Image by beeeezer via Flickr"Who is Bryan Rutt?" read the status of one of my Facebook friends not too long ago. In my typical goofy fashion, I responded "I am!" I quickly learned that this question was not being asked rhetorically or in a larger spiritual sense. "Do I even know you?" came the reply. I thought it odd, since this person and I had been on each other's friends list for several months at this point.
I believe in the "social" part of social networking - I'm not on Facebook and Twitter just to talk with the same people I could walk down the street and talk to face to face, and I'm not there to limit myself to only people who I already know. I enjoy reaching out and meeting new folks, whether they are across the globe or across the street, and I have made some very good friends online in recent months in addition to reconnecting with old friends and maintaining an alternate line of communication with current friends.
In this case, I had reached out to just about everyone in my college graduating class on Facebook, whether we hung out in college or not, and offered friend invites to them all. Many never replied, but many did. This person was one of those: we did not run in similar circles back then, but our status as classmates was the common ground I used to extend an invitation to network. Within a few days after the above exchange, this person disappeared from my friend list. I had been summarily "unfriended."
On Twitter today, I was updating my "following" list to insure that I was following all current members in the Lancaster Twitterati group that I have mentioned on this blog before. I found one that I thought I had been following, but was not. I attempted to follow and received the stern announcement, "You have been blocked from following this account at the request of the user." Now, I have been unfollowed on Twitter many times - it's a standard occurrence on Twitter - but this was new. Someone blocked me! Me, lovable old goofy me! Can you imagine?
Being unfriended on Facebook, or unfollowed on Twitter, or blocked on either site, seems to be a traumatic experience for some. People I know have responded with great shock, disbelief, and embarrassment at being dropped by someone on these sites. It's as if they have been personally insulted by the person dropping them. They go through an actual grieving period, mourning the loss and damning their own inadequacies. I don't understand that reaction.
Although the term "friend" is commonly used among these and other social networking sites, it carries a different definition in this context than in the real world. Yes, many (if not most) of my online friends are also people who I call Friend in real life. But I also have many online friends who I would probably not be able to pick out of lineup if my life depended on it. "Friend" in the social network universe is just a warm-n-cuddly euphemism for "anonymous person you have encountered online and found common ground with." In both cases above, I barely even knew the person outside of the online world. I wasn't being shunned by someone I counted on to be there for me through thick and thin, fer crissakes. They chose not to interact with me online. OK. Next?
The only response I have ever given to being unfriended - and I haven't done this in every case, but only in those where I was really at a loss to figure out why I was chopped - is to send a polite message to the person asking if I had done or said something to offend them. After all, I know I can be blunt and opinionated at times, and I am just capable as the next person of unintentionally ticking someone off. Know what I've learned? It's not me.
People will unfriend, unfollow, or block for any of a million different reasons, often having nothing to do specifically with the person being cut. They may have decided to use the network as a place where only close friends and family may reach them, as one old high-school friend of mine did. That person gave me a very polite explanation of why I was being "cut," and I respect that. We hadn't been in touch for nearly twenty years before finding each other on Facebook, and we have each other's email addresses now; we can reach each other if we need to. I had another person unfriend me by accident - they meant to cut someone else, and hit the button by my name instead. Situation corrected, connection restored, no harm, no foul.
Heck, back in January Burger King offered a promotion where you got a free Whopper if you were willing to randomly unfriend 10 of your Facebook friends. You might have been cut just because someone was hungry!
The bottom line is, if you're using any social networking site, especially if you really are using it to reach and network with new people, you're going to eventually be unfriended, unfollowed, or blocked. In fact, it's going to happen more than once. Get over it. If you feel the need, politely ask why; for the most part, though, just move on. After all, it's their choice - and, their loss!