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Unfriending someone on Facebook could make you a bully

In real life, telling somebody that they’re no longer your friend and blocking all attempts at communication would be seen as aggressive and cruel. However, veiled by the barrier of technology, a virtual unfriending has always been safe, innocuous territory. But not anymore, now that the Fair Work Commission has ruled that an act of “unfriending” showed a “lack of emotional maturity” and amounted to bullying.

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The landmark case involved two real estate workers — a sales administrator, Lisa Bird, and real estate agent, Rachael Roberts — who worked for View in Launceston. While Roberts claimed that the bullying had spanned several years, she said it came to a head after Bird called her a “schoolgirl” and unfriended her on Facebook following an argument. As a result, Roberts was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and deemed unfit to work.

The commission found that the workplace was a hostile working environment and that the behaviour, which had compounded over a number of years and included the infamous removal of Roberts from Bird’s Facebook friends list, constituted bullying.

However, legal experts have been quick to clarify that it isn’t the unfriending itself that was the problem.

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“The Fair Work Commission didn’t find that unfriending someone on Facebook constitutes workplace bullying,” Maurice Blackburn lawyer Josh Bornstein told ABC News.

Rather, the case has to be viewed in the broader context, in which the act of unfriending was just a small piece. In other words, unless you’ve been a bully in other ways, you’re probably fine.

Still, the story brings up an interesting conversation around the impact of social media. People do friend purges all the time when they decide they’d like to reduce their friend lists. Often breakups, fights and even heated arguments at work can also lead to a friend or social circle being virtually dropped on Facebook (at least temporarily). While in the past this was done with not much thought, perhaps it is time to think about the implications.

More: 5 Signs your kids are bullying you

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