A Serious Side to Unfriending on Facebook
November, comedian Jimmy Kimmel created a media buzz when he declared November
17 as National Unfriend Day. The declaration targets the immensely
popular social networking website Facebook.com, where users gather friends by
the dozens. Kimmel's argument is that most of us probably don't have
relationships with most of the hundreds, or even thousands, of friends we are
linked to on the site.
presented as a humorous idea, Kimmel obviously had a serious message he was
trying to get across when
he encouraged people to disconnect from others who "are not really your
I rarely use my Facebook account, but I have had occasions where I'm asked to
accept someone as a friend and I haven't got a clue who they are. Granted, my
memory for names and faces has never been good, but even I used to feel a
strange sort of polite pressure to resist snubbing someone's request to be my
friend. Rightly or wrongly, as the years have passed, I'm getting much more
comfortable clicking that "Ignore" button on requests from people I really don't
alone in this dilemma. While at a party a couple of months ago, I came upon a
conversation within a group of adults who were lamenting about this same issue.
Said one woman, "I feel so bad by not accepting a friend invitation!"
Kimmel's advice may be prudent for the over-18 crowd, in my experience, it's
even more applicable to teens using the service. In September the national
Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reported that police in the
province of Nova Scotia did a
five-week study with local university students who were asked to create
fictitious profiles and use passive means to invite friends between the ages of
12 and 17. Under police supervision, the university students posed as teenagers
who claimed to have just moved to the region. Of the real teens that were
asked to add these fake friends, only two rejected the request because their
parents monitored who they accepted as friends on Facebook.
from this small study should be a wakeup call for any parent who has a teen
using Facebook or any other social networking service. While we often hear
cautions about the content teens post on these sites, having a too liberal
attitude about adding friends can inadvertently open even more information about
you to people you may have long forgotten about. Just as you (hopefully) know
the friends your kids deal with in the "real" world, you should also take a peek
at who they are connected with in the virtual arena. The most effective way of
doing this is to directly discuss the situation with them and ask if they are
comfortable with sharing their list of virtual friends with you. (Be forewarned
-- it's likely hundreds of people long.) Next, get your own Facebook profile and
"friend" your kids. Then you can keep tabs on who they are connecting with as
teens aren't open to what they may view as Orwellian tactics, there's a good
chance this information is still available to you -- and anyone else on the
Internet. To see if this is the case get your own Facebook account and visit
your kids' profiles. There you may discover you can survey their list of friends
without their permission. (Note that your children's list of friends can
be made private. Go to the privacy settings page on Facebook, click "Connecting
on Facebook" and then adjust the setting next to "See Your Friend List."
In the end,
pruning friends may seem like a nasty thing to do, but the problem with Facebook
and other social networking services is time passes very quickly. As we collect
mere acquaintances, a few years later they may become strangers. While I enjoy
my group of friends as much as anyone, it's good to keep tabs on how many people
we are sharing personal information with.
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
Click here to comment on this column