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Has the Facebook Friend Bubble Burst?


Friendships are increasingly breaking up among Facebook’s 800 million members.

The percentage of people who “unfriend” other Facebook members rose from 56% in 2009 to 63% in 2011, according to a new Pew Research study. Women seem to be second-guessing their online relationships the most: some 67% say they deleted people versus 58% of men. Likewise, young adults are more active “unfrienders” when compared with older users: 71% of those between 18 and 29 deleted people versus 63% of those aged 30 to 49. (A Facebook spokeswoman says it introduced privacy measures in recent months so users could restrict rather than unfriend others.) Language expert Alan M. Perlman says it’s more than just friends who over-stay their welcome due to excessive self-revelation or bland status updates like, “I just ate breakfast” or, “There aren’t enough hours in the day.”

During Facebook’s early days, many users competed to add the most friends. Since then they’ve become choosier about their online relationships, experts say. While the first couple phases of Facebook were about hooking up with new friends and self-promotion or revelation, the latest phase is about being more selective. Indeed, Adam Hanft, CEO of marketing firm Hanft Projects, says it’s become hip to unfriend people. “Imagine the implications of the old measure of coolness — the number of friends — is supplanted by a new metric, the number of unfriendings you’ve done,” he says.

Members are also more concerned about privacy and people they barely know. Two people meet in a bar and an hour later they’re often Facebook friends, experts say. “Facebook users are reading about privacy issues on Google and Facebook all over the media,” Hanft says. Also, despite unauthorized experiments with Facebook and Google+ identity cards, experts say it’s difficult to keep conman from creating a phony Facebook persona. He says one clue might be that the person in question has no family listed; that said, even fake Friends and family can be manufactured on Facebook, too.

Some social networkers are also managing their “personal brand,” which means unfriending those who cast them in an unflattering light, go on late-night Facebook rampages with colorful language or extreme political views, says Derrick Daye, managing partner at LA-based consultancy The Blake Project. He says too many disagreeable posts by acquaintances will also put off “real friends” from sharing online. Marketing consultant Tom Siebert is one such unfriender. “I’m most likely to delete some nut job from my past who thinks the president isn’t an American citizen and likes to pick fights with my comments,” he says. Siebert says it’s one of the perils of having a virtual afterlife of those high school days.

Read more:

“Facebook Like Button: Friend or Foe?”

“How IPO Cash May Rewrite Facebook.”


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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.