Keep your friends close, your enemies on a list

Hate a bunch of people or things? There's an app for that

April 09, 2012|Susan Reimer

It used to be that only presidents had a list of their enemies, and if you were on it, it was a kind of a badge of honor — as long as you didn't mind having your tax returns regularly audited.

Newsman Daniel Schorr was reading President Richard Nixon's enemies list during a live broadcast when he came across his own name. Actor Paul Newman said he considered his inclusion on that list one of his greatest achievements.

"If you don't have enemies, you don't have character," Mr. Newman said at the time.

That was then and this is now, and even lowly county executives, like Anne Arundel's John Leopold, apparently keep a list of their enemies. (It is the preferred place to find yourself, I daresay, if the alternative is the back seat of his car in a mall parking lot.)

Now everybody can join in the fun of making enemies.

A new Facebook plug-in called EnemyGraph allows you to keep a list of your "enemies" along with a list of your "friends." Both terms are badly abused by the social network site, but they are easier for the simple folk to understand than "dissonances" and "affinities."

The application was developed by a researcher and two of his students at the University of Texas at Dallas, and it already has many thousands of users. Its motto is, "What are you waiting for? Go make some enemies!"

"We give them [Facebook] a couple of weeks at best before they shut us down," said the professor, Dean Terry, in a post online. He said they were simply looking for a way to "broaden the conversation."

If, for example, a Facebook friend has made an enemy of your favorite band, you will receive an alert. At which point, I supposed, you either have a good laugh together or you toilet-paper his house. Your choice.

Mr. Terry said the team was responding to Facebook's open challenge to "hack the graph" by turning what he called its "enforced niceness culture" on its ear. After all, the social network site has long resisted cries for a "dislike" button to go along with its ubiquitous "like" button.

EnemyGraph was launched in March with its own Facebook page and its own Twitter feed, and it became what student designers Bradley Griffith and Harrison Massey called "performance art" when Sarah Palin blasted it during her appearance on the Today show last week.

If nothing else, it is fun to go to EnemyGraph.com and see what is trending among haters. It is an odd mix.

Crocs, fake tans, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Farmville were trending at one point. Tomatoes and raisins at another time.

Justin Bieber was on most enemies lists, but Rick Santorum, Westboro Baptist Church and Fox News were near the top, too.

This would be OK if there was an understanding that everyone would stick to disliking boy bands or Brussels sprouts or Beltway traffic. But the trouble is, you reach the top of the trending enemies list if a bunch of people make you an enemy all at once, and that is a recipe for bullying if ever there was one.

I wonder if the college techies who dreamed this up have thought about what might happen to their social experiment if just one middle-school tragedy was traced to EnemyGraph.

Personally, I don't need an app to keep track of my enemies or the people who "dislike" me.

Generally, all I have to do is open my mail.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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