Parody sites start anti-social networking trend
TORONTO (Reuters) - Tired of phony online friends? Make enemies instead. Riding on the popularity of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, new Web sites are poking fun at online friendships that connect you to the people you like, by turning attention to the ones you don't.
Over the past 18 months, sites such Snubster, Enemybook and Hatebook are appealing to Internet users who get a kick out of the tongue-in-cheek humor of mocking their friends and others who are just plain cynical.
"I didn't understand these fake-friend war chests that people were so busy building online," said Bryant Choung, a technology consultant who started Snubster last year.
"I would get Facebook requests from people I talked to for three minutes at a bar or party, and now this person wants to go online to peruse all of my photos and contacts. I just didn't get it," the 26-year-old added.
Snubster, a Facebook application and a Web site with 16,000 users worldwide, lets users compile people and things they dislike.
No one from Facebook, which boasts 59 million active users worldwide, was available to comment about the sites.
When Facebook opened up its network to outside applications earlier this year, some users decided it was an opportunity to poke fun at the phenomenon.
Kevin Matulef, the creator of Enemybook, said the idea for his Facebook application started as a joke last summer when friends at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were asking if someone was a real friend or a Facebook friend.
"It started basically as a satire, sort of a parody of some of the superficial aspects of Facebook and the connections that you have, but now it's kind of evolved and it allows people to express themselves via their dislikes," said Matulef, 28.
Enemybook, which has 9,000 users, is similar to Snubster in that it lets you "enemy" so-called friends, public figures and fictitious characters.
"A lot of people like myself use it just to joke around with our good friends," said Matulef.
Choung agrees. "I hope that most people take it as a joke, on occasion I do get complaints from people about others who take it too seriously."
But Murray Pomerance, a professor of pop culture sociology at Ryerson University in Toronto, said most people take their online relationships very seriously.
"There are a lot of people who do not believe the friends that they have on these sites are phony," he explained.
"I know people who have lots and lots of friends on these sites and who say things about themselves on these sites that they would never say to anyone straight up in public or in private."
Pomerance added that any online social networking, whether it's making friends or enemies, could be dangerous.
"Who you liked and who you hated used to be private," he said. "What they're doing is taking human feeling and emotion and making us actually register them through these online services."
(Reporting by Claire Sibonney; Editing by Patricia Reaney)