Experimental Facebook friending

I've been getting Facebook friend requests from people I don't know for quite a while now. (As I imagine most people do.) And I've been waffling over how to respond to such requests for most of that time.

On the one hand, I kind of like the fact that about 90% of my Facebook friends are people I've actually met face-to-face—in fact, people who I would recognize if I saw them, and vice versa—and almost all of those are people I consider at least friendly acquaintances. (And there are some people on my friends list whom I haven't met face-to-face but whom I nonetheless consider friendly acquaintances or friends.) So it feels a little weird to accept a friend request from someone I've never heard of, or someone who submitted one story to the magazine five years ago, or someone who friended me only because Facebook told them to. (I'm not referring to anyone in particular; I've received multiple friend requests from people in each of those categories, and other similar categories.)

On the other hand, I've intentionally set everything on Facebook to be visible to everyone; I don't post anything there that I intend to be private. So excluding people from my "friends" list doesn't actually keep them from seeing anything, so why exclude anyone? Furthermore, almost everything I post there comes originally either from my blog or from Twitter, both of which are publicly visible.

I don't want my already-overfull friends'-status-updates feed to be flooded with updates from people I don't know. (Even without people I don't know, I can't keep up with the "Most Recent" feed; I just dip my toe in a couple times a day and see whatever's been posted lately, so I miss a lot.) But it's easy enough to hide status updates from anyone whose updates I don't want to see. And it's sometimes interesting to see occasional status updates from people I don't know.

So I'm trying an experiment. I've accepted about ten of the oldest friend requests that've been sitting in my queue; I think those date back to mid-2008. I'm going to see whether doing this results in any problems or annoyances for me. (I figure I can always un-friend people if I need to.)

So far, everyone who I've accepted has turned out not to post much, so this change isn't having much effect on me at all. So I'm cautiously optimistic.

Will continue to accept backlogged requests slowly to see how it goes.

But I still reserve the right to arbitrarily decide to say no to any given request. Especially the ones from DJs and other people who (a) seem to have no reason for being on Facebook other than to advertise their commercial endeavors, and (b) got my name from Friend Finder and don't know anyone else I know. The combination of those two factors (A and B) tends to cause me to click the Ignore button; as far as I can tell, that combination means "I don't know anything about you, but I'd like to spam you with announcements about my gigs and other events."

P.S.: I apologize if this note comes across as overly blunt to those of y'all who I've added recently without knowing. I intend no criticism of you, nor insult; this post is meant as musing about my reactions to friend requests, but there's certainly nothing wrong with your making such requests. Different people have different friending criteria on Facebook; some people accept all requests, others accept requests only from close personal friends. I'm still figuring out where on that spectrum I fall. Anyway, apologies for letting your friend requests sit in my queue for a year and a half.

7 Responses to “Experimental Facebook friending”

  1. irilyth

    http://dsl.cs.ucdavis.edu/ is an interesting idea (partially funded by GENI), which makes use of the idea that social networking sites reflect trust connections; connecting to people you don’t actually know or trust largely defeats that purpose.

    • Jed

      Josh: Agreed that that is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, I think too many people accept all friend requests on all Social Networking Sites for that kind of system to be entirely workable.

      Among other issues, even if I (generic SNS user) decline requests from unknown-to-me people, chances are pretty good that I’ll accept requests from people who I dislike or distrust or am uncomfortable with but whom it would be socially awkward to refuse. See Cory’s 2007 piece “How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook.”

      Jim: Interesting; I’ve stopped using LinkedIn entirely because of a variant on the problem described above. For me, LinkedIn is useful only if it actually reflects a web of professional trust; if I haven’t worked with someone and/or can’t recommend them as a colleague, then I don’t want to connect with them on LinkedIn. Since I’m apparently in a tiny minority of people who feel that way (judging by the LinkedIn requests I get from non-colleague friends, acquaintances, and random strangers), to me LinkedIn has lost much of its intended utility.

      Funny that you and I have exactly opposite reactions to this stuff. I gave up on treating SNSes as models of real-world friendship long ago, but am still holding onto my (obviously outdated/unrealistic) model of LinkedIn.

      Re the term “friend”: See also an entry of mine from a couple years ago. I’ve long railed against LJ’s use of the term “friend,” but somehow it bothers me less on FB, perhaps because FB seems to me to be more focused on connection/interaction with actual friends (and friendly acquaintances), whereas LJ seems to me to be a blogging site with some social features. In both cases, though, I suspect that choice of terminology helped them grow; people like being told that someone considers them a friend, so there’s a lot of social incentive to friend someone (and to not turn down friend requests).

  2. eclectic-boy

    I’ve been telling people who send me friend requests, but who I think of as barely acquaintances (or strangers, even), to send me a contact request on LinkedIn, which I treat as the less-personal version of Facebook. I keep my FB friends to people I know pretty well — the rough rule of thumb I use is, if I would ask this person whether I could crash with them when I was going to be in their region, they belong on my FB friends list.

    (So much of this would have been avoided if FB hadn’t chosen the word ‘friends’ to describe people who are connected!)

  3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I accept pretty much all requests on Facebook. I’m at almost 1000 ‘friends’; interestingly, I’ve met almost all of them in person. That’s a little scary, that I’ve met so many people! (Although, of course, I’ve probably met a few thousand more than that. But anyway…)

    To me, Facebook friend basically means ‘acquaintance’, and also includes any of my readers who want to be connected.

    Whereas on LinkedIn, I only accept the request if I’m willing to be something of a business reference for the person. I think of it as a professional work thing, where someone might say to me, “Oh, I saw you know so-and-so on LinkedIn. Would you recommend them for X project?” And I would say, “I worked with them briefly on Y — not enough to say for certain, but my experience with them was generally positive.”

    So yes, I treat them really differently than you do.

    • Jed

      It sounds like you treat LinkedIn pretty much exactly the way I do, except that you haven’t given up on it.

      And it sounds like your handling of Facebook turns out in practice to be pretty similar to mine, except that you’ve either met way more people than I have or a much higher percentage of them contact you.

      Which is to say, I do accept pretty much all requests on Facebook from people I’ve met in person; the difficulty for me comes when someone I’ve never heard of (or someone who submitted one story to the magazine years ago) sends me a friend request. It seems natural to me that for you, there’d be a fair number of such people who are readers of your work; but when I get such requests, my assumption tends to be that they’re either (a) random strangers who were pointed toward me by Facebook for some reason, or (b) writers who are vaguely interested in the magazine, but not interested enough to submit.

      And I have no reason to exclude such people from my Facebook friends list, except for the fact that my list really does consist mostly of people I’ve at least met, and a vague feeling that I like it that way. But I think I’m now slowly shifting toward not caring who’s on my list, since it makes no practical difference.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Oh, and I don’t worry at all about whether people will get upset that I didn’t answer their request. There’s such a stream of data flowing by, even if they noticed, I’d be really surprised if they cared about my response in a week.

  5. shmuel

    I ignore Facebook requests from people I don’t know personally and aren’t relatives, and ignore some who do fall into those camps. (There’s a setting somewhere that needs to be changed if you have more than 150 friends and want them all to show up in your newsfeed. I am in no danger of needing to know where this setting is.)

    Regarding LinkedIn, like Mary Anne and Jed, I see it as being for professional references. Invitations from strangers mystify me, and are rejected with vigor. I’ve yet to find the site particularly useful, but I haven’t abandoned it, either.


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