How Facebook “Unfriend Alert” Made Me a Paranoid Misanthrope

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…

“You truly are a great friend”, it says. It also gives you a hug and buys you ice cream.

… or bad.

DISS!

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.

12 thoughts on “How Facebook “Unfriend Alert” Made Me a Paranoid Misanthrope

  1. Wow! Is this for real, Jorge?
    I generally have a similar approach to facebook, and this could come in handy given my curiosity. I have a rather small, ordinary amount of friends on fb, some 510; and whilst the numbers tend to stay that way they dwindle sometimes and this, if it existed, could really come in handy.
    Just to know, you know? lol
    I’ll check it out.
    As always, interesting blog!

    p.s.: I have realised this just now but, why the fuck am I writing you in english?? I am pretty positive your spanish is quite good 😛 so from now on I’ll comment in castellano.

  2. I, too, was quite disappointed when I recently realized that the Unfriend Alert app had disappeared. I absolutely hate seeing my friend list number decrease by 1 without knowing who deleted me. I also have the “Deleted and New Friends Checker” app, which still exists and has also worked, but not quite as well as the Unfriend Alert did. Just a few hours ago, I downloaded the Greasemonkey browser add-on, along with the “Unfriend Finder” script that is associated with it (www.unfriendfinder.com). The script integrates into your FaceBook page so seamlessly that the add-ons appear as if they are actually part of FaceBook itself. I hate to say it, but I’m almost wanting someone else to un-friend me so that I can see for myself whether this Unfriend Finder by Greasemonkey actually works! Not only does it claim to NOTIFY you IN REAL TIME when a friend deletes you, but it also claims to tell you when someone declines your friend request, or when a friend deletes their account, reactivates their account, etc.

  3. Ugh, I don’t think I would have liked this unfriend alert. I’ve been unfriended a couple of times and while I did take it a little personally, it’s usually for the better. The people who unfriend me generally post too many photos of their kids or other things I am not interested in.

    I feel similarly to you, though. I try to be a good FB friend and comment on people’s stuff that I think is cool. I always appreciate your comments!

  4. In my unsolicited opinion I don’t care who unfriended me – it may be a blessing and a great weight off of my mind that someone I may have not known in the first place unfriended me.. Yea!!!

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