Do You Need To Unfriend Or Block Your Ex On Social Media? Research Digs In

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Woman Using Her Cell Phone

Social media has blessed us with tons of ways to keep in touch with our friends and family and share the happenings in our lives. But access to everyone's life comes at a cost, especially if you've recently gone through a breakup.

It's not an uncommon occurrence: You just broke up, you've deleted them from every account, but then they appear in a comment on a friend's post. Or worse, a cute photo pops up on your Memories page from last year.

All these instances of accidental sightings aren't just upsetting; according to a new study from the University of Colorado, Boulder, they're making breaking up harder than ever.

Researching social media's effects on breakups.

The researchers sought out participants who had reported a breakup within the past 18 months that involved an upsetting online encounter thereafter. Nineteen people were interviewed, with researchers finding that even when participants went to great lengths to unfriend and delete their exes, they kept showing up in various ways.

Doctoral student and lead author of the study Anthony Pinter says their work disproves the assumption many people make, "that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore."

Many of the research participants reported instances of ex sightings on their News Feed, from the comments and likes sections, to event pages, to new relationship announcements, and more. And of course the dreaded Memories feature. Even some of those who blocked their exes mentioned friends and family of their ex would occasionally make an appearance under the "People You May Know" section.

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The importance of digital detoxing.

As social media developers become more privy to the shortcomings of being in the same virtual environment as your ex, tools are being introduced to help deal with just that.

"Take A Break," for example, is a feature offered the moment you change your relationship status to "single" on Facebook. It's not the same as blocking, but it will hide your ex's activity from your News Feed. And if you're not the type to list your relationship status, you can seek out "Take A Break" within the app as well.

But moving forward, the study authors say web developers should work on more effective algorithms that can better identify subtle connections between two people, like mutual friends and group photos, to help further limit seeing them.

"Algorithms are really good at seeing patterns in clicks, likes and when things are posted," says assistant professor Jed Brubaker, Ph.D., "but there is a whole lot of nuance in how we interact with people socially that they haven't been designed to pick up."

With all that in mind, the research team says your best bets in the midst of a rough breakup are to unfriend, untag, block, and try Facebook's Take A Break feature. And if necessary, hopping off social media entirely "for a while until you're in a better place," Pinter adds, will help too.

Breakups are never easy, but getting through them is possible. Try these 18 self-care practices to love yourself after a breakup, and check out our class on how to heal from a breakup.

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