A history of features for online tie breaking, 1997-2021

Nicholas John*, Dekel Katz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Online spaces provide opportunities for creating ties with other people, allowing us to communicate and share content with them. Sometimes, though, we wish to break some of these ties; we wish not only to friend and to follow, but to unfriend and unfollow as well. In this paper, we present a history of the many features for online interpersonal disconnectivity, showing how they have developed over time. We present five main findings: the language of tie breaking is consistently bureaucratic; over time, the features for tie breaking tend to operate on the feed rather than on social ties themselves; platforms are more reactive than proactive when it comes to tie breaking features; new ways for preventing interactions are launched over time; and the features for tie breaking sometimes create what we call “impossible social situations.” This approach shines a spotlight on a neglected aspect of social media, and opens up new ways of thinking about how the platforms conceive of–and construct–online sociability.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)237-253
Number of pages17
JournalInternet Histories
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Unfriend
  • Wayback Machine
  • block
  • tie breaking
  • unfollow
  • unsociality


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