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08.25.10

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Social Medea

Giving Facebook 'friends' the axe

By Daedalus Howell


Credit must go to Facebook for turning "friend" into a verb, as in "Friend me on Facebook," or perhaps "Go friend yourself," should one choose to decline the invitation. When it became appended with the antonymic prefix "un-," the new verb took its place in the New Oxford American Dictionary last November as the lexicographer's choice of "word of the year."

"It has both currency and potential longevity," senior lexicographer Christine Lindberg of Oxford's U.S. dictionary program told CNN at the time. "In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for word of the year."

Of course, new entries into the lexicon can't be truly integrated into the language until some daft, first-year journalism student attempts to use it in a dreaded "dictionary lead" la "The New Oxford American Dictionary defines 'unfriend' as 'To remove someone as a friend on a social networking site.'" Likewise, "retweet" is also a pitch-perfect neologism: if to "tweet" is to post something on Twitter, then to retweet, one can easily intuit, is to repost (not to be confused with "riposte," a fencing term used to describe an arch reply dipped in wit—which often accompany retweets) that tweet. Of course, "retweet" sounds like what Elmer Fudd would say at Waterloo, but in cyberspace no one can hear you scream, so what does it matter?

Long a verb in its own right, Google is said to be cooking up its own Facebook-killer, "Google Me," which apparently makes one's self-absorption sharable online with the masses you might eventually unfriend. To "Ungoogle Me" would likely be the result of an online restraining order. The fine folks at the Oxford American Dictionary will likely leave that one, well, undefined.

From the get-go, public relations professionals have hitched their wagons to Facebook lest they be made irrelevant by the bumper crop of social-media marketing professionals (and otherwise) once everyone realized the platform combined the worst aspects of open-mic night and a social disease. Everyone has a shot at infecting their friends with the message; now advertisers, corporate and individual brands and causes are considered so-last-century if they're not represented on what was quaintly called "the" Facebook until its fateful name change in 2005.

Among those trying to refract a little of the site's limelight is Know Me Social Media Marketing, which is simultaneously based in San Diego, Calif., and Nashville, Tenn. The company, whose "head geek" Don Lowe could pass as a stand-in for Dan Aykroyd circa My Stepmother Is an Alien, is promoting its Facebook-inspired-brainchild "Worldwide 1st Annual Delete a Friend Week on Facebook." Represented by a fan page on the site entitled "Delete a Friend Week," the campaign, as of this writing, boasts 2,266 fans.

"This fall, fall out of touch with seven of your most annoying friends. Starting Sept. 1st, join us in deleting seven Facebook friends who drive you nuts," reads the fan page. "Maybe it's that they never comment or maybe it's because they write posts that are 19 paragraphs. Let us know what made you decide to delete them as well."

The fact that joining a Facebook page while unfriending friends is akin to taking seven steps forward and one step back in terms of managing one's online relationships hasn't seemed to bother the "movement's" adherents. The call to post one's reasons for dropping people is the campaign's secret weapon: it provides a forum to justify what others might construe as an antisocial act. One can cut a cretin with a clear conscious by posting that one has tired of "those people who post about their 'awesome' mac & cheese" as one woman wrote. Participants aren't so much cutting friends, however, as redirecting their energies to another corner of Facebook's walled garden while bolstering a marketing company's portfolio.

That the gauge of Know Me Social Media Marketing's success lies within a body count of ended online relationships is not as peculiar as the fact that it has been so embraced prior to its official launch next week. It's a queasy catharsis, for sure, but "digital dharma" has yet to enter the dictionary.

Alas, "frenemy" already has.

Unfriend Daedalus Howell on his Facebook profile.

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