Friends, Until I Delete You
January 29, 2009 By DOUGLAS QUENQUA
A PERSON could go mad trying to pinpoint the moment he lost a friend. So seldom does that friend make his feelings clear by sending out an e-mail alert.
It's not just a fact of life, but also a policy on Facebook. While many trivial actions do prompt Facebook to post an alert to all your friends - adding a photo, changing your relationship status, using Fandango to buy tickets to "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" - striking someone off your list simply is not one of them.
It is this policy that Burger King ran afoul of this month with its "Whopper Sacrifice" campaign, which offered a free hamburger to anyone who severed the sacred bonds with 10 of the friends they had accumulated on Facebook. Facebook suspended the program because Burger King was sending notifications to the castoffs letting them know they'd been dropped for a sandwich (or, more accurately, a tenth of a sandwich).
The campaign, which boasted of ending 234,000 friendships, is history now - Burger King chose to end it rather than tweak it to fit Facebook's policy - but the same can hardly be said of the emerging anxiety it tapped. As social networking becomes ubiquitous, people with an otherwise steady grip on social etiquette find themselves flummoxed by questions about "unfriending" people: how to do it, when to do it and how to get away with it quietly.