Friends Gone Bad: When It’s Time to Unfriend

With friends like these, who needs enemies? And why stay friends in the first place? You don't have to, and shouldn't. Learn when to unfriend here.

Just a few years ago, I was pretty much a social media neophyte. I’d only joined Facebook because my girlfriends from undergrad planned our annual adventures through that medium. At the time, I’d have been perfectly happy to stick with email.

My opinion on social media has since evolved, and like most of us, I could easily lose days of my life reading updates, laughing at memes and watching videos. I’ve met amazing people and become part of communities that have come to mean so much to me (shout out to Pantsuit Nation!). I even found a fun new pastime (trolling the trolls, which not something I actually recommend doing and have since stopped). But as I engaged in this brave new world, I also met a lot of people who apparently lacked all basic social decorum. I’ve had to unfriend people I knew in real life (in most cases, we’ve stayed friends) and block the crazier ones.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

When you accept a friend or connection request of a bad actor, the problems range from benign but annoying to downright dangerous. This happens on ALL social media platforms, including LinkedIn, which for some odd reason people seem to think doesn’t have these problems. (It does. I know someone who had an admirer on LinkedIn, and after several weeks of sweet-talking and sexting, tried to get her to “lend” him some money. All through LinkedIn.)

This blog describes the scenarios of bad actors and when it’s time to disconnect. For the purposes of this article, I will use the term “friend” to also include whatever the connection is called on other social media platforms, like “connection” on LinkedIn or “follower” on Instagram.

  • Benign but Annoying—Turns out your new social media friend is really into things you’re not. This could be things like an obsession with cars or guns or cats, or a drastically different political beliefs, or she uses her page to preach about her religion. Basically, you don’t have much in common, but she leaves you alone except to compliment a picture of your kids or offers a word of empathy if you’re feeling down. She seems nice enough, but you probably wouldn’t be friends in real life.
    WHAT TO DO: It depends on how annoying they are, but they aren’t likely to cause you too many issues. You can always just unfollow her and keep her as a friend.
  • Disconcerting—Your new social media friend not only has drastically different political or religious views, but decides it’s in everyone’s best interest to engage with you and your network of friends on every possible issue. They address everything within the prism of their belief system. It’s nearly impossible to engage in a meaningful way because no matter what you say or do, you’re wrong because you haven’t accepted their religion or political views as infallible. “Alternative facts” can be an issue, and they want to engage with you “intellectually” with arguments from “research” they have done (often consisting of watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube). These folks are often annoying, but their passion brings it up a notch to disconcerting, plus your IRL friends really don’t like them.
    WHAT TO DO: Either keep the friend and unfollow, or just unfriend. You’re not going to win any argument, and it’s probably not worth your energy to engage like this.
  • Unhinged Friends of Friends—Your new social media friend may or may not have drastically different political or religious views, but people in their network sure do. Remember on many social media platforms that they can see your posts, especially if you and your social media friend engage in parley. You may be having a good, healthy debate with your friend, but their friends jump in and start to get nasty (see Dangerous 1, below). Despite your differences, you actually like your social media friend, so you don’t want to disconnect.
    WHAT TO DO ABOUT FRIEND OF FRIEND: See Dangerous 1, below.
    WHAT TO DO ABOUT FRIEND: Keep the friend but do not engage in their posts or on their page. It might also make sense to unfollow. Social media algorithms will make your relationship a lower priority so there will be less opportunity for engagement. If you like this friend, it might also make sense to let them know that you need to do this because their network is making you concerned.
  • Dangerous 1—We have two types of social media friends that should make you want to RUN away from them. The first are the ones who take engagement past intellectual parley to personal threats. They can’t argue on facts, so they move to name calling, referencing personal info they’ve gleaned from your Facebook page and elsewhere, and maybe even threaten you or someone to whom you’re connected. Folks like this are generally legit but unhinged, or are fake accounts.
    WHAT TO DO: Unfriend, block and run in the opposite direction! If you met this person on someone else’s page, delete as many of your comments as you can. Make yourself invisible to this person as much as you can.
  • Dangerous 2—Your new social media friend starts out benign enough. He rarely posts or engages on Facebook, particularly on your page. He eventually DM’s you to say “hi,” which is weird but not dangerous. Beware, this person is likely catfishing for the purpose of scamming. If you’re a woman, he might tell you that you’re beautiful, that he loved your profile picture. If you’re a man, she might tell you that she’s really turned on by you (even though you’ve never met). Inevitably, it’ll turn to detailed personal stories. Your conversations could last weeks. It’ll eventually end up with him or her asking for money that s/he’ll “definitely” pay you back. The amount isn’t even that much, maybe $1500, but that could be just the tip of the iceberg. When you ignore them or turn them down (refuse to give them that so-called loan), they get angry and belligerent.
    WHAT TO DO: Unfriend and report to the authorities that it’s a fake account because it most certainly is. Not sure? Check out their page. In Facebook at least, it’ll be a relatively new account and they won’t have anyone interacting with them on their pages.

There are lots of legit interesting people with whom you can connect on social media, so there's really no point in staying connected with people who don't respect you or add value to your online life.

Let me know if there are other situations that require diligence, and I'll add them to this list.

Photo by Mark Riechers on Unsplash