TORONTO – After Jill Kennedy finished high school, she decided to conduct a purge of her Facebook friends list – a move she now regrets.
“I think I lost a lot of connections that way,” says Kennedy, 23, founder of That’s the Idea, a professional social media and content management service.
“Moving home after university, a lot of the people I unfriended are still here; so if I see them in public, it’s really awkward.”
The Ajax, Ont., resident says she’s also been on the receiving end of “unfriending,” by people she was at one point close to or connected with through work or school.
“I can understand when people you don’t see at all, or you met them once at a party and then they sort of disappear and you’re never going to see them again – I get that. But when it comes to people that I’ve worked with, I think that’s what would irk me.”
Friends and followers are amassed on social networks at lightning speed compared to the typically gradual build of relationships forged offline. Yet for some, being digitally deleted by their contacts can be bruising to the ego – even if the relationships aren’t close.
“In real life, you can just sort of let someone drift away from you…. You just stop interacting,” says Aimee Morrison, associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, who works in digital humanities.
“There’s this idea that unfriending on Facebook is like an active step that you take to tell somebody: ‘I don’t like you. I don’t want to see your stuff anymore.”‘
What makes digital communications even trickier is the uncertainty around online etiquette, adds Morrison.
“Social interactions and socially appropriate behaviours are culturally learned and Facebook is a new technology…. We’re all sort of casting about for what the rules are – let alone what they should be.”
For those worried or uncertain about unfriending Facebook contacts, Morrison says the easiest thing to do is not engage with the individual’s posts by clicking or commenting on them.
“Soon enough, the algorithm will bury that. You won’t see stuff from that person anymore.”
Edward Kiledjian has a more active approach to managing his Facebook feed.
He regularly sifts through his friends list, taking note of whether he interacts with each individual and is interested in their updates.
“My rule of thumb is if I haven’t spoken to somebody in the real world in the last six months or in the last year then probably we shouldn’t be connected on Facebook.”
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During his “quarterly cleanup,” Kiledjian says he’ll post a message to inform friends that they may be removed, but adds that they can reach out if they want to remain in touch.
He says he isn’t bothered if he’s unfriended and encourages others to take stock of their accounts.
“These social media networks allow us to keep contact with people that typically in the real world we wouldn’t keep in touch with. That could include former flings, former friends, former colleagues. And people often forget the rich nature of data that’s available on social networks,” says Kiledjian, chief information security officer at Bombardier Aerospace.
“You should be able to pick up the phone and call any of those Facebook friends and say: ‘Hey, listen: I’m in trouble. I need a lift, I need a ride, I need help, I need information.’
“If you can’t do that, then you’ve got to ask yourself the question: ‘Then why am I connected to this person?”‘
© 2015 The Canadian Press