unfriend button

We can optimally manage about 150 true friendships on social media, as well as in real life, due to limitations on our brain capacity and free time. It’s called the “Dunbar’s Number” after the Oxford University anthropologist who discovered the phenomenon. He claims that any number beyond that starts to “strain the cognitive capacity of the human brain”.

Nowadays, with the advent of technology and social media, most of us have much more friends than the Dunbar’s Number: high-school friends, college friends, work friends, friends through parents, neighbors, people we meet at various events, people we have common interests with, etc. And, of course, don’t forget about our romantic partners. Each stage of our lives brings us more and more connections and therefore new additions to our friends’ lists, leading to hundreds or even thousands of friends on Facebook and other social media sites.

At some point, when searching through the list of names, we surprise ourselves asking: who the hell is this person again? And this can be the start of a so-called “Facebook épuration”. Scaling back their friends list to the people they’re closest to is one of the reasons people unfriend others.

Other reasons were extracted from recent studies conducted by few researchers, curious about our online behavior.

Christopher Sibona, a computer science PhD student at the University of Colorado, has been conducting a series of Facebook unfriending studies since 2010. His last study from 2014, “Unfriending on Facebook: Context Collapse and Unfriending Behaviors”, included 1,330 respondents who were asked about who they’d most recently unfriended and been unfriended by. The survey responses were gathered via Twitter.

Being inspired by Sibona’s studies, two German researchers, Liridona Gashi and Kathrin Knautz, designed and conducted a more complete and refined study on Facebook unfriending: “Facets of Facebook: Use and Users, 2014”. The questionnaire was answered by Facebook users only. The survey was started by 2,517 respondents and completed by 2,201 respondents.

Here are some interesting findings:
1. Reasons Prompting Facebook Users to Unfriend Some Friends
More than half of the respondents unfriended someone because of too many posts (50.6%). Furthermore, too many game requests (34.5 %), unimportant posts (33.4 %), inappropriate posts (25.9 %), and racist posts (18.4 %) are also reasons for unfriending.

2. Who Are The Most Commonly Unfriended Friend Types?
Friend types who are mostly unfriended are friend of a friend (40.1%), Internet friend (37%), other school friend (23.35), and high school friend (20.5%).

3. Who Is More Likely To Be Unfriended: The Person Who Sent The Friend Request Or The One Who Accepted It?
A person is far more likely to unfriend someone if they were the one who received the original friend request between the pair, as opposed to the one who sent it, at a ratio of two to one. It is quite natural that the person who sent you a request is likely to be more interested in being friends in the first place.

4. Unfriending: End of the Relationship?
For the majority of participants (nearly 50 %) unfriending on Facebook does not end the relationship in real life. Yet for almost 30 %, unfriending does signal the end of the relationship in real life. Women are more likely to state that unfriending indeed represents the end of the relationship in real life. In contrast to women, more men are likely to state that unfriending does not represent the end of the relationship in real life.

In conclusion, people have limited brain capacity and time to be able to manage so much information coming their way. It is crucial to be selective these days.



People may not like the things you post (political comments, posts about religion, sexists comments, a very negative view on life, in general etc.). They may dislike the language you use (either vulgar or simply abounding with grammar mistakes). Or they can get annoyed by your constant updates on your culinary experiments, places you visit, or your child’s latest kindergarten achievement. And they take action. They unfriend you. A user needs permission to befriend someone, but unfriending is unilateral; no permission is needed to unfriend another.

Unfriending is maybe the ultimate in passive-aggressive forms of rejection that doesn’t have an equivalent in the “real” world of relationships. On Facebook, no one tells you that you’re unfriended or explain the reasons for doing so. And it is even more hurtful to be ejected from someone’s friends list, as keeping a lot of friends on Facebook doesn’t require some special effort.

Chapman University researchers Jennifer Bevan and team (2012) started to investigate the reactions of 547 adults to the experience of Facebook unfriending. This form of estrangement is difficult enough to endure, but it seems even more difficult to manage when the online separation reflects the intention of your former Facebook friend to hide from you completely, in real life, too.

Some possible coping mechanisms if this is happening are:

  • Don’t overthink about the unfriending: most of the time, it’s more about a bruised ego than actually suffering after losing a friend.
  • Expand your real life circle of friends: try balancing your digital life with your real life. Social media is not everything.
  • Use your critical eye to look at your Facebook activity: maybe there is something in your online behavior that makes people trim you away – you reveal too much information or make offensive comments.
  • Don’t stalk those who unfriended you: resist the urge to follow their every step.

Let time pass, and cooling off of tensions take its course, and if it’s meant to be, the relationship will resume in its own time.