Earlier this week, the New Oxford American Dictionary unveiled “unfriend” as the 2009 Word of the Year, providing the following definition and application:
unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook.
As in, I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.
Clear enough. But what does it say about us that “unfriend” was the word chosen to sum up 2009? What are the implications behind the action itself and the role of Facebook?
Usually a break in relationship involves some face-to-face interaction, discussion, maybe an argument or tears. And a period of getting over hurt feelings on both sides. Maybe this ends in reconciliation, maybe not.
But considering the above, why bother with a messy, prolonged process when Facebook makes it so much easier? With Facebook, you can bypass all of that inconvenience. Instantaneous detachment is at your fingertips; viritually all it takes is selecting a name and clicking remove. Clean and simple.
Yet doesn’t this exploitation of social media go against the core ethos of “social” that brought about the Web’s creation in the first place? Unfriending is no less a direct insult than spitting on someone (an apt form of expressing displeasure that goes back centuries).
The value of friendship
Last January, a Burger King campaign enticed Facebook users to delete 10 friends to win a Whopper. Response was overwhelming, with the Whopper/Facebook application disabled a week later, a reported 233,000 friend rejections received. Doubtful that the number of burgers doled out equaled that of recouped refriends. Somehow getting sold out for $4.99 Cdn (an additional .60 cents for cheese) is rather unappetizing.
Facebooks 2009 statistics report more than 300 million active users, the average user having 130 site friends. Beware the qualifications active and average. Of course, unfriend stats were, well, unavailable. But check out Google trends. Global search results for unfriend and facebook unfriend speak volumes in their progressive upward trend.
Where do you stand on unfriending? Friends no more? Or “can we still be friends?”
What would make you unfriend someone on Facebook? And if you were the unfortunate target, have you ever sucked it up and accepted a re-friend invite? Then maybe you were one of those 233,000 traded for a fast-food burger?