January 29, 2009

Unfriends forever

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at January 29, 2009 10:14 PM

Today the New York Times, in its role as the paper of record, investigates one of the most pressing questions of this point in history: the etiquette of deleting people from your Facebook friends. This seems to be prompted by Burger King's recent promotion wherein the fast food chain invited Facebook users to remove ten friends in exchange for a free Whopper. Contrary to normal Facebook procedure, but better for spreading the promotion, the ex-friends would be notified that they had been dropped for 10% of a burger.

Personally, I thought this was awesome, and was halfway tempted to do it even though I had no interest in actually eating at Burger King. However, apparently the Whopper Sacrifice has been axed by Facebook, who seem intent on keeping the act of unfriending as silent as possible.

So the correct approach, apparently, is to quietly drop people from our lists and hope they don't notice. This works until it's brought to their attention by, say, a mutual acquaintance using the "suggest a friend" option. This actually happened to me (as the unfriendee, not the unfriender), although rather than being offended by the realization I just laughed at the fact that someone had made the suggestion—this was a case where it was pretty clear why I had been unfriended.

On the other hand, in some situations a message about the reason for the removal may be justified, and even helpful. This is the case for one of the best reasons for deletion: irritating status messages. These come in many forms: the all-caps shout with twelve exclamation marks; the incredibly pedestrian messages that get updated every five minutes; the message that gets reposted every day but is essentially the same. If you unfriend someone because of their status messages, be sure to tell them why so they might stop annoying the rest of their friends. I was impressed by the person in the Times article who said this:

"I believe it was based on a passive-aggressive update of yours to which I sighed, kinda shook my head and pressed 'delete from friends,' " she confessed by e-mail. "I find negativity a bit tiresome and don't have the patience for it."

This is excellent and we should all follow her example. In fact, there should be a "delete from friends" button next to every status message so that the option is readily available. This might even make people think twice before posting something lame. As they say, an armed society is a polite society.

Wait, no, this is the internet. Here, an armed society is the Hobbesian war of all against all. Maybe Facebook's quiet deletion policy really is for the best...

Tags: Culture, Internet
Comments

I think the quiet deletion thing is for the best overall, but the Burger King promo was awesome!

Also, presumably one is more likely to delete a "friend" than a friend. (If it's somebody who you keep in touch with aside from sites like this, then if any issues crop up, one should be able to discuss them privately.)

Posted by: Mason Porter | January 30, 2009 7:41 PM

FTFA:

"Those were the excuses that Ehren S., a former co-worker of mine who apparently unfriended me sometime this past spring, offered up recently for giving me the digital heave-ho.

“I believe it was based on a passive-aggressive update of yours to which I sighed, kinda shook my head and pressed ‘delete from friends,’ ” she confessed by e-mail. “I find negativity a bit tiresome and don’t have the patience for it.”

Fine. Though forgive me for pointing out that Ehren, who asked that I not use her full name, initially tried to fib her way out of the awkwardness by saying she did it for a Whopper. "

Wow. Now, airing the personal grievance in a Times article in order to get the last word is REALLY passive-aggressive! I would have deleted him too.

Though it's rare that I unfriend people, mostly because it's hard for them to get on my nerves. If they did start airing personal passive-aggressive messages online in order to get my own personal attention, I would certainly do so. It'd be an efficient way of taking myself out of a fight I didn't want to get into, but the other party was certainly clamoring for. And I definitely wouldn't feel beholden or even the desire to tell them why I unfriended them, I just wouldn't want that contact.

This is not to say I'm not guilty of passive-aggressivity online. Back when AIM was king, and I was young and foolish, I was an incredible repeat-offender, partially due to my shyness and unwillingness to engage person-to-person.

Personal slights like that may deserve a total writing off. For less than that, my policy towards facebook networking is, if they are close enough that their facebook activities would pose an issue to me, I would bring it up with them before unfriending them. If they aren't that close and are simply obnoxious to me, I don't mind deleting them, but it's rarely the case that someone I don't know becomes that personally offensive to me based on a status line. In the end, the reaction I have to a certain status or attitude is the only thing I can control, not the status or attitude itself. For me to write it off because it gets on my nerves is one thing. To strike out at it in annoyance seems disproportionate to the offense. Especially when while there isn't a button next to the status that says "delete", there is one that offers the choice "More about ___", or "Less about ___", which seems a fair compromise.

Of course, constructive criticism or polite suggestion about what a person's posting, e.g. "I'm sure you thought this was funny, but it's really incredibly pessimistic and kinda off-putting..." is fine. But to do that after, or concurrent with a deletion leads me to believe that the intention is not to help but simply to judge on one's way out the door. Perhaps the deletion occurs because it was the final straw, in which no word needs be said, unless, like the author, the user is prodded again and again to finally say so (she initially fibbed? How much did this guy bug her over facebook?). But the deletion is certainly final enough to presume that the one who is deleting does not believe such advice would be listened to, so why give in to one final snipe? I know I certainly wouldn't listen to someone who, from out of the blue, would message me "I'm deleting you! And this is why!" Clearly, the author didn't listen to the advice about passive-aggressive messages. He left her one more in his article.

Maybe the solution to wanting to tell someone how annoying they are is not to do so, but to take a breath, acknowledge that, in the end, "to each his own", and to let each other go their separate ways. If that's the form of a deletion, that's cool. It's what Ehren S. from the article did, until pressed for an answer. And even an honest answer proves... there's no pleasing some people.

Posted by: Josh | January 31, 2009 5:16 AM
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