The Ethics of Unfriending

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For a little over two years, I have been a part of a big and wonderful place of cyber-belonging called Facebook. And in those two years, I have “unfriended” exactly one person.  Granted, I did unfriend that same person at two different points in time, but never-the-less, only one individual has warranted an unfriending. Yet somehow I’ve been unfriended numerous times, which makes me think that I like people much more than they like me in return.  Although I don’t have the hard stats in front of me, I’m well aware that my I-was-unfriended/I-unfriended-someone ratio is not good.  Once, about a year ago, I sat down and looked at all the relationships I’d ever been in, and determined that my got-dumped/did-the-dumping ratio was a pitiful 10:1. The most humiliating part of that is I’ve only been in 11 relationships.

Last week alone, I was Facebook unfriended by three people.  My “friend” count went from 269 to 266.  I shook my head, knowing that I would now have to find three other people to send friend requests to.  My friend number had to be balanced back out, obviously.  Maybe those folks from high school who kept popping up on the “People You May Know” list would have to finally be friended.  You know who I’m talking about – the dude you vaguely remember, who shares like 45 mutual friends with you, and who you’ve sort of been in a friend-request blinking contest with.  I’d look at that person’s profile pic and think, “If he sends me friend request, fine…but I’m NOT sending that loser one!”  Seeing that I had lost three friends in a week, I was suddenly feeling nostalgic.

Going back to the one person I unfriended, I think it’s important to state that I told her both times that I would be unfriending her.  The unfriending was not done in a covert fashion, as most seem to prefer.  Oh no – I did my unfriending ethically.  She didn’t have to go on her news feed and think, “Where are Bill’s status updates,” and then slowly and in horror realize that the unfriending had taken place.  It seems only ethically right to send the person a message before committing the evil deed.  I’m not even saying that the unfriending party has to offer an explanation, just an acknowledgement that, hey, it’s time to say so long.  I’ve enjoyed your photos, “liked” a few of your comments, and now I feel I need to move on.

Now, I don’t think the “unfriending message” has to always happen. Sometimes it’s obvious why someone unfriends me – like in the case of the one girl I dumped.  But other times, I’ve been the victim of a shock unfriending.  Just recently, I found a former co-worker, the art teacher from my old school, on the “People You May Know” page.  I had no idea she had unfriended me.  Why on earth did this happened?  Was I culled? Did I say something offensive?  Did I post too many status updates? Maybe she was on an ego trip and was just axing people randomly for her own satisfaction.  It’s a mystery that will never be solved because, right now, silent unfriending is an acceptable norm.

I remember when I was a kid, there was a boy named Eddie Snyder who was a bit rough with my toys.  It was hard, but I had to tell Eddie that our friendship was over.  Did I feel awkward?  Sure I did.  Eddie understood though – it was for the sake of the toys.  In real human relations, there’s the understanding that saying goodbye is a part of the game.  No one likes to do it, but we realize that it’s the right thing to do.  The question, I guess, is: Do we consider Facebook relationships so trivial that normal rules of friendship don’t apply?  It’ll be interesting to see what the answer to that is in the future.  And, if that answer is ‘no,’ does that mean unfriending messages become the norm, or do goodbyes become a thing of the past, an artform abandoned for silent retreat?

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9 thoughts on “The Ethics of Unfriending

  1. Facebook is a bizarre, schizophrenic place. Just recently I received a message from a “friend” pissed off because I didn’t wish her happy Birthday on FB. I open up FB maybe once every three or four weeks and I had no idea when her brithday was anyway… go figure.

    Should I unfriend her? Of course she may have already unfriended me. I’d never notice.

  2. I enjoyed this post and I like your writing. It’s a shame this site layout makes the blog look a bit derelict because there’s some real gold to be found in here.

    • Thanks for the compliment on the writing, bud. Yeah, perhaps I should try and mess with the look of the site. Hadn’t given it much thought – appreciate the suggestion!

  3. I like the idea of my large number of defriendings causing other people to swerve into a tizzy of self-doubt. “What did I do to him?” they ponder. “Was it something I said?”

    Really, though, I take out the people I could not legitimately maintain a two minute conversation with. If we’re in such different places that I have no idea what I would say to them, out they go. By the time someone is defriended by me, I have usually put their status thingies on ignore in the first place, a sort of early com silence before the eventual boot.

    Also: maybe those people deleted their accounts. That dips the old friend count down.

  4. I unfriend people without their knowledge because they would probably never notice or care anyhow. People who I haven’t spoken to since elementary school who friended me, then never communicated with me, someone I had a class with one semester then never saw again…. you get the idea.

  5. Avogadro's Slumber

    I generally have a low friend count b/c I prefer to know the people in real life also. The people that I unfriend are generally people who I have known in real life, and whose company I really enjoyed, but who now will not respond to any of multiple well-wishing messages that I send them over time. I follow what is probably a “three strikes” rule. The funny thing is that I will never unfriend a person that I haven’t personally known unless they are constantly: 1) posting new photos showing how great they think they look, presumably to fish for compliments; or 2) trying to sell me something. I don’t expect much from people who are strangers, so I keep them around as long as they behave.

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