Abstract: When using social networking services, such as Facebook, it is easy to become friends with other users. Unfriending (or defriending) is easy as well, requiring only that a user click on Facebook’s “Unfriend” button. This chapter highlights the types of friends who are most often unfriended on Facebook, the role of unfriending in connection with emotions, reasons for unfriending others, and being unfriended by someone. Furthermore, we concentrate on avoiding contact after the act of unfriending. Additionally, we investigate whether hiding and blocking can be interpreted as options for discontinuing contact, as well as why people might choose an alternative to unfriending. We conducted our research using unfriending applications, which demonstrate to the user he or she has been unfriended. The empirical basis of our research consists of 2,201 questionnaires, completed by individuals with Facebook accounts.
Keywords: Unfriending, Facebook, Emotions, Reasons for unfriending, Hiding, Blocking, Unfriending apps, Friend, Friendship, Contact avoidance, Unfriending memory
Social networking services (SNSs) have become an inherent part of modern life (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Behind Google, which is the most visited website, Facebook is the second most visited service in the world with 1.39 billion monthly active users as of the fourth quarter, 2014 (Statista, 2015). On Facebook, users can maintain individual profile pages, connect with others who use Facebook, and visit other users’ pages. On SNSs, it is easy to make new “friends.” One need only one click (and receive a positive response from the user to whom you sent the friend request) to befriend someone. Equally easy as befriending (friending) someone is the act of unfriending (or defriending). To unfriend someone, all you have to do is go to his or her private page and click the “friends” button followed by the “unfriend” option. In this way, you cancel contact with this Facebook friend. In past years, the website displayed the unfriend button further down the screen, causing the user to scroll to find it, but in the most recent version, the unfriend button is at the top of the page (see Figure 1). Because the button is now readily available, it may result in an increase in unfriending behavior.
Mass unfriending (unfriending more than one Facebook friend via one command or click) is still impossible. Yet this shifting of the “unfriend” option toward in the top of Facebook profile pages suggests that Facebook can be used to support the separation between individuals according to research of Fox, Osborn, and Walter (Fox, Osborn, & Warber, 2014). Unfriending can be a sudden disengagement (Bevan, Ang, & Fearns, 2014). Unfriending is becoming a frequently used function, with comparisons between 2009 and 2011 revealing more users plying the unfriend button and thus disengaging with some of their Facebook friends (Madden, 2012).
The term unfriend originated about 2005, and in 2009, unfriend became word of the year according to the Oxford University Press. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the word as follows: “To remove (someone) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website” (Oxford University Press, 2009)
The social and physical attractiveness of Facebook friends may influence the unfriending act (Peña & Brody, 2014). Unfriending is considered harsh and impolite. Gutierrez, Lopez, and Ovaska (2013) define unfriending as a hard, unsociable activity, a failure of friendship. People unfriend some of their friends on an SNS to establish distance between them. Being unfriended is akin to one person deescalating a relationship (Bevan, Ang, & Fearns, 2014). A user needs permission if to befriend someone, but unfriending is unilateral; no permission is needed to unfriend another. People do not always notice, at least immediately, they have been unfriended by a former SNS friend. However, if they follow the number of friends they have, they may notice that number has decreased. Alternatively, individuals may search their friendship list for additions or absences and do not find a former contact (Sibona, 2014a). Finally, the user who initiated the friend request is more likely to be unfriended than the one who received and accepted the friendship request (Sibona & Walczak, 2011).
After being unfriended, users tend to avoid future contact with the person who unfriended them (Sibona, 2013). Our study differentiates among reasons for unfriending arising in the digital world (“online reasons”) and those emerging from the physical world (“offline reasons”). The main initiators to unfriend someone on Facebook include posting about unimportant topics, categorized as online reasons (Gashi & Knautz, 2015). Reasons someone might be unfriended include, for example, a user dislikes an individual’s behavior in the physical world. Users who unfriend others for offline reasons appear to dislike them more than people who unfriend others for online reasons (Sibona & Walczak, 2011). Thus, one can be unfriended for reasons unconnected with online behavior.
The main motivation for conducting our study was the absence of empirical findings in the literature (especially on Sibona’s studies) concerning the behavior and emotions of users who unfriend others. A secondary motivation was to gather quantitative results on the varieties of unfriending behavior to compare them with Sibona’s findings (Sibona, 2013; Sibona, 2014a; Sibona, 2014b; Sibona & Walczak, 2011). We will examine whether Facebook users also apply other features to disengage with someone, such as hiding a person from a News Feed or blocking, instead of unfriending. Furthermore, this investigation examines the factors that predict both offline and online reasons for Facebook users to unfriend their friends on Facebook, the factors that predict the emotional response Facebook users display after being unfriended, and the emotions exhibited when they unfriend others. In addition, we identified the types of friends (e.g., friend of a friend, high school friends, etc.) who are more likely to be unfriended. Finally, we examine unfriending application usage. The cognitive, emotional, and social causes and effects of unfriending are not yet clear, for research is insufficient. Sibona’s surveys indicate some reasons for users to unfriend their friends on SNSs, but still other reasons may constitute an impulse for one user to unfriend another. We have found no mention whatsoever that answers how users who actively unfriended some of their friends actually feel afterward.
To explore these research questions (RQs), an online survey was developed and distributed among German-speaking Facebook users. The questionnaire consists of 23 questions in total. There were 2,201 test subjects who completed the whole questionnaire
Literature Review and Background
People form friendships with other individuals because they are rewarding (Wright, 1984). There seems to be a difference between making friends and building friendships in the physical world, however, compared with doing so in the digital sphere (e.g., Facebook). Friendships on Facebook, or in general on SNSs, often represent weak ties between individuals. Strong ties are more likely to be formed in the physical world (West, Lewis, & Currie, 2009). One reason most relationships on SNSs tend to be weak is many people accept friendship requests because it is easier to say “yes” rather than “no” (Boyd, 2006). Young users tend to unfriend Facebook friends more frequently than older Facebook users do (Madden, 2009). Many users consider unfriending to be a harsh act and for this reason, prefer to use the option of hiding other users’ posts from being displayed on the news wall rather than unfriending or blocking them (Gutierrez, Lopez, & Ovaska, 2013). Sibona guess that the social etiquette of unfriending is uncertain and for this reason would some user rather hide others’ posts from being displayed than unfriend them (Sibona, 2014); furthermore, users who initiated the friend request seem to be unfriended more often than those who accepted the request (Sibona, 2013).
Reasons for ending a relationship in the digital world differ from those experienced in the physical world (Quercia, Bogaghi, & Crowcroft, 2012). We found that relationships embedded in different social circles are more likely to end if friends differ too much in age or if one of them is neurotic or introverted. Women tend to unfriend their SNS friends more than men do. Of women, 67 % said they have deleted someone from their network, compared with 58 % of men. Furthermore, more women use privacy settings to protect their private information (Madden, 2012). Social attractiveness is a main predictor of the intent to unfriend someone. This means that people who possess high levels of social attractiveness are less likely to be unfriended than those with low social attractiveness. Thus, the intent to unfriend is a perceptual and behavioral process (Peña & Brody, 2014). When Facebook users are unfriended by someone, they tend to interpret the unfriending act as negative (Bevan, Pfyl, & Barclay, 2012) and as an expectancy violation (Bevan, Ang, & Fearns, 2014)
An article by Liridona Gashi, Kathrin Knautz