Which came first? The unfriend or the unfriending?
This is the disturbingly scientific thought that wracks my sinews on hearing of a devastating piece of research performed by the University of Colorado Denver.
You might have thought that the virtual world is just that, that Facebook is merely a collection of make-believe friends who make believe that they're interesting -- and interested in you.
This research insists that if someone unfriends you on Facebook, it alters your behavior -- yes, your real-world behavior.
A fulsome and neurotic 40 percent of people admitted that if someone defriended them on Facebook, they would do everything they could to ensure that they would never be seen with that person in the real world.
Women were, apparently, more inclined to execute avoidance procedures than were men.
You might wonder what could possibly make people behave so radically with respect to what might be a virtual snub, but might also be a slip of the finger or a temporary chilling of the brain.
This research concluded that the most important factor in deciding whether one should instigate avoidance tactics was whether the defriender had talked about the defriending to others.
Yes, perhaps even in real life.
The mere thought that, gosh, someone else knows -- thus making the defriending, well, real -- would drive people to go 10 miles out of the way to eat at Wendy's, instead of wafting into their local Outback Steakhouse.
You might wonder why people defriend others in the first place, though. Could it be because they don't like a new profile picture or because the person has posted too many videos of cats trying to have animated relations with inanimate objects?
Fortunately, the author of this study, a doctoral student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program called Christopher Sibona, performed another feat of research to delve into these depths.
Indeed, you're most likely to be defriended for offering too many dull posts, for too much extremity about politics or religion, for sexism and racism, for too many posts about your kids and your dinner or for changing your status from "single" to "it's complicated" more than three times a week.
Actually, I made that last one up. But the summation of this is surely that you're most likely to be defriended for being virtually annoying.
Some might see a certain absurdity, though, in this research.
Let's assume for a moment that your Facebook friends aren't quite as important to you as your real friends.
Why would you be concerned if one of your Facebook friends cut you off?
Might it really be because the number of friends you have would be reduced by one, there for all to see?
Soon, you fear getting messages from Facebook friends saying: "Oh, I see your numbers are down today. You're just not as popular anymore, huh?"
There is nothing worse than when your (virtual) personal stock goes down, is there?