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unfollow also defollow

verb [transitive]

to stop subscribing to another person's messages on the Twitter short messaging service

unfollower

noun [countable]

'In the past I have unfollowed many people, recently jettisoning a number of blowhard wafflers, a young rapper constantly plugging his CD, and a maddeningly ponderous website editor.'

The Guardian 7th July 2010

'… Well, it is a sneaky social media tactic meant to raise the count of followers of the user who defollowed you, while slyly reducing your following.'

EzineArticles 24th June 2010

'To better help you in your Twittering efforts, I've put together a list of 5 great tools to help you monitor your followers and unfollowers …'

WebProNews 13th June 2010

You're in the canteen and strike up a conversation with someone you've not met before. The two of you have a pleasant chat and it seems that you've got one or two interests in common, so the next time the opportunity arises, you chat again, and then a third time, and then a fourth, and so on. Just when you think you're on the brink of a new and interesting friendship, the other person doesn't seem to want to acknowledge you … weird, they're sitting on the other side of the canteen and … no, you're not just imagining it, they really are deliberately avoiding you. How rude of them!

in the cosy world of twittering and tweeting, it's perfectly okay to throw your acquaintances on the digital dumping ground

Though the above scenario would feel a bit unpleasant in the real world, it seems that, in the virtual universe, it's perfectly acceptable – in fact entirely normal. Yep, in the cosy world of twittering and tweeting (=short messaging), it's perfectly okay to throw your acquaintances on the digital dumping ground by the action of unfollowing them.

On the social networking service Twitter, users in regular communication with others are said to follow them. The newly-coined antonym unfollow (with lexical variant defollow) is therefore the logical way to refer to the action of deciding, in Twitter-speak, that you are no longer interested in 'what someone is doing'.

In reality, this is perhaps not as heartless as it seems, since not everyone who follows a Twitter user is likely to be a close friend, or even an individual they have actually met in real life. There's also a logical justification for the action of unfollowing, because of the restriction on the number of followers per user, meaning that Twitter devotees may need to prune the dead wood of virtual relationships in order to stay within the upper limit.

In response to the frequent activity of unfollowing, there are now even e-mail services such as the aptly named Qwitter, which send users a daily message to inform them of the amount and identity of any new unfollowers. Other specially created utilities will automatically unfollow any user that is not following another back, thus enabling users to make the most of their follower allocation by automatically weeding out people who don't appear to be interested in them.

Background – unfollow

Unfollow is, of course, a straightforward derivation of follow using the prefix un-, conventionally added to verbs, adverbs and adjectives to give the opposite meaning (e.g. unhappy, untie). Defollow is a common lexical variant (formed from prefix de-, which also denotes opposites, e.g. decaffeinated, deactivate). Both words mirror derivational activity in the lexicon of the social networking site Facebook, where users who remove someone from their list of friends are said to unfriend or defriend them.

Another prefix that has been active in the social networking lexicon is re-, added to verbs, nouns and adjectives to mean 'again'. On Facebook, users can decide to return someone to their friends list by refriending them, and Twitter users have the option to refollow a fellow user they had previously unfollowed.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 23rd August 2010.

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