MIT Graduate Student Designs Facebook Add-On for Enemies
Now that Internet users have forged online relationships with the people they like, they can turn their attention to shaming the folks they hate.
With Enemybook, a new program that runs on the social networking site Facebook, you can connect to people you loathe, display their photos and evil deeds, and give them the virtual finger.
Enemybook is one of several new online applications developed by computer-savvy twentysomethings who say they are tired of bogus online friendships. In a dig at the notion of virtual networking, they hope to encourage people to undermine, or at least mock, the online social communities sites such as Facebook were designed to create.
Over the summer, Kevin M. Matulef G, who is doing a doctoral thesis on algorithms at MIT, designed Enemybook, a software application that lets people list enemies below friends on their personal Facebook page. He describes the program as “an antisocial utility that disconnects you to the so-called friends around you.”
Matulef, 28, got the idea from undergraduates at the dorm where he tutors, after hearing one student talk about how someone was a “Facebook friend” but not a “real friend.” (Facebook users sign up for a profile and can request friends through different networks — high school, college, or at random. Some users have even created fake profiles for celebrities.). At the time, Matulef joked that maybe the two students should be Facebook enemies instead. And Enemybook was born.
“People are yearning to express the ridiculousness of some of the features of Facebook — having all these friends that aren’t genuine,” Matulef said. “For some people, Enemybook is about expressing their distaste for political figures or celebrities. And for other people, it actually is about spreading hatred for their despised co-workers and exes.”
Since May, Facebook has opened its platform and allowed developers to build applications to run on its site. According to Facebook’s Web site, more than 3,000 applications have been built on the platform and 100 new ones are added each day. The most popular, a utility to highlight a user’s best friends called Top Friends, has 3.1 million daily active users.
Enemybook is not in that stratosphere. It currently has 1,200 users, who cumulatively have recorded nearly 2,300 acrimonious relationships. Many people are “enemying” fake Facebook profiles for public figures and celebrities. So far, Matulef has the most foes, followed by President Bush, British rock band Coldplay, Republican gadfly Ann Coulter, and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook (and a Harvard dropout).
“It seems worth pointing out that Facebook was initially developed at Harvard; MIT had to counter with something,” Matulef quipped.
Others have taken Enemybook more seriously, using it to publicly express their distaste for exes, bad bosses, and former friends.
“How many times have you been friend-requested by someone you don’t even like, know isn’t really your friend, battle on a day-to-day basis, and is really your sworn enemy who is just friending you to discover your weakness,” read a petition circulated by David Newkirk, who started a group on Facebook last year called “Official Petition to Facebook for an ‘Enemies List.”’
Now armed with Enemybook, Newkirk, 19, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, has listed six nemeses, including a former roommate, whose enemy details include hooking up with Newkirk’s best friend, insulting Newkirk’s dignity, and living with Newkirk and not getting along.
“Any person who rubbed me the wrong way, or showed disrespect will not be able to escape the electronic acknowledgement of their wrongdoings through Enemybook,” Newkirk said.
A Facebook spokeswoman would not comment on Enemybook. Zuckerberg did not return messages to his Facebook account.
Enemybook is not the only asocial utility available on Facebook. Snubster, which has allowed users to alienate each other since 2006 on its own Web site, Snubster.com, recently launched an application on Facebook. With Snubster, you can put people “On Notice,” give them an opportunity to redeem themselves, set a deadline, and if they fail to clean up their act, list them as “Dead to Me.”
Bryant Choung, 26, a software engineer in Washington, D.C., who created the program, said he was bothered that Facebook had become little more than an online popularity contest and designed Snubster to provide “a backlash against the ridiculous phenomenon that was social networking.”
“It’s nice because Snubster was supposed to be a parody of Facebook, and by being able to work directly in and around Facebook makes it work so much better,” Choung said.
The act of online snubbing can have its perils. Last month, Choung received a request from a man to remove a snub made by someone he was suing. At first, Choung told him to contact the person directly so they could resolve it on their own. But after a few rounds of e-mails, Choung decided removing the snub was the easiest way not to be involved.
“People have always been mean and petty and now, with the culture of putting everything online and the reality shows that thrive on voting people off the island or telling people you’re fired, it’s not surprising that people want to blast their enemies to the world,” said Patrice Oppliger, assistant professor of mass communications at Boston University. “The entertainment of being mean is almost elevated to a new level.”
Still, there are the tactical drawbacks of enemying. Enemybook allows Facebook users to add enemies who are not their friends. But only people who are already friends receive notification when they are added to the enemy list. Enemies you have never liked never find out about your wrath.
Despite the potential pitfalls, some Facebook users think Enemybook and Snubster are long overdue.
Helen Parker, of London, said she used Enemybook to go after school bullies, bad bosses, and friends of friends she dislikes, listing secrets about their behavior. But then, the 24-year-old student at Aberystwyth University, had a change of heart and deleted her enemies.
“It just seemed a bit petty,” Parker said. “Plus, not enough people I hate are on Facebook.”