publications

the social value of “defriendship”

Yesterday, I was ‘defriended’ on Facebook by someone who was once a close friend. This isn’t the first time it’s happened – another ex-friend eliminated me from his virtual network last year, but I was but one small proportion of a mass ‘friend-slaying’ – and I’ve most certainly been defriended by a handful of weak ties and acquaintances – but its the first time I’ve really had a previously close connection visually severed as a result of instigating a virtual confrontation. My angry (and rather public) comment was certainly not unwarranted, as this person has long avoided apologizing for deliberately abandoning me when I most needed friendship, but perhaps a little overdue – the only time I had really confronted her about it was nearly nine months ago, after all.

When I realized that she had not just simply deleted my comment, but defriended me in the process, it felt like a punch to the gut that left me in breathless pain for several hours. Now that the smarting pain has subsided, I’ve started thinking that perhaps defriending is actually quite a practical method, and not necessarily just a passive-aggressive move. It’s amazing how much mental space can get taken up obsessing over past injustices, especially once regular face-to-face contact is lost. Certainly this trend becomes particularly prominent post-college. Facebook and related social media can trigger old pathways we’d normally avoid following, delivering a constant stream of “news” and information about those we’d rather be forgetting.

I love the idea of shaking off old grudges and people who evoke negative energy by simply defriending them, but it conflicts with my belief in forgiveness and my sincere desire not to hurt anyone the way my old friend hurt me yesterday. I’d quit the damn book of faces, but I’m pretty deeply invested in it at this point – it’s how I keep in touch with a huge number of friends, stay informed about upcoming parties and events, share my own stories and things I come across on the ‘net that I know a particular person would enjoy, track down a phone number or address when I need it – and, oh yeah, it’s also a major source of my research.

At the very least, I now understand why the ‘friend-slayer’ I mentioned above did what he did. It must be so very refreshing not to be continually reminded of people who make you feel like shit. And now that I’ve written this post, I’ve come to a sense of closure on the matter, myself, and can look forward to totally getting past someone who never deserved as much mental space as I allotted her.

Maybe I’ll turn giving up social media into a little social experiment. I could probably write a book about that experience!

Or maybe I should just choose my friends more wisely…

This post has been much inspired by fellow Facebook researcher and friend, Jeff Ginger, who wrote an insightful post on the issue: Facebook Friends, False Connection, and Social Norms. Thanks for the chat!