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Won't You Not Be My Facebook friend?

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Facebook just blogged about "What Happens If I Ignore a Friend Request" giving the advice that it's okay to ignore a friend request.  Yes, it may seem rude - but the reality of social network size is setting in for many people.

In the real world you make friends in school - you keep a few as you get older but you lose touch with many of them. You make some friends in the military or at university, again you keep a few but you lose touch with most of them.  Through various jobs, clubs, churches, camps, sports and a myriad of other social enterprises you make more friends - most of whom fall by the wayside as you move onto other activity or stage of life.

However, with Facebook all the friends you ever made are coming back.  Sure it's cool to catch up and hear from these folks and find the answer to "Whatever happened to that girl I knew in 6th grade?" But once you catch up - do you really care what is happening to them every single day.  Sure a holiday letter would be nice - but do you need to know every step of their kid's potty training?

In real life, friends come and go. However, with Facebook, they usually just come. Facebook (or MySpace or Twitter) friend lists tend to get bloated over time because most folks don't use the ignore button and most folks have a hard time defriending somebody.  In real life, you just stop running into somebody; you move away; you stop seeing them at the gym - you rarely have to formally break up with a friend in real life. 

But on Facebook there is no casual fading away -  defriending is a cold deliberative step. One day you are friends, and then one day you are not.  Likewise, in real life I never have to formally accept you as a friend - but on Facebook - I must choose to accept you or ignore you.  The mere fact that Facebook now has advice and a  video on how to ignore highlights how much people are uncomfortable with the idea of using the ignore option.

Some of the comments on the Facebook blog highlight what Facebook could do to improve this and how much guilt comes into play: "it would be helpful if you'd also remove a person who has rejected you from appearing again via the suggested friends tool. I don't believe this happens now (not clear from anything I've read), and it guilts me into accepting people on occasion."

In the US, Burger King ran a campaign offering you a a free cheeseburger if you defriended 10 Facebook friends. However after initially approving this application, Facebook pulled a Burger King app promising a free burger if you defriended ten friends because it sent a notification that you were no longer someone's friend (usually, there's no annoying status update).

Just imagine a current teenager's friend list 20 years from now - every school friend, every university friend, every friend from every job and so on and so on.  Maybe soon Miss Manners will figure out the "right" way to ignore online friend requests and how to gracefully defriend people.

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