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Social media makes breakups worse

Tuesday February 25 2020
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Many participants shared stories of encountering exes via their comments in shared spaces, such as groups or mutual friends' pictures. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Social media makes breakups much worse and delays the healing process in the digital age, a new study reveals.

Imagine flipping through your Facebook News Feed first thing in the morning and spotting a notification that your ex is now in a relationship.

Or maybe the memories feature shows a photo from holiday vacation you took together last year. Or your ex-lover's new girlfriend shows up under the “People You May Know” tab.

Scenarios like these are real and not uncommon, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study exploring how breaking up is even harder to do in the digital age.

According to Anthony Pinter, a doctoral student in the information science department and lead author of the study, social media makes it almost impossible to move on if you are constantly being bombarded with reminders in different places online.

EASIER TO GET DISTANCE BEFORE

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He also added that before social media break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person.

“A lot of people make the assumption that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore, our work shows that this is not the case," said Pinter.

The research team recruited participants who had experienced an upsetting encounter online involving a break-up within the past 18 months and interviewed them for over an hour.

Even when people took every measure they saw possible to remove their exes from their online lives, social media returned them, often multiple times a day.

The primary interface that opens when one launches Facebook was a major source of distress, delivering news of ex-lovers announcing they were in a new relationship. In one case, a participant noticed his roommate had already "liked" his ex's post.

According to the report, the ‘memories’ feature which revives posts from years' past, was equally heart-rending, with one participant recalling how an old sweet message from his ex-wife popped up out of nowhere delivering an emotional blow.

Many participants shared stories of encountering exes via their comments in shared spaces, such as groups or mutual friends' pictures.

Even when someone unfriends their ex, if a mutual friend posts a picture without tagging them in it, that picture may still flow through their feed. And when they blocked their exes entirely, some reported that the ex's friends and family members would still show up on Facebook as suggestions under People You May Know or have sent a “Friend Request”.

The authors suggest that such encounters could be minimised if platform designers paid more attention to the "social periphery" - all those people, groups, photos and events that spring up around a connection between two users.

The authors recommend that to get rid of one’s online life from reminders of love lost, they recommend unfriending, untagging, using the Take a Break feature and blocking while understanding they may not be fool proof.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery).

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