Social media sites have changed the way we interact with one another in the past few years. If nothing else, we now have all seen some crazy cat photos – of which we were blissfully ignorant prior to the internet age! We also now have lists of “friends” on these sites. And sometimes, for a variety of reasons, unfriending happens.
As I’m typing this, my computer’s spellchecker keeps highlighting the word, even though it IS in the dictionary. To unfriend, a verb: “To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.” That was Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2009.
My thoughts today rest on people’s intentions and motivations for their ‘unfriend’ actions. For a tool that can be used to enhance communication and community, it can sometimes be used in negative or unhealthy ways.
I generally ‘tidy up’ my Facebook friends list about once a year; I try to keep my contacts below 250. I scope out the people that I’ve had no communication with in the past year – the woman I met on vacation, the distant colleague who moved away, etc. I send out a polite email that as I haven’t heard from them, I will be unfriending them. Most often that just happens without reply; though I have had some people indicate that they enjoy keeping up to date through the status updates, even though we don’t chat – and so I keep them on. It’s polite and courteous and an honest assessment of acquaintance. If we wouldn’t connect in real life, why connect online?
There are other times when unfriending happens because of good reasons; unhealthy relationships, abusive behaviour, the list can be as long as human relationships are complex. However, I see this type of unfriending to be an establishment or maintaining of healthy boundaries. I also hope that such disconnections are as full of grace and respect as possible.
I know of others, however, who will unfriend because they are angry, or petty, or are acting as some perceived punitive response. People who will go through the process of cutting someone off of their socmed accounts without trying to engage in conversation. People who perceive the act of unfriending to be a definitive statement on the whole relationship.
And this is where I challenge the Christianity of unfriending.
As Christians, we are called into relationships with one another and with God. We are told in Proverbs that a friend loves at all times (17.17), that their counsel is earnest and can be trusted (18.24 and 27.6), and not to forsake our friends (27.10). We are to serve one another in love (Gal 5.13) and encourage and stimulate one another in love and good deeds (Heb 10.24), to even lay down our lives for our friends (John 15.13). We are called to enter into communication to resolve conflict (Mt 18.15), to chose forgiveness over wrath and anger (Eph. 4.31). Jesus’ ministry was one of building up community, of loving the world, of joining together to love and serve God.
With this basis, I feel sorry for those who unfriend out of spite or anger. To me it speaks of a spiritual immaturity or unability (dis-ability?) to live out our Christian calling, an unwillingness to strive to be in relationship with one another. It saddens me to think that there are people hiding comfortably behind the ‘unfriend’ process; who prefer to anonymously break relationship rather than build it. It speaks to me of people who don’t realise that knee-jerk unfriending is less a statement on the unfriended person’s offense (whatever it might be) than on the unfriender’s commitment to community, especially community in Christ.
What do you think? What have your experiences been with angry unfriending? How does your faith impact your socmed practices?