Why Your High School Classmates are Unfriending You

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Christopher Sibona of the University of Colorado Denver wanted a clearer understanding of unfriending behaviors on Facebook, which would aid in the development of models for a life cycle of online relationships.

Following up on past research that determined the most common reasons for unfriending on Facebook — frequent/unimportant posts, polarizing posts (politics and religion), inappropriate posts (sexist, racist remarks) and everyday life posts (child, spouse, eating habits, etc.) — Sibona wanted to see which friend types are most commonly un-friended and why.

Survey recruitment was conducted by sending Twitter users who posted about unfriending a reply asking them to take a survey about the topic. The non-random survey was used to determine respondents’ opinions and behaviors about unfriending on Facebook.

The survey asked respondents to identify the last individual who they unfriended; a total of 1,552 respondents completed the survey. Participants were offered 15 choices of friend types and an “other” category, which included specifications by respondents like “didn’t know her,” “enemy,” and “formerstudent.”

The 15 categories of friend types could classify 87.5 percent of the friend relationship where the remaining 12.5 percent were specified as other other. The majority of unfriending (52.8 percent) takes place among high school friends, coworkers, common-interest friends and college friends.

The high school friend and work-related friend were investigated in greater depth. High school friends were more commonly unfriended for posting too often about polarizing topics and posting too frequently about unimportant topics compared to other friend types.

Many people become Facebook friends with people from high school more for social surveillance purposes than to keep in touch with them on a more personal level. High school friends may not be seen as often as other friend types for geographical reasons, so high school friends may be unfriended less often for disliked offline behavior.

Work-related friends, however, were most likely to be unfriended for disliked offline behavior. This is due in part to users being in closer physical proximity to coworkers than, say, high school friends.

Posting frequently about unimportant topics was less likely to be related to unfriending for work-related friends compared to other friend types.

Survey respondents who unfriended high school friends indicated that the person they unfriended posted significantly more often about polarizing topics and frequent/unimportant topics than friends who were not from high school.

More educated survey respondents perceived that Facebook friends posted too often about polarizing topics compared to those who had lower levels of education. And survey respondents in the U.S. perceived that their friends posted too often about polarizing topics than those who lived outside the U.S.

Younger survey respondents were less tolerant of their Facebook friends posting too often about unimportant topics than older survey respondents.

Examining unfriending behavior on Facebook provides opportunities to study the dissolution of online friendships according to specific markers like friending — when a friendship begins — and unfriending, which marks that friendship’s dissolution.

The research results are also helpful in that they contextualize friendships and unfriending beyond broad categories of Facebook friends. The context of specific friend-types and relationships could bring greater understanding of the life-cycle of online relationships — some relationships will be maintained or strengthened, while others will be dissolved through unfriending.

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