Facebook, is hard to do.Social scientists are increasingly looking at online friendships and trying to figure out if they carry the same emotional baggage that real-world friendships do. A preliminary study suggests that breaking up, even if it’s on
The more you use Facebook, the more likely you are to experience “rumination and negative emotion” when someone unfriends you, according to a study published in the July 2012 edition of the scholarly journal Computers in Human Behavior. The study by Chapman University researchers Jennifer L. Bevan, Jeanette Pfyl and Brett Barclay is one of the first to look at the psychological consequences of so-called relationship termination on social networks.
Other factors that increased the pain of being unfriended included:
- How close the person was to the person that had removed them from their friend list.
- Whether they were able to figure out who unfriended them, as opposed to just seeing a drop in the number of active friends they had.
- Who initiated the initial friend request.
The researchers also measured people’s perceptions on why they had been unfriended, asking if they felt it was because they posted too frequently on Facebook; posted polarizing views; made crude comments; if they had been unfriended for an upsetting, offline event; or because the person did not know them well.
“Intense Facebook usage may mean that users are particularly invested in their relationships with their Facebook friends and thus may respond with greater rumination and negative emotion when they lose one of these friends, which compromises how they are presenting themselves and being perceived by others online,” the researchers concluded.
When Being Unfriended Hurts Most
While the most common reason given for being unfriended was an offline event, people experienced the most negative emotion when they believed they were unfriended for Facebook-related reasons, such as posting too frequently, posting about polarizing topics or making crude comments.
People also seemed to be hurt more when they had made the initial friend request and were later unfriended by the recipient. “To some extent, being the individual who initiates the Facebook friendship – a clear, direct online act that is signified with a marker – places an individual in a less powerful position, as they must wait and see if their friend request is accepted, rejected or simply ignored. Individuals who are unfriended by someone they initially ‘friended’ may wonder why the unfriender even accepted the friend request, and such thoughts could give rise to rumination and negative emotion,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers found that people who spent more time on Facebook were most likely to be hurt when a Facebook friendship went south. That seemed to stem from the notion that those people, by spending more time on Facebook, had more invested in the online friendships.
The Parent Trap
Generally, people were most hurt when unfriended by someone they considered to be close to: family members, and current or former friends or romantic partners. To a certain extent, former romantic partners expected to be unfriended in certain circumstances.
The one differentiation from the above patterns was a user’s parents. The researchers noted “some close relational partners, such as parents, can be unwelcome Facebook friends for undergraduates… how relationships that are close offline are uniquely negotiated on [social networks] seems to be evolving.”
It may also suggest people view relationships with people they see regularly offline as different in an online context.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
The key point of the ruling is that Facebook needs to change the wording of its policy to make it clearer that Friend Finder imports contacts from their email address books and uploads them to the social network. It does not, however, require Facebook to end the practice or change how Friend Finder works.
That’s a big win for Facebook, at least in the short term. In an addendum to its initial public offering filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday, Facebook made it clear that sooner or later, and more than likely sooner, it would reach the saturation point for recruiting new users. Friend Finder, which can send invites to people in your address book who are not already using Facebook, will be an important tool in Facebook’s effort to make sure it secures every last possible user it can find.
The ruling also seems to appease the Central Consumer Association, or Verbrauchercentrale Bundesverband (VZBV), the umbrella organization for consumer rights groups in Germany, which brought the case against Facebook two years ago.
“We won on all counts”, said Steffen Küßner, a spokesman for the VZBV.
The group has promised to continue its close scrutiny of Facenook and how its privacy policies are implemented in Germany, but the fact that the group is happy should make Facebook happy as well.
The only real setback for Facebook in the ruling is that the German judge agreed with VZBV’s claim that Facebook violated German law by claiming ownership of photos and original music users uploaded to the site. Facebook, the judge said, can only use such works with the consent of users.
It’s your best friend from 5th grade’s birthday, and you almost missed it because you were stalking your 7th grade best friend on Facebook. The time is now 9pm, in your time zone. In a moment of freedom, you return to Facebook.com and notice the tiny birthday notifications in the upper-righthand corner. Is it too late to wish your 5th grade best friend a happy Facebook birthday? You race over to his page and try to say something witty. “Happy birthday bro-dude!” you write, crouched over your keyboard. You were on Facebook this morning but were way too busy trying to just catch up on the newsfeed-filtered news of the day and forgot to pay attention to birthdays. And now, you just feel sad.
In our information-overload culture that lives as excited, exclamation-point riddled posts on Facebook and dies as wish-I-hadn’t-said-that status updates that you later delete when, hopefully, no one is watching (but who knows who is watching, really), it is easy to miss the moments that actually matter, truly mean something.
So now to the point of my story: There’s an app for that, and it attempts to address some of the “too-many-friends” syndrome that some Facebook users know quite well.
Launched yesterday, TapJoy‘s Karma for iPhone app connects with your Facebook account and attempts to identify and highlight your most meaningful connections and their important moments. These milestones/moments include birthdays, new jobs, important events (moving day, birthday, art shows on my Karma app screen), other celebrations (engagements) and “tough days” (a friend’s dog died, a cat died, a fellow journalist died). The app implies that important events call for spontaneous gifts.
“We wanted to be able to connect to friends in those moments,” CEO Ben Linden tells Co.Design. “So this is an in-the-moment gift service.” To that point, he adds: “We grew tired of missing important moments like a baby or a graduation,”
For people who mix various communities on Facebook, this means that there’s an impulsive moment available anytime, anywhere, to buy gifts for your Facebook friends. There is a nice variety of potential gifts to give, including Vosges chocolate, whisky stones, a morse code necklace or handmade gourmet candies. If you don’t like the gift, you can exchange it for something else in the Karma app store.
Gift-Giving As A Quick Fix
Today, the beloved Leap Day, happens to be my Facebook friend David Ford‘s birthday. David is a Kansas City-based artist who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago. I explored the inner workings of his mind through a studio visit. (I also reviewed one of his shows for the magazine Art Papers.) In his work, David discusses his love/hate kinda relationship with this country, evidenced through the passionate, at times fervent brush strokes that slide across his paintings. His work juxtaposes classic American symbols with faux luxury moments to paint a provocative, oft-times paradoxical view of the American cultural landscape.
Your Face Here, 2008 (courtesy of DavidFordArt.com)
Karma app suggests Whisky Stones (™) as one of the gifts I could send to David on his Leap Day birthday. To do this, all I have to do is click through and select the gift and David as the recipient. Karma sends a text, email or Facebook message to him so that he will get it and open the (virtual) gift immediately. Then I have to ask David where he wants the (real) gift shipped. Instantaneous delivery! Karma achieved, momentarily!
But there is one caveat: The act of gift-giving through this means provides a temporary fix, not long-lasting satisfaction. The Karma app creators understand.
“We found ourselves relegated to a Facebook post or making a note to buy them a card at CVS and then we’d forget,” Linden said in an interview. “We’d feel really terrible about that.”
What this app also does is contribute to the strange cultural phenomenon of over-friending, which has essentially cluttered news feeds and caused bizarre overlap amongst Facebook users’ normally neatly segmented lives. It’s like the Seinfeld “Independent George/Worlds Collide” episode. It’s yet another reason Facebook birthdays are so weird. Not even Facebook lists can help truly manage the menagerie of friends one has. At the end of the day, sometimes defriending is the best option.
So what of the Karma app for iPhone? Yes, I implore you to try it, see how it feels. Tell me a story about it in the comments section. Like Facebook, it’s pretty good at identifying users you interact with often and are thus deemed important to you. Of course, it cannot read into the intricacies of human relationships. That’s something you’ll have to do offline.