Thanks to social networking, the noun “friend” has gained the prestige as being known as its more active, grammatical relative, a verb. However, it’s become murkier as to what “friend” really means. You could ask anyone on the street, “What does friend mean to you?” and it’s likely they’ll distinguish between the tangible, real kind of friend from the social networking, Facebook kind of friend.
I remember becoming part of Facebook for the first time several years ago. When sending a friend request to someone I would write a short message to the recipient to ask how they were and what they had been up to. I quickly learned, however, that the person rarely replied to the message and those who sent friend requests to me never wrote one either. I began to wonder what the message box was for. And how rude I thought, to connect with someone you hadn’t seen in years and not receive a message from them. Therein lies the issue with Facebook: for many it’s not connecting, it’s collecting. Who in physical reality has 472 friends?
Quite apparent is that our connections with others via Facebook is not nuanced in the infinite spectrum of relationships we have with humans outside of the digital realm. Our homogenous grouping of friends includes people we only recollect meeting at a conference once, the kid down the hall in our dorm from college ten years ago, lifelong friends, people we know from grocery shopping or the lady that rings you up at the coffee shop. Perhaps, and with hope, as social networking evolves, it will do so to reflect what really exists in life – casual contacts, close and distant family, best friends, acquaintances, people we identify as friends for political gain and those we’d prefer never to see again. But for now on a server in California everyone is the ubiquitous friend.
As people accrue friends online, at some point we may begin to wonder, “Should I clean some people out?” People I’ve met, both clients and non-clients alike have considered this with fear and trepidation. All sorts of questions, beliefs and emotions are raised about the nature of relationships, especially in the murky medium of online social networking. These include:
What if the person learns I deleted them and he/she asks me about it at work?
She’s my boss, deleting her could be a bad move.
He’s family, even though I don’t really care for him.
She sent me the friend request; it would be rude to delete her.
So let’s review some beliefs pertaining to interactions with others online:
It’s rude to delete a friend, especially if they sent you the request.
It may be rude if you delete a close friend whom you have regular contact with. But if they are that close, you probably aren’t deleting them. If you are, it may have nothing to do with them personally, such as keeping Facebook only to your immediate and extended family. Remember that your Facebook account is like your home telephone – it’s there for your use, not others’ use. A Facebook relationship is like any other – some have their beginning with no end, and some do. It’s your life and you can choose who’s in it. And the “deletee” may find your action rude. They’re entitled to their opinion but don’t measure your action by a person’s response. You may be well warranted for the delete and the person can act poorly. That’s on them, and frankly, might be the reason for deleting them in the first place.
The “deletee” will confront me and ask why I deleted them.
If you choose to delete them, you are responsible for your actions, so own it. But is it likely that they’ll ask you? If they have only eight friends on their site, there could be a chance they would. If you’re one of 349, and you’ve never actually corresponded with them via Facebook, their only concern might be the drop in number. Be honest with them about why you made the delete. But remember being honest – “I decided to narrow it to people I often meet in person” versus criticism thinly veiled as honesty – “You just like to collect people” is always important.
I need a reason to delete a person.
That gives them power over you by allowing them the authority to determine how good your reason is. You can delete anyone you want without a reason. In common social exchange we’ve come to believe that a reason, or a really good reason, is expected. You’ve heard it before, “That’s not good enough.” Giving a good reason is a courtesy, not an expectation.
I have to accept this request because (insert reason here), otherwise it’s rude.
You don’t have to do anything in this life. Even eating is a choice (with associated consequences). You don’t have to accept any request, you have the choice to decline and guide the mouse cursor over the “Ignore” button and click. If you didn’t have a choice, Facebook wouldn’t give you the option. Yes, the person could ask why you didn’t accept, but it’s unlikely. And if they do, again, be honest.
Develop a Litmus Test
When accepting friends or thinking of deleting someone, having analogies in mind about how you would handle this outside of a server farm is helpful. Your litmus test provides you a framework for which to make decisions. My own test has been, “Would I be excited to meet this person for dinner to catch up on how their life has been?” If yes, I accept. If not, I ignore. When thinking of deleting people, “Have I had any meaningful contact with this person in the last year?” If not, I delete. Can you make decisions contrary to your usual framework? Absolutely, so long as it feels like a choice you make for yourself. Social networking is merely an extension of your life. While it may lump everyone under the heading “Friend”, you don’t have to.