Facebook Friends, False Connections and Social Norms

I noticed a friend ‘defriended’ me the other day on Facebook, which normally wouldn’t be a hugely new or life-shattering event… except that this person happened to be someone who I really like and used to be really close to. It’s not uncommon to lose weak contacts like people I knew in classes or back in high school (with a friends list as big as mine I’ve actually noticed if I make small changes to my profile like politics or relationship status I can lose friends), but this one was different. We had some falling out somewhere over the digital medium in semi-recent history and it got me all upset and thinking about how the act of severing a connection on Facebook could really be a strong statement, especially when they’re far away and FB might be the only viable connection you have to them anymore.

I mean we talk about stalking and whatnot on Facebook but I’ve noticed that many people have a small group of people that they like to watch from afar on Facebook. Maybe that person doesn’t really know them very well or they’re afraid of being confrontational or they don’t even like them that much but they’re interesting – it’s nice to follow their life without having to become directly involved in it. It’s a fake connection though, created by the technology and not by the actual relationship you have with the person.

Anyway a friend of mine noticed and empathized with me because she had been recently defriended too – but by someone she sees occasionally in person. She had no idea why but was worried if there was some sort of problem she didn’t know about. It’s an awfully passive-aggressive way to indicate to someone that you don’t like them. We got to talking about the messages such an action might send and I concluded that hers wasn’t a legitimate concern because the person who defriended her was older (think 40’s) and not a ‘Facebook native’ and therefore couldn’t possibly understand what message he sent her with such an action. My friend, however, I felt definitely knew what kind of damage she would do.

But as I later came to understand, that may not actually be all that accurate. As more people from different countries, generations, and life experiences join Facebook they bring with them new ways of understanding it as a social environment and communication tool. And that includes the meaning of ‘defriending’ – just like society at large Facebook is probably developing a plurality of social norms. Some people take it more seriously and find it more meaningful than others and there may be some variance in immerse (everyday cognizant) use. I still do think that this correlates with age closely but much like the notion of digital natives it’s probably much more of a population than a generation.

The bigger question is what to do about the people who don’t agree to the social contracts and norms established by the youth population who made Facebook huge. How do we get everyone on the same page?

My friend, by the way, did eventually talk to the person who defriended her and figured out it was more done on accident and not intended as an aggressive move. I probably won’t ever hear from the person who dropped me again…