According to a recent Australian regulatory decision, unfriending a coworker on Facebook can add up to workplace bullying. There were other actions leading up to this, but unfriending was key (see CNET for details).
Just recently, and without provocation, I was similarly bullied!
I noticed this when a friend posted something to Facebook and tagged another person. When I went to go to my "friend's" page, I couldn't access it. I checked my friend list and sure enough I had been unfriended!
I probably have been unfriended by others before. In the early days of social media I, like most people, wantonly sent friend requests to people I barely knew or knew from long, long ago in a galaxy far away. I did end up interacting rather regularly via social media with some of those people, but by and large these very weak ties were not maintained. Of my 200+ friends on Facebook, I probably only interact with less than 30 in a given month. So if people unfriended me over the years, I really didn't notice.
I did notice this person unfriending me, however, as we have had a continual workplace relationship and collegial ties that have persisted for years. I thought we got along really well both offline and online and we never had any incidents. Possibly, this person just accidentally unfriended me or went through some massive friend purge in which I was engulfed. Or maybe I'm just a creep and I don't belong there.
Either way, considering that I must have continual business dealings (albeit limited) with this coworker her action is therefore quite unprofessional.
I wouldn't call it bullying - but it definitely seems mean-spirited, and more importantly it is unnecessary!
I'm going to give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume the unfriending wasn't personal and was possibly an accident. Otherwise unfriending someone is sending a direct and unequivocal message that you refuse to have further interactions with this person. This is not appropriate workplace behaviour. This is only acceptable if it has based on some sort of horrible dealings, which would be better dealt with by talking to your Human Resources department.
Facebook is a dominant form of social interaction (and likely THE dominant form) among friends, family, and coworkers, so closing this off is sending a very strong message of hostility. I don't believe most people realize how powerful a message it is (including digital media experts, as this case may be). I have often heard people talk about unfriending people very casually. We may not like how Facebook and other social networking sites have pervaded the workplace and so many spheres of our life, but we have to find ways to deal with this reality.
Some people choose to avoid social networking sites altogether. This is an effective tactic, but it is a blunt option that blocks one from lots of interactions that could be beneficial to one personally and professionally. Others choose to have multiple accounts or use pseudonyms to keep their lives and people apart - but this becomes unwieldy and too much effort to maintain.
Instead, there is a solution that achieves the same ends, but in a low-key and diplomatic fashion. People just need to take a few minutes to make use of the excellent privacy and group settings that Facebook and similar sites offer. Consequently, there is no point nowadays to unfriending someone (barring heinous acts) ever again.
First, set up various "list" of Facebook friends. I suggest having different lists for close friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances at the very least. Facebook even has preset lists for some of these. You can then designate what members of a list have access to - as little or as much of your stuff as you decide. You can then target content to list by by type of content (e.g. all photos) or a specific piece of content (e.g. okay, even acquaintances can see this picture of me meeting this big shot). Facebook has a preset list called "Restricted" which only receives access to content you make public.
Then when you post status updates, photos, anything to Facebook it can be easily and quickly targetted to lists. Facebook even remembers your preference and makes that a default.
You can thereby easily and regularly segment portions of your life. Coworkers don't need to see family photos and your close friends don't need to hear about that interesting new article of interest to only those in your esoteric profession.
There is no need therefore to unfriend someone! Instead you can send someone down to restricted purgatory where they receive and can view little or no social media content from you.
And if you don't want to hear from them, you can remove them from your news feed via Facebook's "Unfollow" feature. You still remain "friends" but they are now dead to you in your social media stream. The great thing is that the person will likely not notice any of this and a working (or family) relationship can be peacefully maintained without the person ever knowing any differently.
To successfully pull this off, I recommend posting some stuff for all groups to see. There are many types of posts that you can benefit from more people seeing - such as promotional posts about an event, accomplishment, or company. For this reason, I also recommend making some Facebook posts public.
I am a little shocked that a digital media expert has behaved this way to me and didn't know enough about her field to make astute use of the website. It will be hard for me to not think much less of her personally and professionally as a result.
So learn from her mistake!
And if I am a creep, don't let me know that I don't belong - just make me "Restricted" and I'll never be the wiser.