You know, I like Facebook.
I realize it’s probably not cool to admit, but I don’t care. I really do like Facebook a lot. You get to keep up with what your friends and family are doing, which comes in especially handy if you’re scattered across several countries. You get exposed to cool music, links and articles that you probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. You get to push your own music, links and articles down the throats of all those fortunate enough to have you on their Friends list. You get to look at pictures and judge people. You get to play stupid games. You get to creepily stalk strangers. It’s fucking fun.
And it goes a little beyond that. I can honestly say that Facebook has made my life better. It’s been the tool I’ve used to keep in touch with some wonderful people who live pretty far from me. It’s helped me reconnect with old friends I haven’t seen in forever. It’s gotten me work. It’s gotten me laid. The disgustingly narcissistic and exhibitionist nature of the tool notwithstanding, it’s really been a good thing for me. I say that without a hint of irony. I am thankful for my Facebook friends, because they are a wildly eclectic assortment of names and faces I’ve collected over the years, and bridges that I’d like to keep open for future use.
Being the avid internetter that I am (meaning the internet is an integral part of what I do for a living and thus I am online a fair amount), I understand I can get obnoxious. I try to be the best Facebook friend I can be: I’ll comment on your shit, I’ll make silly jokes on my status updates, I’ll post things on your Wall that you might find interesting. I understand this can be annoying to someone I’m only marginally connected with, or somebody I met at a Hostel once, six years ago. So every once in a while, I will be unfriended. It happens. Everybody gets unfriended sometime. I shouldn’t really be bothered by it because hey, I too would probably want to cut off the overwhelming stream of information from some weirdo I only met a couple times.
But it does get to me, and probably because of how much of myself I put out there. I would say that my online persona is pretty close to what I’m like in real life. I try to keep things as real as possible, with most facets of my personality shining through across the extremely limited, two-dimensional world of the internet. I think I do a pretty good job at being silly or serious when the situation calls for it. This makes communication feel more genuine and honest. A downside to this, though, is that because my cyber-persona is so similar to my real-life self, when I get cyber-dissed I tend to take it a little– not a lot, but a teensy weensy bit– personal.
The Unfriending is the worst of the disses. It’s basically saying “I want nothing to do with you, forever”. It vexes me. If I happen to be on my profile and happen to notice my number of Friends is lower than I remembered, I’ll wonder what caused it. I’ll look over my recent updates, looking for something objectionable. Have I posted something a little too harsh? Did I offend somebody with that joke about the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Is my Sims Social usage clogging up somebody’s News Feed? And because there’s no sure way to know exactly who unfriended you, all that’s left is to sit there and wonder for a bit. And then quietly move on.
That is, there used to be no sure way to know who unfriended you.
Enter Unfriend Alert. The bane of my fucking existence.
This godforsaken App was created to prey on the insecurities of the modern-day neurotic internetter. Unfriend Alert fulfills the promise that many other Apps offered and failed to deliver: an actual report on who unfriends you. Name and all. I know. It’s horrible. I hate it. But I can’t stop checking it.
The way Unfriend Alert works is ridiculously simple. It scans and saves your Friends list, so it knows whenever there are any changes to it. The real kicker here is that Unfriend Alert doesn’t quite live up to its name in that it’s not a real “Alert”. You don’t get a nifty little popup telling you “psst! Peter just unfriended you”. No, Unfriend Alert is a little more involved than that. You actually have to check it. And unless you check it, you won’t know exactly who has unfriended you, if anyone. You see? And this is when it becomes a sick obsession. You develop a habit. You check it often. Perhaps every day. And every time you do, as the screen loads, you wonder if it’s going to be good news…
… or bad.
That’s right. Unfriend Alert will compare the old version of your Friends List with the latest one and tell you who has made the conscious decision to remove you from their list, complete with a live link to their profile, should you choose to berate and harass them over PM.
Notice the excessively dramatic wording. Someone unfriending you is tantamount to a betrayal, man. And this is the fundamental problem with Unfriend Alert. It doesn’t just prey upon your internet insecurities, but it feeds them as well. It takes a personal decision, like saying “you know, I don’t really know this guy that well, and he’s really taking up a lot of space in my newsfeed, so…” and it makes it into a personal affront of some sort. As a consequence, you think twice about every link you’re going to post. Every status update. Every picture comment. Behind every single move, there’s that nagging thought that, somewhere in your Friends list, there’s someone with their mouse pointer hovering right over the “Unfriend” button, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And that, my friends, is no way to internet.
UPDATE (jan. 13 2012): Well, the party’s over. Looks like Facebook has effectively pulled the plug on Unfriend Alert, which should come as no surprise considering how discrete the social network purports to be when it comes to de-friending. What’s more surprising is just how long it took for FB to take notice of this little app, and what’s really surprising (and somewhat alarming) is just how naked and vulnerable I am left feeling in its absence.
UPDATE (april 7 2012): There’s a new, better, more intrusive tool available. Check it out here.
UPDATE (june 12 2012): You need to install the above-mentioned tool. It’s wonderful, in a horribly pathetic way. It lets you know in real time when someone deletes you, and it tells you when someone declines your friend request. It’s great, and also really sad.