Facebook users have long rallied for the option of a “dislike” button on statuses and comment threads. The site could use it: Too often you see people link to a despicable news item, then get attacked because their online friends think they’re endorsing that behavior when instead they were trying to start a conversation. These people have the right idea: Facebook shouldn’t be all sunshine and roses, a one-sided site where your true meaning in posting something gets misinterpreted.
At the same time, I think there’s something potentially dangerous about the option to mark someone as your “enemy.” But Dean Terry, managing director of the social media program at the University of Texas at Dallas, draws on those same arguments about a more faceted Facebook experience. He and a student have released an app called EnemyGraph, which allows you to mark Facebook friends as enemies. But unlike Google+’s Circles system, where only you know if you’ve pegged someone a Friend or Acquaintance, your labels are public for your new enemy to see.
“We’re using ‘enemy’ in the same loose way that Facebook uses ‘friends,’” Terry claims. “It really just means something you have an issue with.” (To be fair, he would have preferred to use “dislike,” but Facebook is fervently opposed to what they view as an overwhelmingly negative word.) He claims that you can use it for something as trivial as a band like Nickelback or as socially powerful as opposing a government, but all I can consider now is people using EnemyGraph to start up damaging personal vendettas with fellow users.
We’ve seen flame wars erupt on message boards and elsewhere online, and that’s when things are anonymous. Consider the kind of cyberbullying that could occur among Facebook’s under-18 age group once petty rivalries have this kind of damning label in their arsenal. I imagine uncool kids being branded “enemies” by popular kids and losing esteem in the eyes of other peers who would have stayed out of things if they hadn’t turned so public, and it makes me cringe in sympathy.
However, I should also play the other side of things, that this could be a constructive conversation piece. What’s funny is that just this morning I saw one of those mini-Facebook memes getting passed around: It was a text box complaining about how this social network is a place ”where your enemies are the ones that visit your profile the most, your friends & family block you,” and so forth. Obviously there are people who would welcome EnemyGraph, even if only 300 of Facebook’s millions of users are actually using it.
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