Fighting the “artificial positivity” on Facebook with EnemyGraph

A new Facebook app called EnemyGraph allows users to openly mark their “enemies” on Facebook:

EnemyGraph, a new app for Facebook, allows users to do just that: Declare their enemies on the world’s most popular social network.

It may sound sinister, but the motivation is more sociological, say the developers, a group from the Emerging Media + Communications program at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Facebook has this artificial positivity kind of forced upon it,” said Harrison Massey, a student at UT Dallas who, along with Dean Terry, the director of the program, and Bradley Griffith, a graduate student, collaborated to develop the app. “We believe that there is a certain amount of health in saying that you don’t like something, that something is your enemy, because you can create conversations about that. You can bond with people over that.”

Massey said, for example, that users could bond over the common dislike of a company or a political party…

“We are misusing the word ‘enemy’ the same way that Facebook misuses the word ‘friend,”‘ Terry, the UT professor behind the project, told HuffPost. “It’s totally inaccurate. It’s not about individuals. It’s really about things in popular culture.”

Several thoughts about this:

1. I think Facebook is pretty smart by limiting the negativity within the software itself. Of course, users can make negative statements on walls but even these can be deleted. Since Facebook is about connecting people, formal negativity could detract from this. Let’s say that you don’t like someone’s posts: Facebook’s easiest answer these days is to simply block them from showing up on your news feed. The genius is that the other person doesn’t know this so the negative interaction between the two people is limited and life goes on.

2. EnemyGraph seems to be channeling the sort of sentiment sometimes expressed by users asking for a “dislike” button to balance the “like” button. Isn’t it more “balanced” to have both options?

3. Perhaps in EnemyGraph’s favor, social interactions, particularly group interactions, are often reliant on clearly labeling who is “in” and who is “out.” Without the easy ability to mark who is “out” in Facebook, marking symbolic and moral boundaries becomes more difficult. Developing deeper relationships through having common enemies could be more difficult. Of course, drawing strong subgroup boundaries can lead to other issues such as antagonism between groups.

4. I bet Facebook would argue (and perhaps could even prove) that their current system actually increases social interaction and introducing more negative capabilities would limit social interaction. Think about other areas of web interaction (comment sections or pages like Digg) and see how the ability to formally report negative feelings leads to a different kind of environment.

5. I’m amused about broadly defining “enemy” just as Facebook broadly defines “friend.”

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