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Why We “Unfriend”

By Sarah Klein

The process of deleting no-longer-wanted Facebook friends is now so widespread that “unfriend” was named the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year.

But in a recent survey of over 1,500 Facebook and Twitter users, Christopher Sibona, a computer science and information systems PhD student at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, started to look at the reasons why we unfriend.

“Researchers spend a lot of time examining how people form friendships online, but little is known about how these relationships end,” Sibona said in a press release. “Perhaps this will help us develop a theory of the entire cycle of friending and unfriending.”

The number-one reason for unfriending, according to Sibona’s research? Frequent, unimportant posts.

Facebook addicts beware: Whether you had coffee or tea this morning, and whether it was hot or iced, is really of little importance to your online connections. As much as we might like to think that our network is waiting with baited breath for our every update, “The 100th post about your favorite band is no longer interesting,” said Sibona.

And if you wouldn’t dream of talking about politics or religion at a dinner party, it appears you shouldn’t broach the subjects in the virtual world either. Posts about sensitive issues like these were the second most common reason for unfriending someone, followed by offensive comments and crude or racist remarks.

While online behavior was most often cited as the reason for unfriending, almost 27 percent of people surveyed said they had unfriended based on a person’s offline behavior.

Because of the casual nature of many Facebook friendships, the survey found a wide range of reactions to being unfriended. While some people felt slighted, others were merely amused, reported Sibona.

Among teenagers who use Facebook, there is a common desire to unfriend a parent. An AOL study found that 30 percent of teens with parents as friends would like to end the online relationship.

And as always, be careful about sharing too much online. Almost 55 percent of potential employers use Facebook to investigate job candidates. “The same kinds of posts that could get you unfriended might also be viewed negatively by recruiters,” said Sibona.

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