make it this far without having all of your internet friends abandon you. Of course, Facebook is complex, and thus it provides you with any different number of ways to be an asshole—from posting dirty pictures of someone to forgetting to wish your third grade teacher a happy birthday—but the good news is as long as you follow a few basic Facebook "rules" you should remain in the good graces of all 873 of your closest friends and frenemies.
To establish these unspoken rules of Facebook engagement, researchers asked a group of 44 Arizona State University undergrads to write down their own sets of "rules." The participants had an average of about 200 Facebook friends and spent about 40 minutes a day on the site, so they had some experience with how not to go down in a blaze of social networking glory. After they had compiled a list of 36 rules from these students, researchers did two separate surveys with much larger samples to establish which of these rules really mattered to people and whether they'd apply to Facebook friendships with a real-life close friend (whom you're also FB friends with), a "casual friend" (which sounds dirty, no matter what), or an "acquaintance" (which is a fancy word for the majority of your FB friends).
What they found is that essentially reciprocity is the main factor in having a successful Facebook friendship forever. (OMG, wanna be my FFF? We can get lockets and everything.) So here's how that works: If someone posts something you your wall, reply to them. Also, follow the Facebook Golden Rule: Do unto other's timelines as you would have them do unto your timeline. In other words, think before you post and don't put anything up that's going to make one of your friends look like an idiot. Do that and you should avoid shedding friends like a snake who's losing their skin.
As for other insights into our Facebook lives, there were a few. For one thing, the closer the friend, the more ways they could communicate with you on Facebook without seeming like a creep—so it's fine to chat a friend but not an acquaintance. Also, speaking of those acquaintance relationships, it turns out we all share a common understanding that the purpose of that friendship is for "passive Facebook stalking." Glad we're all on the same page there.
Protecting each other's online reputations was found to be very important between close friends. This involves not doing things like posting pictures in which your friends are naked, look stoned, or—worst of all—are showing off their less attractive left side. However, it turns out saying "happy birthday" is the key to maintaining relationships with your acquaintances/objects of passive stalking. That's because taking the time to write "Have a good one, buddy!" when prompted by Facebook to do so might be the only one-on-one interaction you'll have with that person all year. So, when they're drunkenly scrolling through their list of friends, looking for people to axe, if you've taken the time to "maintain" your relationship you'll have left a positive impression in their mind. "Oh, I can't delete that old so-and-so. She's so nice. She remembered my birthday!"
None of this should come as a great surprise, seeing as this is basically how you were supposed to behave around friends back in the olden times when people interacted with each other face-to-face and not with each other's scantily-clad avatars. Still, it does get a little complicated trying to navigate a place where your BFFs, your random work friends, and your "just friended him because I wanted to see how fat he got after high school" acquaintances all have equal access to whatever information you post.
For instance, students in the survey complained about seeing "emo poetry" from their acquaintances in their newfeeds—talk about a special kind of Facebook annoying. Nobody wants that kind of cheesy insight into the feelings of some dorky person they sat next to in that lecture their junior year. But then again, you also don't want it from people you see every day. So, perhaps we should just consider a worldwide ban on Facebook emo poetry of all kinds and save ourselves the trouble of having to cringe every time we see it. All in favor, click "like."
Anyway, now you know how to behave in a way that is scientifically-proven to ensure that everyone thinks you're nice—or at least not obnoxious enough to ban from their online lives. To review, just in case you were busy carrying on three Facebook chats with casual acquaintances while you read this: The Facebook love you take is equal to the Facebook love you make, or something like that. Also, always take the time to craft a deeply sincere happy birthday post for every one of your friends, even if you have no recollection of ever having met them.
How to Avoid Getting Unfriended on Facebook [LiveScience]
Image by Jim Cooke