Too many non-friends in your Facebook ‘friends’?

Social Cyberpsychology researcher Dr Lisa Orchard explains why a re-evaluation of your network may be beneficial.

You may or may not be aware that November is host to ‘National Unfriend Day’ – a day to reconsider your social media contacts. Although such a day may be viewed with some scepticism, there are several benefits to ‘unfriending’, and it may be worth evaluating your network of friends on a regular basis.

We accumulate friends, but due to Facebook algorithms and the passive use of some members, we don’t necessarily remember who is in our network. My own research suggests that users perceive control over their own Facebook use to be an important factor for healthy usage.

By unfriending those who we have not connected with for a while, we reduce privacy concerns allowing us to enhance our stronger connections. Furthermore, we may wish to unfriend those that make our Facebook use uncomfortable.

By maintaining a smaller network of friends we reduce the risk of conflict from the maintenance of multiple identities – for example, people often struggle with family members peering in on their social lives.

Unfriending may also prevent unhealthy behaviours developing. Surveillance of others has been shown to be a big motivation of using Facebook. Generally this is part of the fun and not an issue – everyone enjoys a good snoop once in a while! However, research has suggested that everyday snooping can become a problem if it develops into monitoring behaviours.

Over recent years there has been an influx of research exploring partner and ex-partner surveillance, and such research seems to suggest that some users can become stuck in a ‘jealousy feedback loop’ where they need to keep looking for evidence of their worries. In these cases, unfriending may be a method of protecting oneself.

Of course, sometimes it is not as easy as just clicking the ‘unfriend’ button. People may feel obliged by Facebook etiquette to remain visual ‘friends’, even if only through fear of the fallout associated with clicking the unfriend button. In these instances, an ‘unfollow’ and strategic privacy settings may allow for an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality.

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