Friday, 28 May 2010

'Remove from Friends' - The Ultimate Modern Insult?

In the modern, online world, it is common to find oneself slighted in many ways. The relative ease and anonymity with which comments may be posted can often lead to insults being levied that would make eyes water if expressed in face-to-face exchanges.

In my time as lead developer of vBulletin, and previously at AP3D, I grew used to throw-away comments from people I didn't really know, summarily hurling abuse at me or the products of myself and my team. When dealing with a large customer or follower base, this sort of thing is to be expected. One can not expect to please everyone all of the time.

However, while it's possible to learn to live with hurtful comments from relative strangers, there is another, far more subtle form of insult that has reared its head with the emergence of social networks, and Facebook in particular.

The inter-user networking basis of Facebook is one of mutual friendship. John searches for or comes across Jane and requests that they be identified as friends. If Jane accepts, the connection is made and is visible to the rest of John and Jane's friends. Things that John does appear on Jane's news feed and vice versa.

It may be that at some point in time Jane finds that John is spending a lot of time interacting with annoying applications that 'spam' her news feed, and she grows tired of hearing about John's trivial exploits. Facebook offers a tool to deal with this situation, allowing Jane to 'hide' John from her news feed. The friendship is still in place, but Jane will no longer hear about John unless she goes looking for information.

However, there is another option. Jane could break her friendship with John. John will not be notified that this has happened, and will only find out when he either notices that Jane's information no longer shows up in his news feed, or when he visits Jane's profile page and finds the dreaded 'Add as Friend' button sitting there. Why did Jane break the friendship? When did it happen, and what precipitated Jane's decision? Should John re-request friendship, in case Jane made a mistake?

How can Jane's actions be interpreted by John? In the worst interpretation, John can read the following into Jane's termination of the bond:

Once, I considered you a friend. I read about you and I allowed you to read about me. However, you subsequently changed into a person with whom I no longer want a friendship. Your repugnance is so great that simply omitting your activity from my news feed was not enough, and I felt compelled to remove you from my friends list. I do not intend to inform you of my action or to explain my reasons for taking it. I will not even grace you with a goodbye.

And that, my friends, is a cutting insult.

Use 'Remove from Friends' judiciously.


  1. Nice Kier. It's the uncanny perspectives you can take that makes you a great programmer. Where is the FaceBook suggestion program, when you need it? There needs to be a "Reason for stopping the freindship" suggestion.;)

  2. eh it's the same whether you belong to Facebook or any social network site or client. Most people follow others because they're interested in what they have to say, and consider them a friend. I know I do, and assume that others are the same way. When you are dropped, especially without being told, it hurts. Probably shouldn't, but it does. I guess I need thicker skin.

  3. 'Remove from friends' is not an insult at all. It just means that I don't find our Facebook interaction useful. If I have no communication with someone for a few months, I'll probably unfriend them, either because we don't really give a damn about each other (likely), or because we just don't use Facebook to communicate (slightly more likely).

    Facebook is a tool, and I think it's retarded to interpret 'he removed me from his Facebook friends list' as 'he is terminating our friendship'.