It is not an overstatement to say that Facebook has had a significant impact on how people socialize. The website is virtual home to over one billion users. On Facebook, families are better able to stay in touch and old friends have an easier time finding one another. In this world of status updates, likes, event invites and pokes, relationships are made and sometimes even broken. Facebook is the internet’s great silent mediator.
For many people, the social media site has made miracles happen. For instance, a woman who was born in Buffalo joined a Buffalo page. As she was poking around, she noticed a man who was talking about living on the same street on which her mother had grown up. When she got in touch with the man, he had not only lived two doors down from the woman’s mother, but knew her! Arguably, this woman would never have met this man were it not for Facebook. She now has a new friend who was an old friend of her deceased mother. That is a pretty powerful impact.
Sadly, even greater impacts of the negative variety have occurred involving relationships on Facebook. Most recently, a pregnant Florida woman was shot in the stomach after an ongoing comment argument with a friend the night before. The unborn baby did not survive. It is unclear at this time what exactly the women were arguing about. What is clear is that social media sites often serve as microcosms of the bigger world. What is problematic, and where the silent mediator offers no help, is when heated discussions occur on Facebook. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations are quite common.
However, Facebook can step in and help when a user is dissatisfied with a particular friendship. As easy as it can be to “friend” someone, it is even easier to “unfriend” them. Two recent studies have delved into the psychology of unfriending on Facebook. Both were done at the University of Colorado Denver and their findings will not be astonishing to anyone who has either unfriended or been unfriended.
The first study focused on who tends to fall victim to unfriending. Anyone over the age of 30 could guess who is number one; high school friends. These are folks with whom users may share some terrific memories. However, now they have vastly differing political views and often share them on their timeline. This is someone to whom the user has no current emotional attachment and plus they are rather obnoxious now that they are all grown up. Facebook offers a silent solution; unfriend them.
The second study was more interested in the emotional effects upon those who get unfriended. Not surprisingly, the most common response is surprise. Since it is likely that the one who did the unfriending never once gave the unfriended a clue as to their feelings, to all of sudden be struck from someone’s friend list is often a big surprise. Perhaps that is why many users announce when they are going to be doing a “culling.” No one is surprised or singled-out.
Facebook provides users with various ways to communicate. Publicly or privately, the folks who populate this major social media site spend their time there virtually unaware of the constant presence. The great silent mediator cannot solve all of our relationship problems online, but at least Facebook gives its’ users the tools to navigate their way themselves. How well things turn out is up to the individuals involved.
Commentary by Stacy Lamy