PUNCHING UP OR TURNING AWAY? WHEN PALESTINIANS UNFRIEND JEWS IN ISRAEL
Keywords:unfriending, inequality, racism, Facebook
We present the first study of Facebook unfriending in the context of the relations between a social minority and majority. We conducted in-depth interviews with 20 ‘48 Palestinians (Palestinian citizens of Israel) that explored their unfriending of Jewish Israeli Facebook friends. Nearly all of the interviewees reported unfriending a Jewish Israeli against a background of racist hate speech. For the more politically-oriented interviewees, unfriending was a kind of punching up, an expression of power in a context where they are structurally disadvantaged. These interviewees reported more positive feelings about the act of unfriending (e.g. relief) and active feelings about the behavior that caused the unfriending (especially anger). Politically inactive interviewees showed more negative and passive feelings (disappointment in their Jewish Facebook friends, and fear). For them, unfriending was more like walking away from troubling interactions (because of anti-Arab racism), or withdrawing from social surveillance that could lead to trouble with employers or their college/university. Where dyadic pairs on Facebook enjoy more or less equal social standing, then there may be something to Facebook’s belief that connecting people across the world can improve cross-cultural understanding. However, when one social group enjoys power over another, it would seem that the positive potential of online ties is limited. This study thus sheds new light on online tie management in the context of structural inequality.