App review: Do you really want to know who unfriended you on Facebook?

On: October 13, 2011
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About Laura Burlacu
I am 22 years old, come from Romania, and before coming to Amsterdam I studied Integrated Social Sciences at Jacobs University Bremen. Longing for a change of pace, I moved to Amsterdam to study New Media at the UvA. Pictures are soon to follow...

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http://lauraburlacu.blogspot.com/    

For many people Facebook has become a integral part of their daily routine, helping them keep in touch with friends, relatives, friends of friends and sometimes people they have never really met in real life, but who they know about only from others (let’s admit it, we all have a few people who, no matter how hard we try, we cannot remember why we added them in our friends list to begin with). And the more  time is spent on Facebook on a daily basis, the more people become in a way dependent on being active on the social networking website, with Facebook being an extension of their real-life persona where they can portray themselves in such a way that they resemble more their ideal self rather than the

“The term ‘friend’ on Facebook means something so entirely different from a friend in the real world,” she [Martha Tompson] said. “In high school or real life, you have that distinction between the two. Facebook seems to just bunch them all up under the same category.” (Solis, 2011)

As a result, people feel the need to have more and more “friends” on Facebook, reaching sometimes numbers that boggle the mind. I myself have friends (the non-virtual kind) who now have over a thousand Facebook friend. When I asked one of them if he actually talked to at least half of them once every few months, he said no, but he liked to see what they were up to from time to time.

To me it sometimes seems as if Facebook has become a race for the most popular posts, the most popular pictures, the highest number of friend, and has moved far away from its beginnings, when it was meant to connect college friends or former classmates. Researchers have even linked too much time spent on Facebook to forms of depression in adolescents, especially teens. (Solis, 2011; Tanner, 2011; Irvine, 2009). The reasons behind this is that Facebook tends to amplify already existing tendencies towards a depressive personality. Once individuals (of which teenagers are the most vulnerable group) compare themselves to their other friends who are more active, have more attractive profile pictures or more Facebook friend, they start questioning themselves and their own lives. As a result, they may start to think that they are not as popular or interesting as some of their other friend, which can lead to depression.

Interesting fact: the word 'unfriend' has been chosen as Oxford Dictionary's 2009 Word of the Year, showing how much impact this action has beyond the world of Facebook

Given the fact that much of this commotion is caused by people comparing their number of Facebook friends to that of others, it only makes sense that the same people will want to maintain these friend, regardless of the fact that they barely talk to talk, if at all. As a result, friend monitoring apps have started popping up, out of which one of the most popular is Who deleted me on Facebook?, an app meant to monitor the number of friends you have, and which promises to send you emails as soon as someone deletes or adds you on Facebook (the latter seeming a bit pointless given the fact that you first of all have to add that friend manually to you account). So what this simple little app offers you, in time, if a good list of people that you can direct your hate towards.

Personally I have not used this app, but it seems that many others have since the app’s statistics section mentions that there are more than 49,000 registered users who actively employ it. However, from a very subjective point of view, I do not see why someone would use this app, unless for personal revenge or for holding a never-ending grudge against someone who probably was not a real friend to begin with. Having been in a position where I have removed Facebook friends (better said people I had never talked to either on Facebook or outside of it, or simply those who had just blatantly stepped on my toes for too long) I can safely say that I was relieved to think that those people would not get a message informing them of my action. Sure, you can say that there should have been no reasons why I felt that way since I did not care about those people too much to begin with, but being a rather self-conscious person, I did not want to know that somewhere, somehow, I had managed to get someone to dislike me because of a silly website. And would you really want a program to inform you through a cold, standardized email that your ‘friend’ X has removed you from Facebook? I probably wouldn’t. If people don’t like their boyfriends/girlfriends breaking up with them through SMS, why would they prefer being unfriended through an email (which should not have been there to begin with, if we think of the fact that Facebook does not send any notifications when you remove someone from your list).

And this is one of the strange social circumstances that Facebook fabricates: if forces you to call casual acquaintances friends, even though in real life you would probably never see some of those people again. If offers you a plethora of insights into the life of that person, and creates a very artificial feeling of somehow knowing that person. This is really what makes removing Facebook friends so difficult. Normally, someone you talked to once would not care if you never saw them again, or called, or wrote to them, thus making the relationship null. But on Facebook, this process gains a whole new dimension as a result of the faux sense of relationship created with the help of Facebook.

In conclusion, as you might have realized, I do not particularly enjoy this app. From my point of view, it is just another element adding to the socially alienating web that Facebook creates for those weak of heart who have difficulties adapting to the new social vocabulary of Facebook. While I personally do not necessarily care if someone who I am not particularly close to unfriends me (been there, done that), other people tend to take this process a lot more seriously. This is especially the case with teenagers who see Facebook as a clear enhancement of their social life, where they can achieve levels of popularity that they otherwise lack in real life, but towards which they aspire. What this app offers them is the possibility to direct their frustrations towards unsuspecting victims, adding to the other social media debate, cyber-bullying.

My advice: don’t take everything so serious. It’s just Facebook after all.

[1] Solis, Steph (2011, Apr. 11). “Dislike: Can Facebook cause depression in teens?”. The Daily Free Press. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2011 from http://dailyfreepress.com/2011/04/11/dislike-can-facebook-cause-depression-in-teens/.

[2] Tanner, Lindsey (2011, Mar. 29). “Docs warn about teens and ‘Facebook depression”. Associated Press. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2011 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42298789/ns/health-mental_health/t/docs-warn-about-teens-facebook-depression/#.TpIK1t7lekU.

[3] Irvine, Chris (2009, Jan. 31). “Excessive chatting on Facebook can lead to depression in teenage girls”. The Telegraphy. Retrieved Oct. 8, 2011 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/4405741/Excessive-chatting-on-Facebook-can-lead-to-depression-in-teenage-girls.html.

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