(NaturalNews) "Unfriending" a person on Facebook can have serious social effects even offline, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado-Denver has confirmed.
"People think social networks are just for fun," researcher Christopher Sibona said. "But in fact what you do on those sites can have real world consequences."
Studies show that people now spends approximately 25 percent of their online time using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has more than a billion users worldwide, and the website's terminology has become so pervasive that the New Oxford American Dictionary named "unfriend" the 2009 Word of the Year.
The down side to the flourishing world of social networking, Sibona said, is that online interaction has a whole different set of social rules, language and etiquette than in-person interaction.
"We are still trying to come to grips as a society on how to handle elements of social media," Sibona said. "The etiquette is different and often quite stark."
Nearly half avoid unfrienders
In a survey of 582 Facebook users, 40 percent said that they would avoid offline anyone who had unfriended them on Facebook. Another 10 percent were unsure, while 50 percent said they would not avoid such a person. Women were more likely than men to avoid an unfriender.
Several factors were predictive of whether a person would avoid someone who had unfriended them. The factor that made real-world avoidance most likely was if the person who did the unfriending told a third party about it.
"Talking to someone is a public declaration that the friendship is over," Sibona said.
People who thought that the unfriending was a punishment for their offline behavior were also more likely to avoid the unfriender.
How to avoid being unfriended
In a prior survey of 1,500 Facebook and Twitter users, Sibona also isolated the four online behaviors most likely to cause someone to be unfriended. The top reason was making frequent posts on topics that others perceived as unimportant, such as what you had for breakfast.
"The 100th post about your favorite band is no longer interesting," Sibona said.
The other types of posts likely to lead to unfriending are boring posts about everyday life (e.g., children, spouses and food), posts involving sexist or racist remarks, or controversial posts about religion or politics.
And while 27 percent of respondents said that they had unfriended a person based on offline behavior, online behavior was the most common cause.
Still a real relationship
Sibona noted that because it is so easy to initiate or end an online "friendship," people often take them less seriously than offline relationships.
"Since it's done online there is an air of unreality to it but in fact there are real life consequences," he said.
He noted that people who are ostracized on social media can experience many of the same emotional and psychological disturbances as those who are ostracized online.
"People who are unfriended may face similar psychological effects...because unfriending may be viewed as a form of social exclusion," Sibona said.