By Anne Collier
Believing that, socially speaking, all sunshine and no rain is unrealistic, a University of Texas professor and one of his students created the opportunity to have enemies as well as friends in Facebook. Dean Terry, director of the university’s emerging-media program and Bradley Griffith, a graduate student, created an app called EnemyGraph, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. “Real-world relationships are more complicated than that, so social networks should be too, the scholar argues.” Of course. Who could disagree? But, as embedded in everyday life as online social networking is, does everybody agree with the premise of that argument – that the online experience must match the offline one? In a lot of ways it already does. The Pew Internet Project reported last fall that “69% of social media-using teens think peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that ‘it depends’.” That probably matches up with “real life” pretty well. The Chronicle cites critics of social media as saying Facebook “want[s] to keep the service friendly to advertisers who might object to users publicly scorning their products.” Well, sure, that’s possible, but the service probably also wants to avoid the fly-by mean-spiritedness that a Dislike button would allow. Clicking a button is very, very convenient.
Dr. Terry’s app itself is not without critics, the Chronicle reports. But I’m glad it’s a professor who spear-headed the EnemyGraph – his goal, reportedly, is media literacy education and his reason for the project is social protest. But if things get really bad, maybe he’ll delete the project, as he did another one the Chronicle describes. So far, “the most popular enemies are public figures, such as rock stars and politicians. A page of ‘trending enemies’ shows that Rick Santorum now leads, with the band Nickelback close behind. Also on the list are racism, Merrill Lynch, and hypocrites.” The bad news is, the professor and his app designer say they want the app to be used for “bullying and high-school dramas,” the Chronicle adds – to see what happens I guess from 30,000 feet. The problem is, Professor, people on the ground can get hurt. Which is why I’m glad the developers of this app are very public about their experiment and presumably consciences as well as intellectual curiosity.