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Burger King’s Whopper Sacrifice Facebook App Switched Off

The episode highlights how hard it can be to erase online connections.
January 16, 2009

Burger King’s clever Facebook marketing application, Whopper Sacrifice, was disabled on Wednesday after more than 233,000 Facebook “friends” were sacrificed for free Whoppers. The app’s users got a coupon for a free Angry Whopper if they removed 10 friends from their Facebook friends lists.

It was a clever stunt, but there was a twist. You see, Facebook users normally don’t see who has “unfriended” them, in accordance with Facebook’s efforts to protect user privacy. Whopper Sacrifice, however, pulled this normally discreet and secretive process into the open, announcing to John Doe’s friends that he just sacrificed John Smith for a Whopper. According to Inside Facebook, this behavior prompted Facebook to disable much of the application’s functionality.

When the application came out, some jokingly interpreted it as pinpointing the value of Facebook friends at exactly 37 cents–one-tenth the cost of an Angry Whopper. But anyone who uses social media has long since figured out that the definition of the word “friend” is changing. I think Whopper Sacrifice is more interesting for the terrible awkwardness that it reveals about the connections we make online.

Facebook’s primary value, from my perspective, lies in maintaining what I call second-string acquaintances. I’m not going to lose touch with my best friend, my husband, or my sister, and I hardly need to interact with them on Facebook. But there’s a circle of people that I care about and miss but who are beyond my ordinary ability to stay in touch. Thanks to Facebook, I can find these people, and I’ll always be grateful for the great friendships that I’ve revived that way.

A few months ago, Scott Brown wrote,

We scrawl “Friends Forever” in yearbooks, but we quietly realize, with relief, that some bonds are meant to be shed, like snakeskin or a Showtime subscription. It’s nature’s way of allowing you to change, adapt, evolve, or devolve as you wish–and freeing you from the exhaustion of multifront friend maintenance … That’s what made good old-fashioned losing touch so wonderful–friendships, like long-forgotten photos and mixtapes, would distort and slowly whistle into oblivion, quite naturally, nothing personal. It was sweet and sad and, though you’d rarely admit it, necessary.

When I signed up for Facebook, I swore that I would follow the test of the hug: if I wouldn’t hug you on sight, then I refuse your friend request. This quickly became awkward and impossible, and my friends list–like most other people’s–filled up with ex-boyfriends, vague acquaintances from high school, and people from the blogosphere that I really like but would be too nervous to hug.

I thought Whopper Sacrifice was a funny app when I saw it, and a clever idea. Would I rather have a Whopper than have uncomfortable interactions with people whose faces I don’t remember clearly? You bet.

But I still am not going to unfriend anyone, because if I did, I would’ve had the guts not to let them onto my list in the first place. A little free food can’t undo the huge social changes that Facebook has created in my life, but Whopper Sacrifice certainly emphasized them in a funny way.

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