Social media has changed our lives in so many ways, including how we communicate with our friends. There have been many positive things that have come out of the rise of social media, such as reconnecting with old friends we haven’t seen or spoken to in many years, maintaining ties with people when you’re no longer living in the same area anymore, the ability to quickly connect and communicate with new friends you meet, and even connecting and communicating with people you haven’t met yet. It’s been a great platform to share information, vocalize your views and opinions, or keep up with new happenings in the lives of people you care about. However, social media can doubtlessly be problematic too. With the rise of social media came the rise of cyber-bullying, the spread of fake news, and the virtual version of Un-friending.
In many ways, social media has complicated our friendships and other relationships. Whereas you used to only have to hear your Uncle Fox ranting about politics once a year at Thanksgiving, now he may be blowing up your newsfeed with fake news every day. Or worse, your best friend from high school hasn’t grown up much since then and is now engaging in unnecessary mudslinging and stirring up drama online, publicly hashing out her grievances and causing friction and conflict in front of everyone you’ve ever met. Sometimes it’s easy to know when to un-friend someone online, such as in instances of cyber-bullying or malicious interactions with people you don’t really know that well or care much about. However, at other times it can be more difficult, because you will still see this person in your real life at least sometimes, or because you actually value your relationship with that person and don’t want to lose them as a friend.
There are a few considerations you can use to determine if you should un-friend someone on your social media pages, and how you can continue to be friends in real life without having to lose a relationship that you value. Ask yourself a few questions first to find out if you need to restructure your contacts or rethink your online relationships.
1: Do I interact with this person in my real life on a regular basis, or is this someone that I only see sporadically when we happen to be around a mutual acquaintance?
- If you don’t have a relationship with a person in your real life, and your interaction with them is mostly online, you don’t really need them bringing negativity into your online social scene. It’s usually fine to un-friend this person without further ado and not worry about it, because you’re not really going to see them much anyways, and you both will probably benefit from less interaction with each other. If you do engage with this person in real life regularly, you may choose to use a different feature to reduce their impact on your page. On many social pages you can mute or hide the person so that you remain “friends” online, but you aren’t subjected to seeing their posts anymore. Check your platform’s settings to see how you can utilize those tools.
2: Does this person typically make my day better or worse when I see their posts on my page?
- If someone is constantly posting things that annoy, enrage, offend, or otherwise sour your mood, you most likely don’t need them on your page. See the above reference to determine what the best course of action is in this case. However, even if you don’t interact in-person with someone on a regular basis, if their posts generally make you happy because they are full of positivity, and you like keeping up with them and seeing what they’re doing, then it’s obviously fine to keep them in your feed.
3: Do I believe this person actually cares about me and/or my family, or are they someone who wouldn’t be there for me in my real life if I needed some support?
- Needless to say, if someone is making your day worse by being annoying, offensive, negative, or disrespectful, you probably don’t need them in your online life. However, if regardless of those things, you still value the relationship and believe they value it as well, then a careful approach is necessary. You still have the option to mute or hide their posts. If it doesn’t seem to be beneficial to have them on your page at all though, and you still want to preserve the friendship after removing them from your page, you can take steps to ensure the relationship isn’t damaged by the change in status.
If you want to remain friends with someone after un-friending, un-following, or blocking someone on your social media pages, then in person or phone contact is sometimes necessary afterwards. This doesn’t mean you have to bring up the subject of un-friending them, but actually seeing each other or hearing other’s voices will reassert that the friendship is still valuable and you want to remain friends. If there has been some kind of a significant conflict that played out in the social media world, particularly if it was public, then you may want to discuss the conflict and hash things out in person before writing the relationship off for good. The important thing is that you make the effort to engage with the person after un-friending so that you both can recognize that you still care about the relationship. If you are one who un-friended, it should be you that reaches out first.
There are times when this is unnecessary. First, they may not have even noticed that you un-friended them. There’s no point in making a big deal about something if you didn’t often engage in each other’s posts. They may just think you haven’t been online much lately or didn’t notice that your posts weren’t showing up in their feed. If they did notice or they bring it up, try not to make personal attacks. Make a more general point about why you made that decision. For example, if it was about politics, you can say “Listen, I just made the decision that it was healthier for me to reduce the political chatter on my feed because it was stressing me out”. Or, if it was about because there was a public spat online, you can say “Look, I value our friendship and I didn’t want to continue to hash out our problems in front of everyone online, so I’d rather us talk things through in person”.
What if you’ve been un-friended by someone else? First of all, don’t freak out or get offended. If the relationship is meaningful to both of you in real life, you can still be friends or acquaintances and you don’t have to run in the other direction or escalate a conflict. All of the above advise still applies, and sometimes the best way to repair a damaged online relationship is to make more of an effort to get together in person and/or via phone and focus on building real interactions instead of virtual ones. If it wasn’t a very meaningful relationship in the first place, then it’s no loss and everyone can go about their business feeling better about the online friends they do have. You can still see your uncle at Thanksgiving and seat yourself at the opposite end of the table like you always do. Don’t let social media ruin important relationships that you value, but keep in mind that you certainly don’t have to allow people or posts on your newsfeed to make your day worse for no identifiable reason. Now go adjust those settings!