I've previously advocated for the use of Facebook in telling one's bigoted relatives to go fuck themselves, because you wouldn't allow hate speech in your living room, would you? So why would you allow it in your magical computer living room? Confronting and/or unfriending jerks on Facebook is a quick and relatively low-stakes way to express the fact that this shit does not fly in my house—without the risk of getting punched in the tooth, or of losing everybody's deposits because you started a riot at the family reunion and somebody flipped the pool. Instead of all that mess, it's just one little click and you're done! See? Now avoid that person forever.
Seems pretty simple. However! The existence of this study implies that there may be some confusion on what happens after your social media break-up. So let's clarify: The internet is not separate from "real life," it is part of real life—you can tell because it is real—so if you bitch someone out on the internet, their real-life body notices it too. And you're going to have to live with that, so you should probably think before you click.
The study in question gathered responses (via Twitter) from 583 subjects, who characterized their reactions to being "ostracized" on social media. No surprise: they're not into it. And also no surprise: that resentment doesn't stay trapped inside the computer, Tron-style, it seeps into your IRL relationships as well.
In particular, researchers found that 40 percent of people say they would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook, while 50 percent say they would not avoid a person who unfriended them. Women were more likely than men to avoid someone who unfriended them, the researchers found.
"People think social networks are just for fun," said study author Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Denver Business School. "But in fact what you do on those sites can have real-world consequences."
Again, duh. That's what I like most about culling jerks on Facebook—the fact that it gets them off my back in person too. Is it really so painful to be avoided IRL by some dick who pissed you off enough that you can't even stand the thought of him looking at your crabcake benedict on Instagram and had to take evasive action? Sounds like a win-win to me.
But, I suppose, there are some people—coworkers, for instance—with whom mutual avoidance isn't so clean and easy. And blocking close friends can cause bigger rifts than we might realize. The study identified a handful of factors that predicted whether or not social media users would avoid someone who unfriended them.
Those factors were:
If the person discussed the event after it happened.
If the emotional response to the unfriending was extremely negative.
If the person unfriended believed the action was due to offline behavior.
The geographical distance between the two.
If the troubled relationship was discussed prior to the unfriending.
How strong the person valued the relationship before the unfriending.
"People who are unfriended may face similar psychological effects … because unfriending may be viewed as a form of social exclusion," Sibona said. "The study makes clear that unfriending is meaningful and has important psychological consequences for those to whom it occurs."
Anyway, all no-doys aside, one way that the internet does differ from our flesh-and-blood lives is that it facilitates easy, ruthless cruelty with few immediate consequences. Calling someone a cunt on Facebook is way easier than doing it to their actual face. And, in the moment, I'm sure it's satisfying. But just because the consequences aren't obvious and instantaneous—like a punch in the tooth—doesn't mean that you won't feel those consequences eventually. You're still hurting someone. Other people are watching. So don't be a dick on the internet unless you're ready to be treated like a dick on the street.
Facebook Unfriending Has Real-Life Consequences [LiveScience]
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