Impact of Unfriending on Facebook

Research states “that the Internet is used to maintain existing relationships, form romantic connections and create new online friendships.” A new concept of “unfriending” – rejecting a friend request or removing someone from one’s list of friends on Facebook – has cropped up. This study was undertaken to explore factors that have an effect on unfriending and also identify the differences in understanding online behaviors and real life behaviors that make a person deal with unfriending. Results showed that people who sent out more friend requests were more likely to face unfriending compared to those who mostly received such requests. Results also showed that people who posted “too frequently about unimportant topics, polarizing topics, inappropriate topics and everyday life topics on Facebook also faced more unfriending from others than for any other reasons.

With the increase in the number of people using social networking sites like Facebook, there is a rise in new social behaviors. One of these is the function called unfriending. This simple push of a button can remove a person from one’s list of friends. The phenomenon of unfriending also means facing rejection of a friendship request. At present the implications and reasons for this phenomenon of dissolution of friendship is not understood clearly. This study was undertaken to look into factors that influence unfriending decisions. These include exploring the role played by friend requests, online behavior on the network and real life factors.

•    In this online study, a total of 1,137 participants selected from the networking site were asked if they had posted about unfriending. The participants were surveyed over a period of three months (from April 17 to July 17, 2010).
•    In the study, they were given questionnaires that took them a total of 15 minutes to complete. The first part asked them if they had ever unfriended a person online and why they had done so. The second part asked if they had ever been a victim of unfriending and asked for explanations and reasons.
•    The third part included questions regarding the participant’s total usage of social networks like Facebook.  The fourth part of the survey was related to general characteristics of the participants like age, sex, etc.

Key findings
•    “Survey respondents who initiate the friend request are unfriended more often than expected. Survey respondents who receive the friend request make more than the expected number of unfriend decisions.”
•    Unfriending was common for people who misbehaved more on Facebook than offline. These people were more likely to put up inappropriate posts or post about mundane or political topics.
•    Long-term users of the site often unfriended due to real-life situations like a change in relationship that included a break-up or a fall-out.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The respondents involved in the study were selected on the basis of their response to Twitter posts. This was one of the main limitations of the study and could be corrected if participants were randomly selected, because the results may be skewed.  The author believes that Twitter users could be unfriending people more than regular users of Facebook. Other factors that affect unfriending, like privacy and segregation of friends into different Facebook accounts of a single person, have also not been considered in this study. Another limitation was that the study depended on the memory of the participant leaving room for faulty or inaccurate accounts. The author proposes further research in this area to explore unfriending behavior among regular users of social networking sites like Facebook.

Social networking sites like Facebook have gathered a large fan base and with increasingly complex friendship and relationship behaviors on the Internet, it has become an important area of research. The implications of unfriending a person have not yet been studied. A Facebook user could reduce the phenomenon of unfriending by minimizing unimportant, inappropriate and too-frequent posts. Similarly, businesses that use Facebook to promote themselves can benefit from this knowledge and avoid being unfriended. “This research shows how the friend request and online and offline behaviors contribute to unfriending decisions. There are many areas in which this research can be extended and improved to generate new knowledge about how users navigate the online world.”

For More Information:
Unfriending on Facebook: Friend Request and Online/Offline Behavior Analysis
By Christopher Sibona; Business School, University of Colorado, Denver

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.