the swift kick

Because you care what I think.

Unfriending is a hostile act

I was clicking through some pictures on Facebook this morning, from the time we were in Ethiopia almost five years ago. I’ve got Ethiopia on the brain even more than usual because we’re revisiting all of those international adoption documents again — immigration, birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc. And I noticed that one of my friends, who commented on those long-ago photos, was no longer my “friend” on Facebook. I was puzzled. Sure, we don’t see each other that much any more, but I’m fond of her and want to keep up with her life. I assumed it was the same for her.

So I wrote her about it. And she told me that she had relocated, and shaved off 30 friends. It wasn’t personal.

Really?

I know much has been said and written about Facebook friends, and “friends.” I’ve written a little something myself. I have plenty of Facebook friends who are “friends” — people I rarely see and probably wouldn’t have much to say to in real life. And maybe my finger has hesitated over the “Unfriend” selection once or twice. But it doesn’t cost me anything to have these people as “friends.” So I keep them.

Unfriending is, after all, unfriendly. It says to that person: “Yeah, I accepted your friend request (or you accepted mine), but now, I want you OUT OF MY LIFE.” Sometimes, that’s exactly what you want. I’ve unfriended a few folks in my day — usually around election time, or when there’s a school shooting. I unfriended a bunch of former colleagues about a year ago, because I intended to set up a Facebook personal account and a Facebook work account. (I never did. Upon reflection, it seemed like entirely too much social media.)

But here’s the thing, those of you with itchy defriending fingers: If you’ve decided that someone isn’t a friend on Facebook, you’re sending the message that they’re not your friend in real life, either. And yes, that is personal. So defriend wisely, dear readers. The feelings you hurt might be those of a friend. A real one.

Categories: Deep Thoughts

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4 replies

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever unfriended someone, not even the people I met once and it seemed like a splendid idea at the time to be their friend.

  2. I’ve actually been unfriended about a dozen times on Facebook. All but one were people from my 70s NYC Irish childhood. Nearly all didn’t know me as an adult, none provided any reason, and there weren’t any particular conflicts or disagreeable discussions. From their own posts, I suspect they weren’t ready for the nerdy, liberal, treehugging, pro gay-marriage, religious doubter they discovered.

    I don’t friend anybody from that world unless they know enough about me not to be surprised.

  3. It’s charged, that’s for sure. But it shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as a hostile act. The problem with Facebook (and social media in general) is they fail to distinguish friends from colleagues, associates, and brief connections, which causes frustration. They’ve also failed to understand that most of the people in our lives are only there for a season or two, rather than the rare life-long or decades-long relationships that are best nurtured offline. P.S.—Nice finding you online again, Kristin. Of the two most seminal editors in my career, you’re one of them. Thank you for that.

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