Developer adds “Enemy” feature to Facebook

Tired of Facebook being “like”-only? So are over three million users who have joined groups for a “dislike button.” But Facebook has banned the word “dislike” from applications, as it would open a floodgate of negative activity that could alienate advertisers. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education covered a new application for Facebook known as EnemyGraph. Developed by a professor and graduate student pair at the University of Texas at Dallas, the application is part of a broader project called “emerging media” and is designed to make social media more reflective of real life rather than all “like” all the time–an atmosphere which the producers of EnemyGraph think is conducive to selling advertisements and doesn’t allow for “social dissonance.” The developers also created similar feature called “Untweetable” for the Twitter community. From the developers’ blog:

EnemyGraph is an application that allows you to list your “enemies”. Any Facebook friend or user of the app can be an enemy. More importantly, you can also make any page or group on Facebook an “enemy”. This covers almost everything including people, places and things. During our testing testing triangles and q-tips were trending, along with politicians, music groups, and math.

Most social networks attempt to connect people based on affinities: you like a certain band or film or sports team, I like them, therefore we should be friends. But people are also connected and motivated by things they dislike. Alliances are created, conversations are generated, friendships are stressed, stretched, and/or enhanced.

Facebook runs queries to find affinities. EnemyGraph runs what we call dissonance queries. So if you have said you like, say, Portlandia on your profile page, and in our app one of your friends has declared them an “enemy” we will post this “dissonance report” in the app. In other words we point out a difference you have with a friend and offer it up for conversation, as opposed to a similarity. Relationships always include differences, and often these differences are a critical part of the fabric of a friendship. In the country club atmosphere of Facebook and it’s platform such differences are ignored. It’s not part of their “social philosophy”.

EnemyGraph is a critique the social philosophy of Facebook. On it’s developer splash page Facebook invites us to “Hack the Graph” – and so we did. We give them a couple of weeks at best before they shut us down for broadening the conversation and for “utilizing community, building conversation, and curating identity” their three elements of social design. EnemyGraph is a kind of social media blasphemy.

But this application has great potential for abuse, not just Facebook’s bottom line. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A social critique is one thing. But what if adding an “enemy” button leads to increases in cyberbullying, bringing real harm to users uninterested in the scholars’ points?

Mr. Terry believes that the feature will not spark hateful speech. “It’s not necessarily going to make us fight, it’s just going to make us have a conversation,” he argues.

So far the most popular enemies are public figures, such as rock stars and politicians. A page of “trending enemies” shows that Rick Santorum now leads, with the band Nickelback close behind. Also on the list are racism, Merrill Lynch, and hypocrites.

Users of the service, like Maria-Luiza Popescu, a senior at the Dallas campus, say that’s the kind of thing she would like to know about her Facebook friends. “What I want to know when I first interact with someone is what we disagree over,” she said. The service even highlights things that one friend has “liked” and another has “enemied,” showing it as a point of “dissonance,” in hope of starting a conversation. She imagines “making new friends through enemies.”

Mr. Griffith, though, expected some sparks to fly. He said he is disappointed that EnemyGraph hasn’t been used more for what he called “bullying and high-school dramas.” He feels Facebook’s current system is artificially nice, so he wants to “encourage people to confront their negative relations to each other head-on as a sort of conversation.” He argues that “when you keep groups or people separate, you can actually cultivate more enmity.”

The article generated some scathing comments, mostly about the potential for online bullying, but the comment below expresses what I think to be the most salient argument in praise this feature and “social dissonance” more broadly:

Some have pointed out a new phenomenon emerging from Facebook.  Because Facebook encourages positivity so strongly over negativity, it can end up making you feel like everyone else is always happier than you are.

For a normal, healthy person, this might not be a problem.  But, if someone’s battling depression or otherwise going through a rough stretch, it can make them feel more isolated in their despair.  It can make it harder for them to reach out.  It can instead encourage them to “fake it” with nobody really understanding what they’re going through.

Granted, Facebook doesn’t ban negative comments or negative words or anything like that. Still, we see article after article telling us “don’t post negative stuff on Facebook because potential employers look there” and stuff like that.  So, you still get a positive-biased crowd.


Joe Zbiciak , The Chronicle of Higher Education
Dean Terry

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