SPECIAL REPORT: Digitally unfriending someone can affect friendships in reality

    Digitally unfriending someone can affect friendships in reality. // WSBT 22 Photo

    It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for social media, you’d probably lose touch with many old friends.

    But does a more 'in-contact' relationship also make it more likely for a relationship to unwind?

    More and more people are now choosing to digitally unfriend someone, which then affects their real-life relationship. It’s happening to people of all ages, especially among children.

    You may remember when Facebook first came out. It was a platform intended for keeping friends and family you don’t normally see in touch with one another.

    Now, more and more people use it for negative communications that could quite possibly leave you unfriended.

    A simple click of a button -- that's all it takes to no longer see someone's online posts, but unfriending online can extend to real life.

    “Unfortunately I've had family members, one in particular, that I've had to unfriend due to political postings,” said Mary Joe Anderson.

    Anderson joined Facebook years ago, staying connected to people she wouldn't normally see on a daily basis, including family members.

    After multiple posts a day of extreme opinions made by one family member, Anderson clicked the button.

    “I really did have to unfriend her because it was so negative, and it was up to 10 postings a day,” said Anderson.

    No longer friends online and no longer communicating in the real world.

    “It has affected our relationship outside of the postings, but she has become very political as a result,” said Anderson.

    Scrolling through Facebook, opinionated posts are everywhere. People use social media to voice their opinion without any face-to-face repercussions.

    “What it does allow is the impulsivity or the immediacy of the gratification of the release to say something or state something,” said Brad Mazick, psychologist.

    It’s immediate gratification that's right at the touch of a fingertip. One click, and your voice is heard.

    “When you can immediately type something in and hit send or post, then there's not those natural speed bumps along the way that make you think about it before you do it,” said Mazick.

    According to studies, anger is the most viral emotion to be posted and shared online. One in 10 people in a survey say they've posted angrily online in the last month and regretted it.

    Mazick says when posting online, “all of the triggers that we have in our brain that respond to eye contact and facial expressions and tone of voice, they're lost in that capacity.”

    It causes those reading the post to take the words more harshly than if it were a conversation in real life. It's happening more among younger people.

    “A lot of the times it's usually stuff used to make fun of another student, or bring them down, or give them a hard time,” said Justin Holmquest, New Prairie Middle School principal.

    It’s something Holmquest says he's seeing more throughout the years

    “When I was in school, if you got picked on, it was the time you arrived at school until the time you left and there was no access,” said Holmquest.

    These days, it's 24/7 as kids have access to tablets and phones.

    Sara Harmon is a guidance counselor at New Prairie Middle School. She sees students who were once friends at school no longer talk because of a post made about them.

    “We try to hold peer mediations together with them,” said Harmon. “We get them both in the same room and a lot of time they will say ‘Oh I didn't really mean it.’”

    But their words did mean something.

    She says students lose the idea that a profile online is a peer at school.

    New Prairie Middle School is coming up with fresh ideas for face-to face interaction like their "techless Fridays".

    “We have a cart of board games and card games,” said Holmquest. “They know on Friday you leave your device and your cell phone. You don't bring them to lunch.”

    Students grab a board game, sit at their table and play it face-to face with their classmates. It’s a good reminder that the friends you have online are real people with real feelings, something to think about while online.

    “The simplest thing is to think about what you're going to say,” said Mazick. “Wait! Especially if it's in response to something.”

    Ask yourself if you would say it face-to-face with someone. If not, then don't post it, and save your friendships.

    New Prairie Middle School's principal is adamant about parents being aware of their child's social media usage. Most parents are shocked to see terrible posts made by their own child.

    The takeaway of all this? Monitor how your children interact online, and maybe check how you do, too.

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