According to a new study from the University of Colorado Denver, unfriending someone on Facebook may be as easy as clicking a button, but the repercussions often reach far beyond cyberspace.
"People think social networks are just for fun. But in fact what you do on those sites can have real world consequences," said study author Christopher Sibona, a doctoral student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.
Sibona found that 40 percent of people surveyed said they would avoid in real life anyone who unfriended them on Facebook. Some 50 percent said they would not avoid the person and the remaining 10 percent were unsure. Women said they would avoid contact more than men.
The study was based on 582 survey responses gathered via Twitter. Sibona found six factors that predicted whether someone would avoid a person who unfriended them.
"The number one predictor was whether the person who said the relationship was over talked about it to someone else. Talking to someone is a public declaration that the friendship is over," Sibona said.
Those who felt they had behaved badly offline and were being punished for that through unfriending also tended to avoid future contact.
Sibona said his current study demonstrates the power of being ostracized on social media.
He cited one experiment showing that subjects who experienced such ostracism had lower moods, less feeling of belonging, less sense of control and reduced self-esteem.
"People who are unfriended may face similar psychological effects...because unfriending may be viewed as a form of social exclusion," Sibona said.
"The study makes clear that unfriending is meaningful and has important psychological consequences for those to whom it occurs," he added.
The study was published this month by the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.