Back in the MySpace days, when I was refusing to sign up to Facebook before peer pressure and a mass exodus meant I had to move in order to maintain my virtual profile and contact with many of the people who I’d met but who had since migrated, there used to be a running joke about Facebook that centred around the absurd premise of only networking with people you already know.
Having accumulated over 1,300 ‘friends’ (who probably are electric) since setting up my account, it’s probably fairly obvious that I’ve exchanged friend requests with a lot of people I’ve never met, never heard of and know nothing about. I do, however, tend to share a number of mutual friends with these ‘strangers’, more often than not on account of common interests and publishing.
Sometimes, I may not be actively seeking friends to add, but will fire off the odd friend request because, well, because Facebook tells me to. Granted, I’m entirely responsible for my own actions, but the feature whereby Facebook suggests friends is undeniably a less than subtle form of suggestion. Now, I’ll concede that it does list these suggestions under ‘people you may know’, but when you’ve got a significant number of mutual friends who move in the same circles, then you’re into ‘friend of a friend’ territory in a rapidly diminishing virtual world.
Still, to cut a short story shorter, it would seem that one of my requestees decided they didn’t know me and didn’t want to and told Facebook as much. Consequently, I received a notice informing me I was banned from sending any friend requests for a week, and furthermore, I was required to revisit the terms and conditions and tick a box on a declaration stating that I wouldn’t send friend requests to anyone I didn’t know, ever again. I was given the option to cancel all of my outstanding friend requests, or just those sent to users with whom I have ‘few’ friends in common, which was generous, but note the use of the word ‘few’ – not ‘no’. What qualifies as ‘few’? it’s all relative, surely. If a person only has 10 friends and five are mutual, it’s relatively many, but few in real terms. I know, I’m intentionally missing the point to an extent.
Moreover, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the irritation and antagonism serial spammers cause, or the threat to personal security the scamming spammers represent, but I nevertheless find this suspension approach absurd, because it’s not hard to distinguish between a human who’s a heavy user and a spambot.
Can you imagine the same scenario playing out in the real world: for example, delegates milling around at a conference not speaking to one another or introducing themselves to others? Shuffling up to the buffet and not speaking to someone because they don’t already know one another is hardly networking, is it? Or imagine a freshers’ week at university where no-one strikes up a conversation with someone just because they look interesting or they’re wearing a particular band T-shirt or whatever, because they don’t share an arbitrary number of common friends already. It’s unfeasible, and life simply isn’t like that. Social networking isn’t like inviting random strangers into your house just because they knock at your door: the clue’s in the name.
So is this an indicator that despite what Facebook claims to be, and despite the fact we’re supposedly living in a shrinking world with a wider society, what we’re actually doing is growing more insular, more fearful of ‘strangers’ and spending our time indoors not meeting new people, preferring instead to only associate in virtual life with people we know in real life? This would also suggest that social networking is, in fact, the precise opposite of what its name implies, and it would be more accurate to describe it as anti-social not-networking. Staying may well be the new going out, but forgive me for wanting to get out more while I’m staying in.
Farcebook: absurd ‘guidelines’
And if you’re loving my work, This Books is Fucking Stupid is published on April 1st.