While the social networking behemoth Facebook, currently the subject of a well-received film highlighting the relative unfriendliness of its founder Mark Zuckerberg, can count 500 million friends, a survey of more than 1,500 Facebook users on Twitter finds users who spend obsessive amounts of time on the site have a higher likelihood of being "unfriended." University of Colorado Denver Business School student Christopher Sibona, a PhD student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program, found the No. 1 reason for unfriending is frequent, unimportant posts. "The 100th post about your favorite band is no longer interesting," he said.
The second reason was posting about polarizing topics such as religion and politics, while inappropriate posts, such as crude or racist comments, were the third reason for being unfriended. The study showed 57 percent of those surveyed unfriended for online reasons, while 26.9 percent did so for offline behavior. "They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties and the same thing is true online," he said.
Sibona said he found a type of online hierarchy of dominant and subordinate relationships. For example, those making friend requests stood a much higher chance of being abruptly unfriended. At the same time, those doing the unfriending seemed to hold the upper hand in the relationship. "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," Sibona said. "That's not the case online. It can be awkward."
Sibona urged users to exercise caution in their posting behaviors, citing a 2010 survey showing that 54.6 percent of recruiters used the site to find or investigate job candidates. "The same kinds of posts that could get you unfriended might also be viewed negatively by recruiters," he said.
Steven Walczak, associate professor of Information Systems at the business school and Sibona's adviser, said he hopes the study will spark further research. "With businesses embracing Facebook as a marketing and customer-relationship tool, this will hopefully create new research that further examines how social networks enhance business decision making and outcomes," he said.
Facebook, founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, is also responsible for the creation of the term "unfriend," which was coined the word of the year in 2009 by the New Oxford American Dictionary; to unfriend was defined as "removing someone as a 'friend' from a social networking site such as Facebook."
While users may not be able to keep control of the number of friends they have, Facebook is giving its members additional security features after years of complaints that the site's confusing security settings left users vulnerable to identity theft and other forms of cyber-attacks. The company said the three new applications, Download Your Information, a new one-stop Applications Settings dashboard and a Facebook Groups application, would give users greater control over the mountains of personal data they have posted over the years.
Download Your Information lets users ask Facebook to collect everything they've ever posted and then send it to them in a Zip file, the Applications Setting dashboard shows users all applications they have subscribed to and granted access to their personal data, such as access to profile information or the ability to post to their Wall and the Groups application provides an easier way to stay up-to-date with small groups of friends and to share things with only them in a private space.