While previous studies have explored how social media can make users feel excluded by their friends, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that it can also make users feel worse after a breakup.
According to the researchers, social media platforms have made it harder than ever for users to get distance from relationships that have recently ended. These platforms can serve as a constant reminder of what ex-partners are up to — including forming new relationships. Moreover, the researchers found that utilizing tools to block, mute, or unfriend exes didn’t make things better.
“Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” said researcher Anthony Pinter. “It can almost make it impossible to move on if you are constantly bombarded with reminders in different places online.”
Why it’s so hard to move on
The researchers had 19 people involved in the study, all of whom had experienced the end of a relationship in the last 18 months and had a poor experience with social media after the breakup.
The participants were interviewed for over an hour each about their social media use after their breakup. They answered questions about how the internet contributed, either positively or negatively, to their coping.
The researchers learned that there were several features — particularly on Facebook — that made it difficult for consumers to get distance from their exes and move on from their past relationships. Participants were frequently reminded of their relationship bliss via the Memories feature, which calls up pictures, videos, and posts from past years, making it harder for social media users to put that part of their lives behind them.
Moreover, Facebook made it nearly impossible for the study participants to ignore their former partners’ life updates, as the News Feed is a constant reminder of things going on with a person they no longer want to be updated on. And while this could be a way for users to upload a new profile picture or share news about a job, it could also be the way to share a new relationship, making it all the more difficult for exes to move on.
Unfriending isn’t the answer
While Facebook, like several social media platforms, gives users the option to block, unfriend, or mute others, the researchers learned that these tools weren’t enough for the participants.
“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,” Pinter said. “Our work shows that this is not the case.”
He explained that exes’ information can pop up via comments or likes from mutual friends or in mutual groups, or even from their family members or friends who haven’t been unfriended. This can leave heartbroken consumers with constant reminders of their lives pre-breakup.
While these tools certainly aren’t going to rid exes from consumers’ social media profiles, Pinter suggests using them anyway, as they can offer some peace of mind when a relationship ends. Perhaps most importantly, he says staying off social media for a while can work wonders while consumers process their feelings.
“In real life, you get to decide who gets the cat and who gets the couch, but online it’s a lot harder to determine who gets this picture or who gets this group,” Pinter said.