Cam Finlayson is the Director and Group Head, Client Strategy & Innovation at Social Media Group. 

I was recently asked for my thoughts on Facebook ‘unfriending’ and what effects on Facebook users – a topic that I can honestly say has never crossed my mind. After saving face with a relatively generic answer to the question, I decided to do a little online digging.

Similar to most people on Facebook, I have a core group of people who are actually friends, then family members, some coworkers and a network of acquaintances. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been unfriended. However, I’m not entirely sure I’d even notice with majority of the people in my network. Reasoning being that if I were observant enough to recognize that someone disappeared from my news feed, my initial thought would be that the person simply wasn’t using Facebook.

Anyway, the original question got me thinking: do people actually monitor their friends to a point where they could catch someone in the act of defriending them? And if so, how? What have I been missing? After a little bit of research, here’s what I uncovered:

The psychology of social ‘unfriending’

Typically there are two types of unfriending: (i.) You’re experiencing too much activity in your news feed and you decide to cut down on the noise by removing people that aren’t close to you; and (ii.) you have a real-life issue with someone and you decide to maliciously defriend them with the hope that the act will send a message. Some research actually suggests that a vast number of Facebook breakups happen as the result of a real-life issue. But does it really have a psychological impact?

Read Write Web recently published an article highlighting the factors that increase the pain of being unfriended. Their article summarized a scientific study on human behaviour and the consequences of someone terminating a social friendship. This study suggests that the more time someone spends on Facebook, the closer it is to the emotional impact of a real-life breakup. Makes sense, I guess.

Regardless of whether the act of unfriending is innocent or malicious, the question remains: how do people actually monitor all of this?

Unfriending 101: The How-to Guide

Unfriending someone on Facebook is incredibly straightforward. However, if you’re incapable of figuring out the process, Facebook has a How-to page dedicated to the act of unfriending.

Identifying when you’ve been unfriended, however, is a much more difficult thing to navigate.  Facebook does not currently offer a way to receive notifications when you’ve been unfriended. Good news though, this hasn’t stopped people from creating their own ways.

First off, there’s the tried and true manual method: you notice someone isn’t active on your news feed and you visit their page – to your surprise you see ‘ad as a friend’. Bad news, you’ve been unfriended.

For those that are tech savy, there’s a way to add a script to your Facebook account to allow for instant updates. And for those that aren’t tech savy, but really require real-time notifications, Mashable has a pretty extensive article with a step-by-step tutorial here.

And finally for those paranoid people on the go, there’s, of course, a dedicated app for the price of $1.99.

After all of this research, I can’t help but feel that I got a glimpse of the dirty underbelly of social media – a place where childish insecurities, popularity contests and stalkers hangout. That said, to each their own. At the end of the day, they’ll always have each other.