Facebook study shows we get sick of old school friends before work colleagues

Disagreements in politics and religion were frequent causing for online break-ups, as well as posting boring content

Friends grow apart. It’s a truism that we all realise at some point in our lives, but new research suggests that it's on Facebook that this home truth is most evident

A new study from the University of Colorado shows that when we’re culling our friends list it's friends school (‘high school’ in the US study) that are most likely to get the chop.

The survey, carried out by doctoral student Christopher Sibona, found that the reason for these virtual break-ups was the same as you might expect in real life: people’s opinions mature and develop, and friends find that they're no longer interested in one another.

“The most common reason for unfriending someone from high school is that the person posted polarizing comments often about religion or politics," Sibona told Phys.org. “The other big reason for unfriending was frequent, uninteresting posts."

The study surveyed 1,077 people and divided friends into more than a dozen distinct types including “common interest friend”, “friend through spouse” and the somewhat vague category of “internet”.

From these groups, friends from secondary school were most likely to get the chop, followed by those from the “other” category, “friend of a friend” and then “work friends”.

Interestingly, while old friends were unfriended because of their actions in the virtual world (eg filling users’ news feeds with boring content) friends from work were more often unfriended because of something they'd done in real life.

Sibona also conducted a second study that surveyed people’s response to being unfriended. This showed that people were most likely to be surprised to an unfriending, while the reaction “it bothered me” came in second followed by "it amused me".

Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that people were more likely to have an emotional response to an unfriending based on how far away they were from “the peak of [their] friendship”. Users were also more likely to unfriend close friends than casual acquaintances – suggesting that the intensity of any given relationship is more likely to push it over the edge.

"Your high school friends may not know your current political or religious beliefs and you may be quite vocal about them," said Sibona. "And one thing about social media is that online disagreements escalate much more quickly."

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