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Facebook Follow-up

Since I wrote a column earlier this summer about the awkwardness of folks who don't meet the dictionary definition of "friend" asking to be my Facebook friends, the inevitable has happened: Strangers or near-strangers have realized that I'm on Facebook and have sent me friend requests.

Some are easy to ignore. A few PR types have tried to use a friend request as a substitute for e-mailing me or calling me with their pitch. I find this one of the clumsiest, rudest, most boorish abuses of Facebook imaginable--while you're at it, why not follow me in your car while I'm out running or accost me in the check-out line at the grocery store? (Seriously, publicists: Don't do this. If you think I sound annoyed by it, talk to some of my colleagues sometime!)

Others aren't so clear-cut. At the moment, I have 11 friend requests awaiting a click of either the "Confirm" or "Ignore" buttons:

* A journalist on the same private mailing list as me; I don't think we've e-mailed each other directly.

* A reader who I "spoke" with during one of my recent Web chats.

* Two other readers who have e-mailed me somewhat recently with a question or comment.

* A freelance writer who regularly contributed stories for one my old editors.

* Two friends of friends who I don't remember meeting, but whom Google Desktop shows have e-mailed me in the past.

* Three publicists to whom I talk semi-regularly.

* The founder of a software developer who recently e-mailed me about his company's upcoming product.

None of these people meet the book definition of "friend," but in each case they're not coming out of the blue. There's been some prior contact, and some of these people even included a note to explain why they were reaching out in this manner (hint: if your failure to do that forces me to look you up in Google Desktop, you're seriously stretching the definition of "acquaintance").

If I were one of those competitive freaks out to run up their friend count, that would be fine, but, personally, I exited the high-school cafeteria a long time ago.

I appreciate what these people are trying to do; I don't think they mean to communicate anything more than "like your work" or "let's do lunch sometime." But Facebook isn't set up to accommodate that kind of behavior. For now, the most I can do is confine a not-quite-friend to my "limited profile."

Things may improve. The site's "In the Works" list of upcoming features includes this item:

We'll let you organize that long list of friends into groups so you can decide more specifically who sees what.

That would be a start.

In the meantime, I have to figure out what to do with all these would-be friends. Were you in my position, how would you respond to their requests?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 12, 2007; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Usually what I do in these situations is accept the friend request, but allow the person to see only my "limited profile." I think it's a pretty good compromise. In a couple of cases, I've suggested that people become my contact on LinkedIn instead of Facebook.

Posted by: TL | October 12, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Ok Rob,
Easy solution: send them to linked in if they are PR and accept (and then forget about) the social semi-acquaintences.
I don't use facebook, or myspace etc. I DO use LinkedIn for business, a few friends are on it and have invited me so I haven't said "don't know them", but it really is to help keep contact with former clients and such. My rationale for being such a networking Luddite? Both my college & highschool aluni/ae orgs have my contact info, so if anyone wants to reach out from the past they can do that or find my (woefully outadted) website. For anyone else I've had the same 2 e-mail and cell number since 1996, so if you got ahold of me in the last decade you should still be able to

Posted by: trampslikeus | October 12, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

See, this is what has me annoyed about businesses going into Facebook and the like -- yes they're way sof "connecting," but I don't think that was quite what the Myspace and Facebook people had in mind, and for the exact problems you cite. I personally try to keep my professional and personal lives fairly separate, and to this end I'm not on either Facebook or Myspace, much to the chagrin of several of my friends (to whom I say if you really want me to see the pix from the party last week, you can take the thirty seconds to email me).

Posted by: Curmudgeon in Training | October 12, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I completely understand and sympathize with your position on this. In fact, when I joined Facebook last summer and was exploring how it worked, I almost sent you a friend request for one or two of the reasons cited above. But I decided not to -- even though I once e-mailed you a question and you replied -- since I don't really know you except for what you've written.

But if I were in your position, I would just accept them as "friends." Someday you may need to reach out to them just as much as they now want to reach out to you. As we all know, the word "friend" is a big part of the problem too. It may have made sense in the early days of Facebook. Given today's membership, the word "contact" would be better.

Posted by: Jim Lackey | October 12, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Mental note: Don't invite Rob to be friends on Facebook...

Okay, that out of the way! I guess it depends what you use Facebook for. If you're strictly doing friends-only type of things like posting photos from wild keggers or something that you wouldn't want work-associates to see, then yeah, I can see the predicament. Otherwise, if I have a remote connection to someone, I typically approve the request. That's only bitten me once where someone I was unsure if I knew or not and approved started spamming me with invitations to political conferences. Constantly. I'm going to have to demote his friendship status.

I guess the limited profile approval works for now. Never noticed it before. I enjoy seeing the status lines of people I know, but don't use it for much more than that on the rare occasion I actually log in. So to me, it seems rather harmless to approve people I don't know well. And hey, it makes me look more popular, which is what it's all about, right? ;-)

LinkedIn is much the same to me. I have no use for it, but have an account because everyone else does. Maybe I'm just a social media lemming.

Posted by: misschatter | October 12, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I guess I have my own way of approaching Facebook. I can understand wanting to let others only see your limited profile, in the name of privacy. But, personally, it's proven to be a real tool of serendipity for me. Whereas the norm is to meet people in real life, and maybe then put them on your Facebook profile, I find that it's fun when I come across unique people with whom I have a few things in common on Facebook, and then meet them in real life.

I have made two new female friends through Facebook. I do maintain personal security, but in this modern age, it's so hard to meet people in the course of everyday life, outside of work, that I think we should look at social networking from a social-to-local networking perspective that can really add value to our lives. I don't advocate trying to rack up a friends' list and meet them all; but, now and then, live a little. One of those anonymous icons on your profile could turn out to really inspire you and meeting them could be an act of synchronicity.

Posted by: Jen Sardam | October 15, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Ignore them all. If they're not your friends they'll get over it and move on.

Posted by: William | October 15, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

That's why I use LiveJournal. You can fine-tune privacy settings by creating custom groups of friends: work, family, online, high school, etc. Then you can screen posts by group.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | October 15, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Everyone who uses these kind of social networks like facebook has gone through moments like this. I believe is really bad internet manners not to explain why you're adding a person, but in any case i usually wait a bit before simply ignoring them because you don't want to be rude with someone you forgot you know or someone you had some impact in, though you might not aknowledge it. I guess i'd find it better to confirm these requests. Facebook is for contacts, not only friends. There's no determined etiquette for these online situations, but it's best not making cyber enemies.

Posted by: Fernanda | October 15, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Hey Rob, I'm one of your pending Facebook requests (the chat reader), and I won't be offended if you decide not to friend me. In general, I only friend-request people I actually know, but since so many of my favorite Post people are on Facebook now, the rules are kind of changing, and even though I don't technically know you or Gene Weingarten or Howard Kurtz, it's just kind of a way of saying, "I enjoy and appreciate your column/chat/whatever." The line is blurry, though, certainly. If you reject me, I won't boycott your column or anything. :)

Posted by: Stef | October 15, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

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