So many of us are, these days, defined by the breadth of our Facebook friendships. So many of us are, therefore, devastated when one of our heartfelt online buddies disappears without saying good-bye, leaving a hole in our soul.
Thankfully, there is, at last, succor.
For a fine Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado at Denver Business School decided to find out precisely why someone gets defriended on Facebook.
It is a stimulating and sobering read. Christopher Sibona's conclusions, having asked 1,500 people why they might reject someone in their social network, offer an insight into our online selves that will surely help us all navigate pain just as easily as we currently navigate online pleasure.
You will, I know, immediately curl into a fetal position and offer a chant from a Bulgarian choir when I tell you that the No. 1 reason why someone is ousted as a Facebook friend is frequent, unimportant postings.
This is truly odd. For many, Facebook is precisely about frequent, unimportant postings. About lunch, cats, and congestion, both nasal and traffic. The whole point of friendship is that you learn to love the mundanities of other people's lives, just as you learn to love your own. So what is wrong with you people who reject those who might have particular special topics, upon which their mind rests a little more than normal?
The second reason, according to this study, is offering comment on polarizing topics such as politics or religion. This seems even odder. For myself, I have many friends who enjoy quite bizarre views and beliefs. Sometimes, they seem to have no clue when a view becomes a belief, or vice versa. I love them all the same. You, it appears, do not.
You cast them into the wilderness of defriended oblivion. You avert your eyes from them, as you do from people with peculiar sandwich boards who sit in shopping streets and suggest, like one very famous man on Market Street in San Francisco, that one should have sex only with virgins. What is wrong with you?
Sibona theorized in a press release: "They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties, and the same thing is true online." Well, I don't know about that. Have you seen Digg lately?
The third reason for being defriended on Facebook is, according to the study, "inappropriate posts, such as crude or racist comments."
What has happened to our levels of tolerance in this society? Is it truly so impossible for us to accept our friends for what they are--confused but hopeful, just like ourselves, occasionally saying the wrong thing, but really only desperate for a little pot, love, and understanding? Have we really sunk to treating our Facebook friends like we treat shoes? Do we really reject them because they're a little off-color, a little out of style? Where is the Facebook love, people? Has the sudden onrush of online friends blinded us to the altruistic significance of friendship?
Sibona's study also revealed that 57 percent of respondents defriended someone for their online behavior, while only 26.9 percent used offline behavior as an excuse for their fickleness. His conclusion was this: "There is a lot more nuance in the offline friendship world. You don't have to go up to someone and ask them to be your friend. That's not the case online. It can be awkward."
I worry that insufficient numbers of people have flocked to "The Social Network" and to the speeches of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook is about sharing. The more you share, the better the world will be. The future of our society is dependent on our ability to reveal more of ourselves--the good and the bad. If people experience rejection for the mere reason that someone doesn't like what they've said or how many times they've said it, how can we hope for a better, more inclusive world?
If you are one of those who has routinely rejected your fellow Facebooked man or woman, please reconsider. Please imagine their joy at being refriended. This, my own entirely unscientific research tells me, is better than make-up sex.