Being blocked on Facebook can be incredibly awkward, especially if you are unsure why you were blocked in the first place. Recently, a woman in my program, let’s call her Elle, blocked me on Facebook. There are several possible reasons for it. She could have been annoyed with my over-posting of all things Doctor Who, Pokemon, inspirational, etc. She could have been angry with my honest posts about my thoughts about the program. She could have had a personal vendetta against me that I am unaware of. None of these reasons are particularly unreasonable for blocking someone on Facebook; however, when you have to interact with them on a regular basis over the next several years, it has the potential to become uncomfortable. When I was first blocked I did not think too much about it, after all, we interacted just fine in person; however, over time I started to really wonder about what it meant that she had blocked me, especially because of our shared participation in a private Facebook group.
Because of the nature of private Facebook groups, despite being blocked I am still able to see the things Elle posts within the group; however, I have no ability to comment or interact with the content, and I, in fact, do not even receive a notification that she posted something. Furthermore, because private Facebook groups allow us to see who has seen our posts I am able to see that someone has viewed my post but I cannot see who it is; given that there are only a few of us in the group, it becomes immediately apparent who the mysterious figure is. It becomes even more problematic when things I post on my Facebook are shared within the group because, if it is an image, then Elle can see that someone shared something of mine but cannot access the content itself. Our behavior in person has not changed at all, and we are still perfectly fine in ‘real life’ but this experience made me wonder about our social networking use in an age when how we use our online spaces are very personal and flexible.
Personally, I have gone from an incredibly private Facebook profile, to a really open one, and have moved on to a more limited audience. In having made this move I unfriended about a, literal, thousand friends from my Facebook profile (I was very open prior to that) in an attempt to de-clutter my online presence. In my mind it was not particularly a big deal, after all being friends on Facebook did not mean we were friends in the ‘real world’ and so not being friends on Facebook did not mean we were not friends in person. There were, I justified to myself, a lot of reasons for why it would be okay to be in contact with someone in person but to have them off of my Facebook profile. A lot of people turned out to be hurt from my action.
I got messages from people asking me what they had done wrong, whether or not it was a mistake, or being angry at me for no longer being their friend. Some even blocked me as a result. I thought it was perhaps a bit extreme to be blocked but thought nothing of it because at the end of the day, how we interact in person matters more than whether we interact online, right? And that’s when I realized that while I was not particularly sensitive about my social networking use, other people definitely were. People who blocked me on Facebook also tended to ignore me in person, something I thought was childish. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder what is the ‘right’ thing to do. After struggling with the issue for a little while I learned a few lessons about social networking and the consequences of our actions. These days there are options, you can unfriend someone, you can hide them, or you can block them. And I’ve been learning that each one of these have spillover implications which directly speak to the relationship you will have with that person off of the Internet.
Unfriending someone sends a strong message, it’s a symbolic, “constructive notification,” that the nature of your relationship has, for one reason or another, changed. Someone cheated on one of my best friends, so I deleted him. Someone posted something incredibly offensive and would not apologize, so I deleted him. And this action sent the message that I no longer wanted a relationship with them. In my massive attempt to de-clutter my online presence I had forgotten that message. What I thought was harmless turned out to be a slightly bigger deal for certain people than I had originally anticipated. Now I know.
Hiding someone’s statuses is often the best way to go about selecting what you wish, or do not wish, to see on your newsfeed. If someone posts too much, or too often, then hide their future posts. It is a simple process and ultimately maintains your relationship with the other person. I am guilty of often over posting about Doctor Who, Pokemon, the news, or inspirational quotations and photos and it does not hurt my feelings to know you do not have similar interests and do not want to be bombarded by my posts. Hiding is often the best course of action, but understandably there are times when it is more than necessary to hide things because it only limits what pops up on your feed.
Blocking, however, is the worst of all actions and should be done very cautiously. I would suggest never blocking anyone unless the situation is extreme (like blocking an ex to be prevented from seeing them making out with someone new). It increases the possibility of making the situation really awkward when you encounter them in person and probably ruins a professional relationship from happening as well. Blocking sends a lot of potential messages, and although ‘real life’ interactions may continue normally, a part of you always wonders what happened. Eventually it may come up, and you may work it out, but the mere act of having done that sends a strong and clear signal that you may not necessarily intend on doing.
We have personal feelings about social networking and it’s important to remember that other people do as well. Sometimes while the actions you think you’re taking are harmless, they can easily be perceived differently by other people. In a time when our social networking uses are so fluid, it is important to remember the potential ramifications of our actions and to think before we choose to sever a relationship online.