The Hard Facts: Paging Emily Post…

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“According to [a new AOL study] more than half of children surveyed (54%) don’t personally know all the friends accepted into their social network.” (“AOL Launches New SAFE SOCIAL for Parents with Social Networking Teens” 8/24/2010)

There’s a new set of etiquette when it comes to friendship in the 21st century. Knowing not to hook up with your BFF’s ex, or that friends don’t let friends drunk dial, isn’t enough. You must also know that a friend who tags you in an unflattering photo is no friend at all.

I’m still navigating the world of social network protocol. Here are my most pressing dilemmas:

1) Should I accept friend requests from people I’ve never met? The answer to this question should be no (hello, Internet predators), and yet I have a good handful of these phantom friends in my newsfeed. You never know who could be The BFF, so I err on the side of “confirm.” The fact that teenagers accept strangers is entirely scary, but as an adult it’s less an issue of getting bullied by fake accounts and more just a general “how much am I willing to put out there” debate.

2) What if I want to unfriend someone? It’s a sticky situation, one so common that “unfriend” was named the New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 Word of the Year. Real-life friend breakups come with all sorts of guilt, and Facebook has added a whole new element. The reasons for unfriending must be serious—you’re cutting this person off from all information about you—and yet the act of unfriending itself is pretty passive. A simple click of a button. “This absence of body language, and the single click immediacy of online sharing has created problems that have no ready parallel offline,” wrote Austin Considine in a recent piece in The New York Times.

3) How soon is too soon to friend someone? Today I got a request from a new friend, one with whom I’ve gone on two friend-dates, with this message: “How many friend dates before we can be Facebook friends?” I love that she called out the awkwardness of this protocol. Clearly I accepted. But I’ve had girl-date situations in which the potential BFF has friended me after we’ve scheduled the plan, but before it’s taken place. Meaning we’ve met over email but not face-to-face. I think that’s too soon. I wait to send the request (or not) until after we’ve hit it off (or not). But if the soon-to-be friend requests me? I always accept, despite sometimes wavering.

It seems worthwhile to mention here (last time, I swear!) that this blog now has a Facebook page. So if you’re a fan of the blog, perhaps you want to become fan of the page? So I can see your pretty face? Why thank you!

The jury is still out on these Facebook conundrums. Do you accept strangers? How do you defriend? And when is the appropriate time to send a friend request? Weigh in!


Filed under 21st Century Friendships, The Hard Facts

17 responses to “The Hard Facts: Paging Emily Post…

  1. This seems to be THE topic these days —

    Since I became more of a “public” figure in the past few years with the events I throw and press for various things, the requests from strangers or people I barely know started getting out of hand. I use FB to connect with friends, not to network, so I always ignore strangers and usually ignore people I don’t know well.

    Met a photographer via a friend the other day, he friend requested me a few hours later; I usually don’t take the time to send a message as to why I’m ignoring, but thinking he’d be a good professional contact down the road, I wrote an explanatory message as to why I was denying his request. It felt weird.

    I blogged a bit about the phenomenon:

  2. Such a great post on the “friending” dilemma we all face. I also question where to draw the line with content for my personal profile vs my business page. I digress…back to the topic —

    When it comes to friending I always choose to happily friend. This is probably more of a business decision than a personal desire to grow my friend network at this point in the game. You never know who might be a potential client, or someone who knows someone who is — so I “friend” all who ask.

    On the flip side, you never know if someone you friend for a business reason has great BFF potential until you give them a test-drive, so to speak, by getting to know them. I guess it goes back to the chicken and the egg argument. But I say, “friend” them all and see what happens!

  3. Megan

    I usually accept friend requests (unless it’s a completely random stranger), but every few months, I “clean house” and unfriend the people I can’t remember ever meeting, have lost total contact with, or feel uncomfortable sharing my personal info/photos with. If I have to think more than 5 seconds on how I know a “friend,” it’s usually a sign I need to clean house. If I were to run a business fan page, it would be an entirely different ball game, but right now, my facebook page is for my personal contacts.

  4. I like Megan’s idea about cleaning house every few months.

    I don’t accept personal friend requests from people I don’t know unless they put a personal message in with their request explaining why they want to be my friend. I have a business Facebook page for “strangers” to follow.

  5. I have a few friends I’ve never met as well. I reject most of them, unless they are other writers. Then I do the networking thing a bit. And some fun conversations have come out of it.

    But, my big problem has been when an actual friend starts being an jerk on my status messages! Either to me or to people I know. It’s like always bringing your badly behaved drunk friend out with you. You have a history so you stay friends, but you don’t want them rubbing their crazy all over your page.

    I’ve made it so they can see my status updates and articles I post, but they are not allowed to comment. The option simply isn’t there for them. It’s been very useful and less awful than unfriending someone totally. (That feature can be found in your privacy section. I think you go to customize.)

  6. Also, people should know that you can control the level of information any particular person can view. As I said above, I made it so a frustrating friend can’t comment. I could have gone one step further and made it so he couldn’t see any of my updates or photos. You do have a lot of control. It just takes some figuring out.

  7. Alison

    “You must also know that a friend who tags you in an unflattering photo is no friend at all.”


    • Fanfan

      Not necessarily. You know we are usually more judgmental of our own look than other people. A lot of times, I will scream “delete” when my boyfriend shows me a “flattering” photo of me in his camera.

  8. Ana

    My job doesn’t really require networking, so I unabashedly reject friend requests from anyone I’m not “friendly” with, without explanation. For those who do need to maintain those contacts for work opportunities, I like the idea of having a separate page for that.

    I initially tried to keep Facebook to a select group (out of town high school friends), but that was hard to do, and now its a mix of friends & family from work, high school, college, etc… I have a rule of not friending ANYONE I work with at one site (the more professional one, where my boss, boss’s boss, etc… are).

    I have definitely un-friended people I don’t know at all, and an ex-boyfriend that was making me feel awkward a bit. I have “hid” posts from anyone cluttering up my newsfeed with hourly updates on their “mafia wars/kitchen/farm/wordgames/etc…” and anyone posting anything that makes me uncomfortable (weird domestic fights, catfights, gross pictures).

    If I wouldn’t show someone the picture of my son’s newest tooth or tell them about my flooded basement in person, I don’t want them to know that stuff about me online!

  9. I think it is hilarious that you are writing about this topic because Facebook is so prevalent in our lives now and there is NO etiquette on how to act. I have accepted so many friend requests of people that I could care less about (sounds so mean) but I don’t want to be rude and shut them down.

    The worst is when someone you are not even close with posts something about their day every two hours. I have had to de-friend a girl I went to high school with because she was clogging my news feed. I was totally embaressed when I saw her at my high school reunion and she wouldn’t talk to me. Facebook is tricky, yet extremely addicting.

  10. Beth

    I’m thinking ahead to when you are a famous author and I kinda think that you might have to ‘accept’ the randos of FB (& twitter!) because you’ll be a published author who will have legit fans. Ya know what I mean? I am friends with one of my favorite authors (Lee Woodruff, I will tell you about my obsession with her next time I see you) and I was thrilled that she accepted yet didn’t know me (it’s not something I usually do either). Or maybe you can do a personal and public account?

    • Oh Beth, your belief in me is too flattering. I do know what you mean about the excitement of being “friends” with writers you admire. (I’m still waiting on my confirmation from AJ Jacobs!)

  11. Laura

    My basic Facebook philosophy is if I know who the friend requester is, then I accept. Random folks from high school, college, law school, etc., I don’t mind. I don’t generally post anything inappropriate. Heck, with my mom as my FB friend, I wouldn’t. If I don’t know them, decline.

    Though, I’ve hesitated to “friend” a few people. I took a photography class this summer and while I “like” my instructor’s professional page, I didn’t “friend” him. I considered it after he invited the class over to his house for pizza (and only my friend and I went). Honestly, I’ve considered whether it’s okay to friend you. 🙂 We met once and emailed a bunch, but wasn’t sure if that was enough. I figured I’d err to caution and wait.

    As for stuff I don’t want in my feed, I’ve hidden certains applications and friends from my feed. The friends I’ve hidden either post lots of random misspelled junk or obnoxious political stuff that is counter to my political ideology. I wouldn’t unfriend someone over differences in politics (though someone did that to me), but I don’t have to read it and get mad.

  12. I think the new realm of social networking has changed how we define friends. There are a number of people I *know* through my blog, though I’ve never met them in real life. The conversations I have with these women sometimes far outweighs conversations I have with my real life friends. I can’t imagine ignoring the Facebook requests just because we’ve not yet met. It feels totally natural to friend them. So, I think it’s whether you feel this person is a friend or not … but, how you define friend … well, that’s completely up to you.

  13. Pingback: The Hard Facts: That’s What Unfriends Are For « MWF Seeking BFF

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