Did you know that “defriending” is in the dictionary? It’s also in Saturday’s New York Times, in a brief Style section piece on the Facebook phenomenon of ending a friendship. They have doctors to explain it! The experts say it is comparable to getting dumped. And yet, it is not the same as real life, because it is on the computer. Don’t laugh, this is serious: “But in the meantime we’ve seen psych study after psych study showing that people who lose friends on social networks suffer real psychological consequences.” So, beware the well-being of that boy who went to high school with your seventh grade camp friend, because he has feelings, too.
The super-seriousness with which the Times approaches the social mores of Facebook, specifically the act of defriending, indicates a certain ignorance to the actual process. Though the article puts an average number of Facebook friends around 130, it is not unusual to see college students, who have been on the service since their high school years, approaching, even exceeding 1,000 friends. In that case, there are doubtlessly acquaintances of acquaintances, 5-minute bar conversations and complete strangers. And let’s not forget that the defriended is not actually alerted that they’ve been removed. Even realizing the act occurred requires routinely checking on the profile of the remover, quite a creepy act if defriending is even an option!
Still, the Times insists, gravely, that in this world, “tact is elusive.” From a Rutgers professor:
“If there’s one major flaw in social networking right now, it’s that it doesn’t really provide a nuanced way to defriend,” he said. “The two ways are either to announce it to the world at large or to do it totally in stealth, so even the defriended person isn’t aware of it. Neither of those is a particularly socially positive approach to the situation.
One woman “took the time during her last friend purge to write each ‘unfriend’ an e-mail — roughly 200 of them.” She said: “I wanted to be respectful and not just simply delete people without explanation.”
Ex-Runnin’ Scared helper Intern Annie has been engaging in a similar exercise, albeit more publicly, which she has dubbed “Project Defriend,” in an effort to cut down on her 865 friends, one per day. But her take on the whole exercise i funny! So we’re inclined to believe “friend of an old boyfriend” and “underaged club promoter” didn’t even notice, let alone cry about it.
Defriended, Not De-Emoted [New York Times]