‘Frenemy’ arrives on Facebook

Kai Ryssdal Mar 27, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Let’s consider for just a moment the word “like.” A simple, everyday verb. To like. I like. They have liked. It’s become, thanks to Facebook, the byword of our collective experience in the social media age. So have you liked anything on Facebook lately?

Dean Terry hasn’t. He teaches emerging media and communications at the University of Texas, Dallas, where he and some students have come up with a Facebook app called EnemyGraph. Think of it, as we did, as the anti-like button. Dean, welcome to the program.

Dean Terry: Hi Kai. Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: This is kind of, well it’s like blasphemy right? It’s against the whole social media vibe.

Terry: Yeah. EnemyGraph is in a way social media blasphemy. But that’s because social media is somewhat lopsided in a certain way because of the liking nature of the platforms. When I first saw the first friends list at the beginning of the social media era, the first thing I thought was well where is the enemies list? And the app kind of has that attitude because we’re suggesting you share differences with people or talk about things you don’t like. It is a sneaky way to do a dislike button on Facebook.

Ryssdal: And we should say here you didn’t call dislike because Facebook doesn’t let you call it. They actually say you can’t do a dislike button.

Terry: That’s right. It would last about three seconds if we did.

Ryssdal: That’s right. The things is, though, that Facebook’s not real life. Right? I’m struck by you trying to impose reality on this thing that is so patently… not.

Terry: Right. But Facebook is effectively our public space, but it’s privated. It has its own philosophy about how people should behave online. In certain ways, it’s almost the whole Internet now. So we’re trying to sort of shine a critical light on that. That’s the point of the application.

Ryssdal: Who have you been disliking? What’s the first thing you did?

Terry: Every restaurant that I’ve been going to seems to be playing Journey. So I put Journey on my list.

Ryssdal: I can’t fault you there.

Terry: I think a lot of people are confused by the word “enemy.” Really, it’s a dislike thing. So anything that’s a page on Facebook or a group of any kind can be listed.

Ryssdal: Do you get a lot of companies being disliked, brands, those kinds of things?

Terry: There are a few places where people are disliking brands.

Ryssdal: For example?

Terry: Wal-Mart’s on the list.

Ryssdal: Yeah, yeah. That’s an easy one. Do you worry about hurt feelings on one end, but all the way to like bullying and actual cyber malice being done?

Terry: We do. That is an important and sensitive topic, but it’s not what our app is about. I think that a few people who have claimed that, I don’t think they’ve used the app and seen how it’s being used. And also we’re seriously misusing the word “enemy,” in the same way that Facebook misuses the word “friend.” Again, it’s not really individuals. Anything can be called an enemy, even food or colors. I dislike the color red, for example. It’s also opt-in. You have to be friends with someone to declare them an enemy.

Ryssdal: Oh wait. That’s making my brain hurt. How does that work?

Terry: Right. You have to either be a user of the app or you have to be friends with someone. So the only way I can declare you an enemy is if you’re using the app, which I would have no way of knowing really, or if we’re friends. So most of the people who are calling each other enemies, if it’s individuals, it’s in jest.

Ryssdal: Right. So somebody could go to my Facebook page out there — since I am who I am in public radio — and enemy me?

Terry: Yes, they could.

Ryssdal: I don’t know how I feel about that.

Terry: Well, you could enemy them back.

Ryssdal: What? I’m not that kind of guy.

Terry: Or you could unfriend them on Facebook.

Ryssdal: All right. Maybe I’ll do that.

Terry: Yeah, maybe you should do that.

Ryssdal: Dean Terry, he’s the director of the Emerging Media & Communications program at UT Dallas, the University of Texas, Dallas. Dean, thanks a lot.

Terry: Thank you, Kai.

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