Some of the relationship factors influencing the “friending” and “unfriending” phenomenon on Facebook may be better understood thanks to a new study conducted by a student at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.

The study, which may be the first of its kind, has revealed the top reasons for Facebook unfriending, who is unfriended and how they react to being unfriended.

Being “unfriended” on Facebook simply means a friend, family member or acquaintance no longer is connected to you through the website.

If posts are deemed too frequent or lack importance, the person behind those words and phrases is at greatest risk of being unfriended, according to the study.

“Researchers spend a lot of time examining how people form friendships online but little is known on how those relationships end,” said Christopher Sibona, a PhD student whose research will be published January by the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

“Perhaps this will help us develop a theory of the entire cycle of friending and unfriending.”

With more than 500 million users worldwide, Facebook has become a global phenomenon, a vast cyber neighborhood where friends meet to share photos, news and gossip. In this recent study, Sibona surveyed more than 1,500 Facebook users on Twitter.

The study found that the number two reason for unfriending was related to postings about polarizing topics like religion and politics.

“They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties and the same thing is true online,” Sibona said.

Filling out the third top spot for the unfriending phenomenon included inappropriate posts, such as crude or racist comments.

Unfriending is not only associated with online behavior, as the study revealed that 26.9 percent made the choice based on a person’s offline behavior. Another 57 percent of those surveyed unfriended for online reasons.

The study also found the appearance of an online hierarchy of dominant and subordinate relationships. For example, those making friend requests stood a much higher chance of being abruptly unfriended. At the same time, those doing the unfriending seemed to hold the upper hand in the relationship.

“There is a lot more nuance in the offline friendship world. You don’t have to go up to someone and ask them to be your friend,” Sibona said. “That’s not the case online. It can be awkward.”

Reaction to being unfriended varied widely, Sibona added, with some respondents reporting deep hurt at being unfriended, while others were more amused than traumatized.

Facebook , founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, is so ingrained in popular culture that in 2009 unfriend was named word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, which defined it as “to remove someone as a `friend’ from a social networking site such as Facebook.”

Given the public nature of Facebook profiles, Sibona urged users to exercise caution in their posting behaviors citing a 2010 survey showing that 54.6 percent of recruiters used the site to find or investigate job candidates.

“The same kinds of posts that could get you unfriended might also be viewed negatively by recruiters,” he said.

Steven Walczak, associate professor of information systems at the University of Colorado Denver Business School and Sibona’s advisor, said he hopes the study will spark further research.

“With businesses embracing Facebook as a marketing and customer-relationship tool, this will hopefully create new research that further examines how social networks enhance business decision making and outcomes,” he said.

Source: University of Colorado Denver