The new trend to unfriend

| Scene Regular Features Editor

The New Oxford American Dictionary recently announced that the 2009 Word of the Year is “unfriend,” meaning “to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site.” But immediately after this new word was unveiled, loyal Facebook users stormed Internet forums, many of them arguing that “defriend” is the more appropriate verb.

So what’s the difference between these two similar words? It seems that “unfriend” implies merely undoing the Facebook action of friending someone, while “defriend” suggests removing a person from your life as a friend altogether. So perhaps, despite the popularity of “defriend,” “unfriend” may indeed be the more appropriate choice.

But with so many social lives centering around Facebook these days, especially among college students, simply unclicking a friendship really can be like defriending that person. By deleting someone as a friend, you are essentially saying, “Even though I have more than 500 Facebook ‘friends,’ I no longer care to have you as one of them.”

It seems unusual that people feel the need to unfriend anyone in the first place. Most college students do, in fact, have more than 500 Facebook friends, most of whom they probably rarely see or even speak to. So what’s the harm in having just one more—one more person with annoying status updates and vain photos? I mean, you’re already dealing with hundreds of others just like that.

Nearly a year ago, Burger King ran an experimental campaign (the “Whopper Sacrifice”) through Facebook, which offered users a free hamburger for deleting 10 expendable friends they had accumulated over time. After the campaign ended 234,000 friendships and even informed all the unfriended individuals that they had been dropped for a hamburger—or a 10th of a hamburger—they canceled it. But the question remains: With all the annoying and unnecessary friends we have on Facebook, what triggers Washington University students to unfriend?

Unless you’re a compulsive pruner who feels the need to periodically delete all friends you no longer have contact with, unfriending seems a little harsh.

Senior Michael Clerkin admits to unfriending someone only once. This someone was involved in perpetuating drama caused by a breakup with an ex—unfriending in this case certainly seems justifiable.

There may also be some people who you simply don’t have the patience for. For example, Compulsive Updaters, or people who updates their status every three to five minutes, may fall in this category. Sometimes you wish there were space on your screen to read about others’ status updates, thus making unfriending necessary.

Then there are also the Attention Seekers. These people may not update every five minutes, but their updates go beyond what they just ate for lunch or where they are cramming for finals—Attention Seekers’ updates tend to be approximately one paragraph in length and are about the most traumatic or emotionally upsetting parts of their lives. Why they think Facebook is an appropriate medium to broadcast this material, no one will ever know.

The Vain Facebookers can be just as nauseating as Attention Seekers and may also merit unfriending. These individuals tend to have more than 1,000 photos of themselves on Facebook, all of which were posted and tagged by them. And these aren’t just any photos—they’re often photos of them standing in front of a mirror holding up a camera. Or photos of them with any obscure celebrity. Or photos of them wearing minimal clothing and flexing too many muscles.

Despite the many kinds of Facebookers who are actually worthy of being unfriended—or even defriended—most people just can’t be bothered. Freshman Mihai Rasinariu and sophomore Carissa Ferguson agree that when they find people annoying, they simply block their notifications rather than going through the hassle of unfriending them. As one student put it: Why burn bridges? Because when you unfriend, you may be unintentionally defriending as well.