Peer pressure and bullying are never enjoyable, but when it’s done on the scope of nationwide exposure, it’s downright terrifying. Being unfriended on Facebook, while not rising to the level of bullying, is nevertheless a shock the first time it happens to you. It isn’t even a real insult (unless you’re a 14-year-old high school girl; but my experience with it was both a surprise, and in some ways, a relief. It opened my eyes to the real meaning of “friending” and “unfriending” and brought home to me how little these terms have to do with actual friendship.
I’ve written several articles on Yahoo about Facebook and the Internet (“Facebook – Lifting the Veil”, “Are You at Risk for Defamation on Facebook?”, “Rumors and Misinformation on the Internet are a Virtual Pandemic”), so there’s obviously no love lost between me and Facebook. While Facebook is not my favorite cyberspace experience, it has its uses and can be both beneficial and a kind of family/friend message board for many. It’s just not for me. I sometimes cringe at the things people divulge about themselves on Facebook, and I can’t resist joining in conversations which I find offensive to my principles, trying to support my arguments with actual research instead of knee-jerk reactions and biased reasoning (and believe me, that is never appreciated).
High School Peer Pressure in the Information Age
The Huffington Post recently published an article entitled, “Here’s Why Your Old High School Friends Are Unfriending You On Facebook” which included information from a study by Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Denver. Sibona’s study concluded that “former high school friends are unfriended more than any other group on Facebook…” (Grandoni) This comes as no surprise to me, of course, having been routinely unfriended by numerous old high school “friends”.
I think the abruptness of being unfriended is the most shocking part. It often happens in the middle of an argument (often when you are on the winning end of the dispute); suddenly there’s no response from the person you are speaking to and the whole discussion gets wiped out. I’ve even had people erase the text, then go back and reconstruct it, especially if they’ve been caught out in a misrepresentation. Sleazy way to try to win a debate if you ask me (which no one ever does, of course).
The Demise of “Unfriend Finder“
Apparently, Facebook used to have a program called Unfriend Finder which allowed users to be notified when they’d been unfriended, but it was removed (Facebook determined that it violated their terms of service). Frankly, I don’t buy it; I think they just don’t want to you to know who unfriended you; probably because it would really tick a lot of people off. Let’s face it, there’s enough cyberstalking and cyberbullying going on; there’s no reason to add to it. The last thing Facebook needs is someone tracking down the unfriending party and taking out their frustration. After all, it may be called Facebook, but the reason people enjoy it so much is that there is no actual face-to-face contact to speak of. That’s the dichotomy of “social” media, there’s no actual social contact.
The Modern Slam Book
In the 80’s, way before Facebook and other social media, there was a silly high school custom called a “Slam Book”. “The format of the slam book was simple enough. At the top of each page, the name of a student was written in large letters. The blank page below invited brief but biting comments, …” (Oglesby) The OnLine Slang Dictionary defines a Slam Book as, “a paper notebook passed between peers at a school, in which they write mean things about (“slam”) classmates and others.” I seem to vaguely remember something similar when I was in high school (back in the Stone Age). In those tender years, being “slammed” by your peers was a painful and shaming experience. Apparently, high school kids are using social media today as a modern form of the Slam Book, but unlike the old spiral notebook, this cyberbullying can reach many more people and have tragic results. But it can also have legal consequences when it reaches the level of libel and defamation or when threats are made toward vulnerable minors.
Frankly, being unfriended was not traumatic for me; it was probably a relief for both me and the former friend. But it did feel a lot like being in high school again. The lesson I’ve learned from Facebook is that there’s probably a reason why I didn’t remain close with a lot of the people I went to high school with. I probably didn’t see eye to eye with them in high school and I don’t share their opinions or philosophies now either. So, in a real sense, Facebook has done me a favor. Facebook for me is now just a good way to keep track of what my extended family is up to and to pick up the occasional recipe. I drop in once in a while to see if there’s anything interesting. I’m sure my lack of presence on Facebook is not a great loss to my so-called “friends” and now that I understand social media better, I don’t take it personally. All that high school social pressure is in the past where it belongs.
Grandoni, Dino, “Why Your Old High School Friends Are Unfriending You on Facebook,” The Huffington Post, Apr. 23, 2014
Oglesby, Sam, “Before Facebook Bullying, there was the Dreaded Slam Book,” The Washington Post, Dec. 11, 2010
“Online Slang Dictionary”, http://onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/slam-book