Facebook: consider yourself de-friended

By Christian Nielsen

, Sellaband, is like the classics with the clap. And a bloody waste of time to boot.

22 December 2009

I've just read an article in a Flemish newspaper about this year's candidates for word of the year in Dutch. Two of the top ten proposals – ontvrienden and Twitterazzo – come straight out of the social networking (SN) annals, the part of the internet dedicated to wasting loads of time keeping in touch with friends, relatives and basically anyone who shares your interest in wasting time.

I think my favourite is ontvrienden or the act of de-friending someone from Facebook or other online social networks. The subject came up recently at work  – purely on a linguistic level – when a colleague asked if ‘un-friending' sounded like a reasonable expression for removing people from your social databases.

Discussion followed and the final conclusion was that, if a new word had to be created, then de-friend is better because it has a stronger sense of performing an action – leaving un-friend as the passive result of de-friending. You are an un-friend once de-friended, sort of thing.

Acquiring virtual friends is a tragic social inflation – your online credibility measured by the number of ‘friends' you can be linked to via these web-based platforms. It's like a twisted class of asset or Madoff scheme, and it spikes when you friend up with an A-class social networker or better still a real-world celebrity.

[A mate of mine has Jaimie Oliver as a Facebook friend which is pure SN gold.]

It's become obvious to me that, like the trade floor, investing in the social networking business is not for dabblers. To get good dividends, you have to put in the time, do the numbers and agree to every new app and service pushed down your throat. If you don't play the game, you get left behind – you become that little known Flemish painter, Ascot Nofriends.

This is where the virtual social world tends to mimic the real social world. If you play at networking too eagerly, you get shunned. If you were always a social leper in the school canteen and think this virtual world will be your chance to finally sit at the in-crowd table, you could be in for more rejection – 20 years later.

The problem with rejection this time is you now realise you've thrown good money at post-adolescent therapy. And all the confidence you've gained, the respect you've earned as a dentist, the proud family parked next to the new Audi… it's all undermined by a stupid technology whim. A whim that is desperate to prove it is not a whim by dreaming up a never-ending stream of trinkets and whistles to mesmerise the home-dead.

That's where this de-friending and un-friending business raises some thorny questions. A colleague commented recently that he didn't know how to de-friend someone who he used to go to school with and who kept badgering to join his Facebook. When I say badger, I probably mean stalk.

“I just gave in and agreed to friend this guy, but now I want to de-friend him,” he said.

It's straight out of the classics. The rejected lover, the scorned friend, the seat of power and the unquenched ambition of the underling. Shakespeare no doubt already covered this.

[Google check].

I knew I'd find a match: the comedy Love's Labour's Lost. Wikipedia says the title comes from a poem written by the Greek Theognis: “To do good to one's enemies is love's labours lost.”  It's got the schoolmaster (all proper on the surface but cyber-grooming by night), the clown (the office joker who secretly covets virtual world credibility), kings, princes and ladies (the in-crowd swearing oaths to each other but all secretly cyber bullies), the wench (the emo-chick making alt-porn)… okay so it's getting weird. I'll move on.

No time to waste

As social creatures, we crave the contact and yet we spend more and more time behind a computer or digiting a smart phone. We Tweet our every waking thought and keep forensic-quality data on our movements, from the banal to the carnal. We photo caption our lives and our loves like an episode of another B-grade reality TV show.

Our families – the ones who live within close enough proximity to actually physically visit – are missing the real us. Our bosses who haven't already blocked the Web 2.0 (the social internet) functions and sites are losing money in lost efficiencies.

So, here we are with this so-called social tool, which is supposed to connect us with the world, but just seems to disconnect us from those who should matter the most. We are drawn to the cyber-friends, the friends of cyber-friends, friends long gone, and friends longed for but never real.

It's a bloody shame. So, as I de-friend Facebook, sell off my Sellaband credits, and ignore yet another invitation, I'll be drawing a virtual circle round one of the stranger chapters in social evolution. Friends are not junk bonds, not a tradable asset, and definitely not worthy of a cold, uncaring new piece of argot.

Published with the author's permission. © Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.


  • Christian Nielsen

    Christian Nielsen is a journalist, copy writer and editor based in Brussels. He writes pretty much anything that takes his fancy, from the woes of travelling with kids to the dangers of antidepressants, but technology, EU affairs and science writing pay the bills.

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7 thoughts on “Facebook: consider yourself de-friended

  • Chris (the Chronikler)

    Good move. Face down the Facebook pressure.

    • KhaledDiab

      I’m on Facebook and, in its defence, I have to say that it’s a great tool for keeping in touch with old friends, especially those living in other countries.

      But I have to admit that I don’t see the point of Twitter – and not just because I’m quite wordy – it invites people to share silly mundanities with the world and it raises serious privacy issues. But Henrik is right: serious Twitterers can reach a wider audience with their interesting ideas.

  • I’ve avoided Facebook, but my wife signed up in response to a friend’s invitation. She’s since been besieged by invitations to befriend people she hardly knows, and re-friend people she once knew but lost touch with for good reason. She’s come to hate Facebook. Based on her experience and your commentary, I think I’ll just let the Facebook phenomenon pass me by. REA

  • Chris (the Chronikler)

    absolutely – have a great Xmas mitelman

  • Henrik M

    That’s a typical example of a tweet from someone I’d un-follow asap:-)

  • Chris (the Chronikler)

    I had a piece of toast and the leftover tub of yoghurt from my son who insisted on dressing up as Spiderman to go out into the snow. Tweet

  • Henrik M

    You do have a point regarding the de-friend activity, but I think that the social media arenas differ more than you say. Facebook might be a waist of time in many respects and the collection of friends is both time consuming and hardly meaningful, while Twitter and Linkedin can be used and viewed in another context. Those still writing about what they had for breakfast are soon un-followed in Twitter and more people use it to market interesting articles, like the one you just wrote.
    And re those who dislike IRL – give them a break! They do little harm hiding behind the screens.
    Cheers, Henrik


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