Image from Enemybook
“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.”
An article in the Boston Globe last month raised once more the vexing problem of civility in online communications, this time in online social networks. Dealing with Enemybook and Snubster, apps for the hugely popular Facebook social networking platform, the article deals with the emergence of application that run on platforms such as Facebook. Through the growth of multi-platform APIs like Google’s OpenSocial in the future, we can expect more applications like these to become common.
Over the summer, Kevin Matulef, 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.”
It maybe just me, but this is wasted intelligence. Writing an app to spread enmity online is easy – after all, it doesn’t take much to tap into hate. Harder to engender and figure out ways of communicating are real, meaningful social relationships mediated through online social networks. Though opinion is divided whether Facebook per se fits the bill I have an abiding interest in how social networking can help strengthen peacebuilding, conflict transformation and reconciliation.
As I note in Understanding terrorism better through technology? the technology is already here. All we need are a few doctoral students to devote their attention on how to make the world a more civil place.