“Unfriend” is the word of the year

The word of the year, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is unfriend.

Unfriend means to remove a person as one of your friends on a social media web site.

I have done a fair bit of unfriending myself as of late, cleaning up my own Facebook contact page.

The word is a verb, and was chosen for the covetted Word of the Year from a list of finalists.

“In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year,” said Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford’s U.S. dictionary program.

Other words to make it to the final list, included: freemium, birther, hashtag,, intexticated, deleb and sexting.

“Unfriend” beat out a tech-heavy field that included “netbook,” “hashtag” and “sexting” to take the annual honor.

“It has both currency and potential longevity,” said Christine Lindberg, a language researcher for Oxford’s U.S. dictionary program. “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year.”

Oxford defines “unfriend,” a verb, thusly: “To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”

Every year, Oxford tracks how the English language is changing. Researchers debate the merits of newly birthed terms and choose their word of the year “to reflect the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance and use.”

A hashtag is the symbol (#) used on Twitter posts to allow them to be found more easily by other users, a netbook is a small portable laptop, and “sexting” is the act of sending sexually explicit texts or photos on a mobile phone.

Other tech-related finalists this year were “paywall,” a way of blocking parts of a Web site to all but paying customers, and “intexicated,” the state of being distracted while driving because of sending a text message.

The economy provided “zombie bank,” a financial institution still operating even though its liabilities are greater than its assets, and politics brought us “birther,” which Oxford describes as “a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s U.S. birth certificate.”

On blogs Tuesday, debate about the decision was ongoing. Chief among the issues of dispute: whether “unfriend” or “defriend” was the proper word for weeding someone from one’s online circle.

“Frustrated that ‘unfriend’ is the word of the year. It’s definitely ‘defriend’ when referencing Facebook,” one Twitter user wrote, adding the hashtag #dictionaryfail.

Others defended the choice: ” ‘Defriend’ makes me think of ‘defoliate’ and, well, I dunno, it sounds weird,” one wrote.

Oxford spokesman Christian Purdy said researchers found that “unfriend” was more commonly used.

Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin said that, both internally and on the site, Facebook uses several terms for the act of removing a friend. She said site managers now are considering making “unfriend” the official term.

“Overall, we’re thrilled that the idea of people connecting, or even unconnecting, with each other on sites like Facebook has officially become part of the lexicon,” she said.

For the past few years, Oxford and other dictionaries that pick words of the year have leaned heavily on the digital world.

In 2004, Merriam-Webster kicked off the trend by adding “blog” to its lexicon. The Webster’s New World Dictionary went with “overshare” last year, inspired in part by the habit of spewing too much personal information on social networking sites and blogs.

With gas prices spiking, Oxford’s word last year was “hypermiling,” the act of conserving gasoline by making fuel-saving changes to one’s automobile and driving habits.

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LOL, Rage Against the Machine beats Joe McElderry for UK’s Christmas number one

In beating X Factor winner Joe McElderry to the Christmas number one, anarchic rockers Rage Against the Machine have pulled off one of the biggest shocks in UK chart history.

The campaign to break Simon Cowell’s stranglehold on the festive charts was started by Jon Morter, a 35-year-old part-time rock DJ and his wife Tracy, 30, who set up a Facebook page in November.

“Fed up with Simon Cowell’s latest karaoke act being Christmas number one? Me too…” they wrote, saying they wanted to break the “X Factor monotony”.

Their rallying cry struck a chord and the campaign took off at the start of December, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans as the story snowballed.

The Morters had some experience of running such campaigns after starting a similar protest last year to get Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up to number one.

That failed to take off, but a separate crusade saw 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke’s cover of Hallelujah challenged by Jeff Buckley’s version of the same song. In the end, Buckley went to number two but was a distant second.

But this year, the boredom with X Factor had grown and Rage’s rebellious, expletive-filled anti-establishment message was carried aloft by those who wanted to give the show and its formulaic approach to pop a kicking.

Still, nobody expected Rage to beat the invincible Simon Cowell. Some bookmakers were offering odds of 150/1 at one stage, and the betting industry is estimated to have lost £1m.

The initial download sales figures showed Rage ahead but Joe was expected to overtake when his track was released on CD and fans picked it up with their Christmas shopping.

But that never happened and the snow and ice has been blamed in some quarters for keeping the X Factor army at home.

No-one seems to know quite when or why the Christmas number one became such a prized crown, and the battle so hard-fought.

But this very British chart phenomenon may have something to do with the peculiar national taste for festive or ridiculous pop songs and the historical obsession with the charts.

Plus, there is the cachet afforded by being number one on the widely-viewed Christmas Day edition of Top of the Pops, in front of which the whole family would traditionally gather after the Queen’s Speech.

This year’s campaign has made the festive number one battle interesting for the first time in years, and it will be fascinating to see how Simon Cowell responds next year.

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Facebook and MySpace boot sex offenders, hand over info to police

In a major crackdown on Internet predators, more than 3,500 convicted New York sex fiends have been booted from two online social networking sites, sources told the Daily News.

The pervs were kicked off Facebook and MySpace in the first sweep of registered sex offenders under the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), a 2008 law Attorney General Andrew Cuomo aggressively pushed.

“This should really be a wakeup call for everybody, whether it’s parents watching what their kids do online, and all the law enforcement groups and authorities, and the sites themselves,” one source familiar of the mass Facebook and MySpace purges said.

Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, said the fact thousands of offenders were dumped proves the law is working.

“Before e-STOP sexual predators freely lurked in social networking sites trolling for innocent victims,” she said.

“With e-STOP, Attorney General Cuomo has sent a clear message that there is a new sheriff in the cyberworld protecting our most vulnerable.”

For full story click here.

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‘Depressed’ woman loses sick leave benefits over Facebook pics

A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is fighting to have her benefits reinstated after her employer’s insurance company cut them, she says, because of photos posted on Facebook.

Nathalie Blanchard, 29, has been on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., for the last year and a half after she was diagnosed with major depression.

The Eastern Townships woman was receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife, her insurance company, but the payments dried up this fall.

When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that “I’m available to work, because of Facebook,” she told CBC News this week.

She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.

Blanchard said she notified Manulife that she was taking a trip, and she’s shocked the company would investigate her in such a manner and interpret her photos that way.

“In the moment I’m happy, but before and after I have the same problems” as before, she said.

Blanchard said that on her doctor’s advice, she tried to have fun, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short getaways to sun destinations, as a way to forget her problems.

She also doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.

Her lawyer Tom Lavin said Manulife’s investigation was inappropriate.

“I don’t think for judging a mental state that Facebook is a very good tool,” he said, adding that he has requested another psychiatric evaluation for Blanchard.

“It’s not as if somebody had a broken back and there was a picture of them carrying …a load of bricks,” Lavin said. “My client was diagnosed with a major depression. And there were pictures of her on Facebook, in a party or having a good time. It could be that she was just trying to escape.”

Manulife wouldn’t comment on Blanchard’s case, but in a written statement sent to CBC News, the insurer said: “We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook.” It confirmed that it uses the popular social networking site to investigate clients.

Insurance companies must weigh information found on such sites, said Claude Distasio, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.

“We can’t ignore it, wherever the source of the information is,” she said. “We can’t ignore it.”

Blanchard estimated she’s lost thousands of dollars in benefits since Manulife changed her claim.

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Legal system loses the little credibility it had left

We’ve all read about bonehead criminals getting caught because of social networks, or people’s online lives coming back to haunt them in divorce proceedings—but can Facebook actually help you in court? The answer is yes, at least for one New York teen, who is free after he provided probably the first ever Facebook alibi.

Rodney Bradford was picked up for a robbery in October. Unh-uh, he said. Look at my status update.

Sure enough, he was logged on to Facebook in a different borough typing something about pancakes—street slang, the New York Times adds, helpfully—at exactly the time the robbery was committed. His lawyer argued the point and got the charges dropped.

Hold on, you say. Couldn’t someone else have logged in with his info to manufacture an alibi? “This implies a level of criminal genius that you would not expect from a young boy like this,” his lawyer counters. “He is not Dr. Evil.”

Full story here.

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‘Control Your Info’, privacy advocates hijack Facebook groups

Hundreds of Facebook groups have been hijacked in recent days by users pointing out what they say is a weakness in how the social-networking site handles the administration of its groups.

By Tuesday morning, 286 groups had apparently been renamed Control Your Info and had a new message posted to their walls.

“Hello, we hereby announce that we have officially hijacked your Facebook group,” the message reads. “This means we control a certain part of the information about you on Facebook. If we wanted we could make you appear in a bad way which could damage your image severly [sic].”

According to Control Your Info, when Facebook group administrators step down, anyone else can take over their duties — giving them access to members’ personal information, the ability to send messages to all members of the group and the authority to make changes to that group.

“For example we could rename your group and call it something very inappropriate and nasty like ‘I Support Pedophiles’ Rights,’ ” the message continued. “But have no fear. We won’t.”

Among the groups renamed “Control Your Info” on Tuesday were a “Twilight” fan group, supporters of a high school football team and patrons of a Virginia winery.

In a statement, Facebook said no confidential information has been placed at risk.

“The groups in question have been abandoned by their previous owners, which means any group member has the option to make themselves an administrator in order to continue communication to the group. Group administrators have no access to confidential information and group members can leave a group at any time,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

“For small groups, administrators can simply edit a group name or info, moderate discussion, and message group members. The names of large groups cannot be changed nor can anyone message all members.

“In the rare instances when we find that a group has been changed inappropriately, we will disable the group,” the spokesperson said.

Full story here.

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‘Spam king’ Sanford Wallace ordered to pay Facebook $711M

Facebook was awarded $711 million in a judgment Thursday against self-described “spam king” Sanford Wallace.

Judge Jeremy Fogel of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California granted Facebook’s application for a default judgment against Wallace for violating the Can-Spam Act, which bans “false and misleading” marketing e-mails. Fogel also found that Wallace “willfully violated” a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction issued in the case and referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution of criminal contempt.

“The record demonstrates that Wallace willfully violated the statutes in question with blatant disregard for the rights of Facebook and the thousands of Facebook users whose accounts were compromised by his conduct,” Fogel wrote in his judgment order, which also permanently prohibits Wallace from accessing the Facebook Web site or creating a Facebook account, among other restrictions.

Facebook said the order should serve as a strong deterrent against spammers.

“While we don’t expect to receive the vast majority of the award, we hope that this will act as a continued deterrent against these criminals,” Sam O’Rourke, Facebook’s lead counsel for litigation and intellectual property, wrote in a Facebook blog post. “This is another important victory in our fight against spam. We will continue to pursue damages against other spammers.”

Check CNet for full story

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32-year-old man held on Facebook murder case

The 32-year-old man has been arrested after he led detectives to a field where they found the body of Ashleigh Hall, 17, in Sedgefield, County Durham, after allegedly telling them “I killed a girl”.

Ashleigh had left her home in Darlington where she lived with her four sisters on Sunday night, telling her mother she was staying with a friend.

But the childcare student had secretly arranged to meet a man she had been chatting with on Facebook near a Little Chef restaurant on a road known locally as “lover’s lane”. She had told friends it was a 16-year-old boy.

On Monday lunchtime when Ashleigh had not returned home, her mother, Andrea Hall, 39, became concerned and frantically called her daughter’s mobile phone to find out where she was, but could not get a reply.

The 32-year-old suspect was picked up by patrol officers later on Monday afternoon after automatic numberplate recognition cameras had detected he was driving without insurance.

While he was waiting in a police cell in Middlesbrough, he asked to speak to a detective, saying “I have killed a girl”, sources said.

It is believed that when the teenager got into the suspect’s car, a dark blue Ford Mondeo, he used gaffer tape to gag her.

He has told police that she “accidentally” suffocated, and he then dumped the body, according to sources.

He led police to where her body was dumped, close to the junction of the A689 and A177 roads.

Police chiefs and child safety experts have issued a warning about the dangers of using the internet to date strangers as it emerged the victim had met the suspect on a social networking website.

Danny Fisher, 17, a student from Darlington, a friend of Ashleigh, said: “I heard that she had been talking with a man on Facebook. He told her was 16, but obviously it looks like that was a lie.”

At a press conference, Det Chief Insp Paul Harker said it was a “very tragic case” and added: “My message in terms of meeting people from the internet is please do not do it unless you are absolutely certain it is safe.”

He urged parents to monitor their children’s use of the web.

“Speak to them about it, speak to their friends, let them know the dangers of the internet,” he said.LMK ends

The message was backed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which receives 500 reports a week about suspect behaviour and advises parents to stay in touch with how their children use the net.

A spokesman said: “We realise this may be difficult, because teenagers may resent their privacy being disturbed, but it is not a question of intruding, it is just important to know where they are going online.”

An NSPCC spokesman urged children to speak out if they felt concerns about someone’s behaviour online.

“It is not a good idea to arrange to meet people that you have chatted to online, as you can never be sure they are who they say they are,” he said.

The victim’s family was too upset to talk last night at their home in Warwick Square, Darlington, but friends of the teenager, who was studying at Darlington College, paid tribute to a “bubbly” girl who was “always smiling”.

James Hyde, 18, from Darlington, said: “She has four little sisters and she was always looking out for them. She loved them.”

Elisha Currie, 17, a nursery assistant from Darlington, said: “I did a work placement with Ashleigh at a nursery for about four months over the summer.

“She was a really bubbly person. She was always really helpful and great with the children.

“All the girls that knew her at the nursery said she was a great girl and had a great personality.”

Officers said that the suspect originally gave two different names for himself, but they have now established his identity and that he has a conviction for a sex offence. Officers are tracing his previous crimes and believe that he may have flouted the rules of the sex offenders’ register by moving address without notifying police.

Ashleigh’s body was fully clothed when it was found and there was no indication the girl had been sexually assaulted, police confirmed.

Scott Wright, 28, who lives on the lane where it the body was discovered said that he saw police inspecting a ditch while a man was apparently handcuffed in the back of a car.

“He had fair hair which was shaved and he was staring at the spot where the body was,” he said.

Peter Martin, a farmer whose land it was on, said: “This is a deserted road most of the time but we do get people using it as a lovers’ lane because it is so quiet.”

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