The ‘unfriending’ of friends


Earlier in the week, I chanced upon a column on ‘unfriending’. Here’s how the author, a fairly prolific Facebook poster of posts, presented his case as to why he “unfriended” a Facebook friend of his (who has been a very close friend in the non-virtual realm). These two had differing points of view on politics and politicians – something that had, allegedly, not gone down too well with the friend, who’s a less prolific poster of posts. So the friend (again, allegedly) started sending said author a flurry of private Facebook messages, telling him off on his brand of politics.

That was it, the column-writing chap felt. Unfriend. It’s very easy, really: you only have to click the ‘unfriend’ option on the dropdown menu that crops up when you “hover” over certain Facebook signposts.

As it turns out, I know both parties; they’re both friends with me on Facebook and otherwise (yes, it was quite surreal reading about two people I know in real life). For a while, I was actually trying to figure whether I should take sides or just be a fence-sitter. I also toyed with the idea of playing peacemaker (apparently, it’s a Libran trait) and get the two friends’ Facebook friendship back on track – before finally deciding it was none of my business.

But (as usual) the episode got me thinking. I wanted to know, for instance, if these two unfriended friends suddenly meet somewhere in the physical world (say, in a hotel lobby or at the multiplex), would they turn their backs on each other or see through each other because they are no longer ‘friends’ on Facebook? Or, would they hug each other (or greet each other) and pretend it is all fine and dandy in real life? I have a horrible feeling it’s the former. After all, it has now been established that the worrisome “social trend(ing) news” of break-ups break on Facebook walls. I’ve read numerous news reports on men and women being traumatised to learn on social media that their better halves were no longer halves of the whole any more – a scaling up of the SMS break-up phenomenon.

This is not the first time that Facebook unfriendings have befuddled me. A few years ago, there was a furious debate raging over capital punishment vis-Ă -vis the Nirbhaya rape incident. Somebody I know – a self-avowed human rights and anti-death-sentencing champion – posted on his wall that he would ‘unfriend’ ANYONE who argued that capital punishment was the order of the day (for the apprehended rapists). It was pretty intriguing because, alongside and conversely, there was a woman who was threatening to unfriend anyone who said capital punishment SHOULDN’T be the solution. She later told me, she’d unfriended 31 ‘friends’ in one fell swoop.

Obviously, relationships in the age of social media have become more facile than ever. Which is perhaps only to be expected. ‘Friendships’ ensconced in virtual eco-systems are the new generic, nothing special. Anyone – even someone you’ve never met in person – can be your friend by virtue of you having 19 common friends (take my case: if there’s someone who sends me a Facebook friend request and I realise he/she has a handful of common friends, I’d probably “accept” the handshake; and I have to pronounce here that many of them have turned out to be fantastic networking contacts).

On the other hand, a very dear friend suddenly becomes just another friend on Facebook, so there’s a sort of reductionism at play, a levelling of grounds. My father is as much privy to the goings-on in my life as showcased by my FB posts as someone who’s a friend because he/she and I have 10 common friends. Baffling, huh?

But how come this bafflement has not been factored into Facebook’s (relatively) new “emoji reactions” which mirror “authentic feelings” like Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry?


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