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The Electronic Brick Wall Doesn’t Protect You When Unfriending

Posted by Peter Post  March 5, 2013 07:00 AM

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An attitude has evolved with people using the electronic world that somehow they are protected from the reaction of others when they do something negative to the other person. They hide behind what I call “the electronic brick wall.”

That brick wall provides a sense of immunity for people who are on social media and who communicate electronically. The result: They say or do things they would never do if they were face-to-face with the other person. They also use that brick wall to avoid dealing with another person face to face. Obvious examples include bosses firing employees over email or someone breaking up with a significant other via texting.

Take friending for instance. Friending is ubiquitous on Facebook. People casually mention the hundreds of friends they have. Of course those “friends” aren’t always really friends. The nature of online friending has changed the very meaning of the word “friend.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary online defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” Clearly, all 657 people who someone claims as “friends” aren’t all attached by affection or esteem.

So, it follows that if they’re really not friends, at least not in the traditional way friends are thought of, then unfriending them shouldn’t be a problem or result in repercussions that severing a friendship in real life might cause.

Right. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to talk to you about.

A recent study done at the University of Denver tells us what we already knew: Unfriending a friend online has a real chance of materially hurting your relationship with that person. In fact, the study found “40 percent of people surveyed said they would avoid in real life anyone who unfriended them on Facebook. Some 50 percent said they would not avoid the person and the remaining 10 percent were unsure."

That’s 50/50 that you’ll avoid a person in real life who has unfriended you online. So before you go pushing that unfriend button, think twice about who you’re unfriending, why you’re unfriending them and what the real life consequences might be for this online, behind-the-electronic-brick-wall action you are about to take. And given that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you might want to take more care with accepting friend requests in the future.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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