Why Do People Remain Friends with Facebook Bullies?

Closeup of hands using smartphoneFear of social repercussions may prevent Facebook users from unfriending online troublemakers, according to a small study presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference. The study suggests high-conflict Facebook users may also be among the most popular Facebook users, which may produce anxiety about the consequences of unfriending.

Social media is increasingly a source of tension in relationships. Online bullying from friends or strangers can be a source of stress long after a user has logged off. A 2013 report found Facebook was the leading social media site for prevalence of bullying, with 87% of users who experienced online harassment experiencing it on Facebook.

Online Conflicts May Have Offline Effects

Led by Sarah Buglass, a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, researchers analyzed the Facebook relationships of 52 Facebook users ages 13-45. The analysis produced data on 5,113 contacts.

The team asked each participant to rate a sample of 100 randomly selected Facebook contacts on the closeness of their relationship, the frequency with which they communicated, and the level of disagreement the contact displayed with both the user and other Facebook contacts. Users ages 19-21 reported having more Facebook disagreements than any other age group.

Users ranked as having a higher level of conflict also tended to be close to the study participants, regularly communicating with them offline. Their communication with participants was more limited online, suggesting study participants avoided online contact with these high-conflict Facebook users.

Buglass suggests people might not unfriend controversial friends, even when they are bothered by a high level of online conflict. Relationship problems caused by unfriending someone online can translate into issues offline, so people may remain friends even with problematic Facebook users to protect their own reputations and relationships offline.

Social Media and Relationship Conflict

A 2012 Pew Research Center survey explored online and offline relationships, as well as conflict on social media sites such as Facebook. Fifteen percent of adult social media users and 22% of teen users reported ending an offline friendship because of something that happened online. Twelve percent of adults and 25% of teens said that social media led to in-person arguments. Eleven percent of adults and 13% of teens said social media had caused problems with family members. Three percent of adult users and 8% of teens said they got into a physical fight because of something that happened on social media.


  1. Gayle, D. (2013, March 18). Facebook is the worst social network for bullying with 19-year-old boys the most common victims. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2294023/Facebook-worst-social-network-bullying-New-survey-showsthangsters-targeted-online-else.html
  2. Rainie, L., Lenhart, A., & Smith, A. (2012, February 9). Part 2: The social climate of social networking sites. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/02/09/part-2-the-social-climate-of-social-networking-sites/
  3. The social dilemma of dealing with Facebook troublemakers. (2016, April 27). Retrieved from http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=163453&CultureCode=en

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  • Cam


    April 27th, 2016 at 12:26 PM

    What a great question! I think you are right in that sometimes we are too afraid of blocking or the repercussion of ️unfriending them. It’s all gotten too stupid for words anyway, people think they can say whatever because it isn’t face to face and well, it’s just getting a little too mean spirited. Something that used to be fun and has now turned into this

  • Kell


    April 27th, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    Well the problem starts right at the beginning
    These bullies are not in any way your friends, facebook or not

  • regina


    April 28th, 2016 at 10:45 AM

    Online ventures tend to make people a lot bolder than they would normally be and with that comes more of a tendency to bully someone or to even say things that would never be said in polite conversation. Some people remain true to who they really are but I think that then there are others who have always been holding back on their true identity so then it all comes tumbling out online. It can be amusing to see that from a distance but then you look at whom this is being directed against and it doesn’t become quite so funny of the victim is you.

  • Phyllis


    April 28th, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    I am a glutton for punishment I guess

  • Payton


    April 29th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    Just sort of lay low and try not to stir up too much trouble, that seems to work the best for me. I am not the person who likes to antagonize others for what they post or what they say, and i am not going to generally stick my nose into it when there is a feud online between other people. I find it best just to mind my own business.

  • shayne buckley

    shayne buckley

    April 30th, 2016 at 1:19 PM

    I sort of see this as the whole cycle of wanting to stay in with the in crowd, being afraid of breaking away from that because you are afraid that you will be ostracized and left out as a result. Doesn’t it all start to feel just like middle school cliques all over again? And you want to break away fro it, but it is so hard to leave everything that you know, especially if you are afraid that anything or anyone new will be just as scary?

  • Vernon


    May 2nd, 2016 at 10:16 AM

    breaking up is hard to do? ;)

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