Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Friend" vs. Friend: The Politics of Social Media

Before I begin, I want you to know that this is not about anybody with whom I'm currently friends on Facebook, have circled on G+, follow on Tumblr or Twitter or Pinterest, or [fill in appropriate noun] on [corresponding social network]. This is an post idea I've had for a long time, and I'm finally comfortable publishing it because time has passed since the situation that inspired it.

Well, that's not entirely true. Some recent events brought this idea back to mind. You see, it finally happened. I've been at my new job since the beginning of February, and I finally felt comfortable sending a few Facebook friend requests to new coworkers. These are all people who I consider friends as well as coworkers, but it took a while to feel comfortable in that way. I didn't send or accept friend requests for what, in the life of the web, was a very long time. I'm very protective of my Facebook presence because I like the fact that everybody with whom I'm Facebook friends is someone with whom I'm really friends. But that wasn't always the case, not with jobs I've had in the past. I've never had problems saying no to friending certain people (like students currently taking a class from me), but I do have a hard time saying no to coworkers.

Why is that? I know this won't be news to most of you, but social media can be very political. A senior faculty member - someone who makes you want to pull your hair out of your head in real life - sends you a friend request, you can't really turn it down. Especially not when you're friends with every single other member of that full professor's department and you're trying to get that full professor - who happens to be the department chair - to help you further integrate information literacy into the department's curriculum. (Not a real life example, but close.) So I've said yes to lots of friend requests that made me uncomfortable, to becoming "friends" with people who made me want to scream "no."

And "friends" make me filter myself. Unconsciously I'm sure, but sometimes even consciously. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I'd otherwise complain about a fight I had with my brother's ex-boyfriend's dog catcher (not even close to real life since I'm an only child) or that the Chief Paperclip Officer at work is being extra stingy with the binder clips. It's just that I'm less likely to post political or controversial things even though I firmly believe in speaking my mind, and I don't enjoy that feeling of self-censorship.

I'm sure that, as things continue to progress at my new job, I'll eventually get friend requests from people who aren't friends. I'm still not sure what I'll do. The easy way is to accept the requests and then filter those people to within an inch of their lives, but I'm not sure that's the best answer either.

What do you all think?


  1. I tend to accept those friend requests and then sort those people into a little group I've created just for them. Then when I post I tend to create custom settings for viewing that keep those people from viewing anything I don't consider fairly benign, like LinkedIn status update material.

    It helps that I tend to sort my online friends by type of connection anyway. I also take time every few months or so to prune those slightly awkward connections, and after the initial request I've rarely had anyone notice being dropped from the list.

  2. I'm like you in that I'm very protective of my Facebook - I've never really understood the people who can have 600+ "friends." In my mind Facebook is a personal social network and operates entirely differently compared to, say, Twitter or LinkedIn. But on the other hand, I am very appreciative that Facebook has come so far in the past few years to allow customizable postings to the point that you can specify who can and can't see a status update, photo, etc. I sometimes wish I didn't have to take the time to specify those things, but I'm happy that they're there, at least.

  3. This is what I like the "acquaintance" option for. I accept friends who I might not necessarily really want to be friends with as acquaintances, and they don't pollute my feeds, and I keep my default post setting as "Friends except acquaintances" so they don't see most of my posts.