Lots of people are using social media. If you believe the reports, Facebook now has 1.79 billion, WhatsApp has 500 million, LinkedIn has 467 million, Twitter has 284 million, and Instagram has 200 million monthly active users.
On each of these sites, users build a network of friends, contacts, or followers who can see whatever they choose to share on their accounts. Likewise, users can see on their own feeds whatever their friends, contacts, or followers choose to post on their own accounts.
While on some social media platforms it's possible to adjust settings so that you remain friends but not see everything everyone else posts on your own feed, some users grow weary when those in their network are overzealous in their postings. Too many photos of what they ate for lunch, or videos of perky cats dancing to Bruce Springsteen songs, or articles about political candidates they loathe or love can push some social media users to want to remove someone from their network or, if their posts have been perceived to be offensive, to block them.
A reader, let's call him Joe, recently decided that he'd had enough of a friend of his posting suspect news articles to Facebook and chose to unfriend him. "He was a Facebook friend," Joe says, "not a friend friend."
Unfriending someone on Facebook is as simple as clicking a couple of buttons. The unfriended doesn't receive any notification he's been dumped. The only way the friend could discover this is if he notices he's not seeing posts from Joe on his own Facebook feed anymore, or if he goes to Joe's profile page and notices that they are no longer identified as friends.
"Is it wrong for me to have dumped him without telling him?" Joe asks. "If his posts were enough to make me not want to be connected to him anymore, should I feel obligated to tell him that's why I unfriended him?"
Many social media users regularly clean their lists of friends, contacts, or followers. Sometimes they do this because they no longer have a desire to see whatever those people post. Sometimes, they simply can't remember who the person is or why they are connected to begin with.
While Joe's Facebook friend might be hurt or surprised that he and Joe are no longer friends, Joe is under no obligation to tell him or anyone else on his social media networks if he decides to sever ties.
If Joe (or you) are so offended by something someone in your network posts that you believe it's important to take a stand and let him know that you found a post offensive, then by all means, take that stand. But if you've simply tired of seeing posts of a particular type and relegating that person to those to whom you are still connected but who don't show up on your feed doesn't feel like enough, then you have every right to dump them while feeling no remorse for doing so.
It's up to each of us to decide just how social we want to be on social media and with whom we want to be social.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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