Are We Losing Friendships Over Social Media?

4 years ago

Jill walks into her circle of friends and smiles at them excited.  "I have really good news," she tells them.  "Jack and I are finally getting married."  Everyone clearly hears her, some of them even give her a thumbs up sign as she looks at them.  One or two call out a happy "congratulations!" but everyone else just stares at her until the next person speaks.  Jill stands in the room, dumbfounded.  She just told her friends that she's getting married and the vibe she's getting is that no one cares.  Should she bother inviting them to the wedding?

While few would ever behave that way in the face-to-face world, we do it every day on Facebook.

A little while back, Facebook rolled out a new feature for groups.  You now have a list of not only how many people in your group scroll past your Facebook status update, but you know specifically which ones read your words.  Are you in a private family group?  Then you specifically know that Aunt Jane saw your baby news and didn't even take the time to hit "like."  Consequently, they also know that you saw their status update about an ongoing illness and you didn't return to drop them some good thoughts.  Prior to this point, when you posted something, there was always a chance that people didn't see it.  But now you know exactly who read your big news and walked away without comment (or additionally didn't take the time to come back and comment when they had more time).

What would never happen in the face-to-face world happens without thought online daily.  Of course, the rules for social interactions can't always carry over from the face-to-face world into the Internet; we just don't have the emotional bandwidth to read and respond to dozens (or for some people, hundreds) of status updates daily.  And most updates don't carry with them emotional weight.  But major life news, accomplishments, losses, emotional anniversaries -- these have the potential to bring out a lot of hurt feelings when we can see that our words were heard but elicited no response.

Image: Loneliness via Shutterstock

Mashable reported last week on a study that found that unfriending someone on Facebook can have consequences in the face-to-face world as people carry the hurt from the social media site into daily interactions.  Or non-interactions; 40% of people would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook.

The study looked at the etiquette of Facebook and how those social rules affected people; especially those whose native social language comes from offline.  Perhaps later generations will adapt their offline expectations to match their online social reality.  But for the time being, people are using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites and finding that unfriending and ignoring stings.  Etiquette that dictates our face-to-face social interactions, such as discussing problems as they arise rather than walking away from friendships or supporting friends as they deliver happy or sad news, falls to the wayside online.  And it has the potential to damage our relationships.

Have you ever had important news met with crickets on Facebook?  Have you been unfriended?  As much as Facebook can bring people together, do you think it also has the potential to drive people apart or create more loneliness?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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