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Who gets unfriended first on Facebook? A new study has an answer

A smartphone user shows the Facebook application on his phone in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, May 2, 2013.

DADO RUVIC/REUTERS

High-school buddies who develop weird religious and political views are the first people we unfriend on Facebook, says new research from the University of Colorado Denver. Not far down that list are co-workers who offend us not on a digital newsfeed, but in real life.

Study author Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student at the school, surveyed 1,077 people about their experiences with online unfriending. One study looked at how we shed friends on social media, the other how dumped Facefriends react to it emotionally.

Sibona said high-school friends were the most likely to grate us with polarizing comments posted online. He thinks that's because these pals probably developed their political stripes later in life, well after you took social studies together in Grade 9 and diverged into your adult lives.

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"The other big reason for unfriending," Sibona said in a release, "was frequent, uninteresting posts." That means you, humble braggart, baby rambler and weather grumbler.

Katy Waldman discussed the study on Slate, where readers came clean about their unfriending habits: One unfriended a family member for his vocal take on climate change, another a friend who too routinely used Facebook to shill his company's diet supplements and another a co-worker who "incessantly posted anti-vax screeds." This reader pointed to another type of Facefriend worthy of banishment: "I unfriend lurkers unless I know them well in my present day life. Lurking is creepy." Readers also talked about the day they were unfriended themselves; one man was exiled after he mocked a post advertising a religious rally.

The idea of spring cleaning your social circle was also floated. "I think we should have an Unfriend Day once every spring. If everyone did it on the same day, it would be less painful for all," offered this Slate commenter.

Sibona's second study looked at the emotional impact of being unfriended. Those most affected were really close friends and people who keep an eagle eye on their friend count. The most common reactions were:

• "I was surprised."

• "It bothered me."

• "I was amused."

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• "I felt sad."

People speak increasingly about "editing" their friend circle online. A 2012 study from the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank, found that social-network users were becoming more active in "pruning and managing their accounts," with 63 per cent saying they'd done some unfriending online. "Women and younger users tend to unfriend more than others," wrote Pew's Mary Madden.

As the allure of Facebook fades and we use it less often, we also don't want to be annoyed by overusers of the public wall post. Many of us are also more discrete than in the heady early days when you friended everyone; it's the same with following just about everyone on Twitter when you start out, then doing a massive cull when you're irked by the noise.

Still, if your Facefriend's not a racist lurker, consider filtering your newsfeed instead. Fewer tears, fewer baby updates.

Follow me on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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