"Best friends forever" is a great motto in high school, but life goes on -- and so do Facebook friends. Two new studies analyze what types of friends most disengage on the social network, and the most common responses people have to being "unfriended."
Both studies were based on surveys of 1,077 people on Twitter, and were published in the 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.
In the first study, researchers at the University of Colorado Denver found that top five types of friends to be unfriended from Facebook are: high school friends, other, friends of friends, work friends and common interest friends.
Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student University of Colorado Denver, says the most common reason people unfriend someone from high school is a polarizing comment, often about religion or politics. Other reasons included frequent and uninteresting posts.
Sibona believes that political and religious ideals grow stronger with age, and if a person is more vocal over time, it may offend their old acquaintances.
"Your high school friends may not know your current political or religious beliefs and you may be quite vocal about them," Sibona said in a press release. "And one thing about social media is that online disagreements escalate much more quickly."
The second study looked at the emotional impact of being unfriended. It showed that unfriending happens more often to close friends than to acquaintances.
According to the study, the most common responses were: "I was surprised," "It bothered me," "I was amused," and "I felt sad."
Sibona says that the strongest predictor of a response is how close the friends were to the peak of their friendship when the unfriending happened. He adds that a person might be more bothered and saddened about being unfriended by one of their best friends.
According to the study, four factors predicted how negative a person's emotional response is to being unfriended.
The first two factors predicting whether a Facebook friend would be negatively affected were the closeness of the relationship and how often a person monitored their friend list.
The second two factors predicted users that would be less negatively affected. The researchers found that friends who previously discussed difficulties in their relationship were less negatively affected. People who also discussed the unfriending with others after were also impacted less.
The researchers believe the study will help place unfriending in the greater context of relationship dissolution. Sabina says ending relationships online like this is a "one size fits all" method, but has real world consequences. He believes the dynamic warrants additional research.
"If you have a lot of friends on Facebook, the cost of maintaining those friendships is pretty low," Sibona said. "So if you make a conscious effort to push a button to get rid of someone, that can hurt."