Why We Can't Be Friends on Facebook

Something interesting happened when social media started bearing down on us a few years back. We began to yearn for friends, and not the kind that you can call up on a Tuesday night for a bull session at the bar, or someone to watch your puppy when you leave town. Friends became not so much players in the story of your life, but followers in the saga that is you. Viewers of your personal sitcom.

I was raised to be a people person, believe it or not. I come from a long line of people who used to get conduct marks for talking too much in class and trying to entertain a captive crowd at the lunch table. We smile and start conversations with people we see in social situations, and so it wasn't a hard leap into social media.

Social media has allowed people not to collect friendships, the kind that you hold dear to your heart, but names and pictures to prove that you matter. A stranger surfing your Facebook or Twitter page may see a high number of followers or friends one of two ways: At best, this person is influential, worth listening to, and a lovable people person blah blah blah. Or they see you as a shill, a whore, and not a social butterfly, but a social mosquito, sucking the blood out of everyone you add or follow.

It's hard to discern the two until you push the button and allow this new person into your virtual life.

Personally, I get a lot of Facebook friend requests from people who probably just see my name on a blog or on a mutual friend's profile wall and get add-happy. That's cool by me, I do it too within reason. I still see it as a virtual knock on someone's door to attempt to add myself to their life.

At its worst, it's folks who are only out to befriend you to sell you something or feed you information about their artistic enterprise, and continually hound you until you delete them.

"I don't add people on Facebook if I don't personally know them. Since Facebook is a network that requires a reciprocal relationship, I direct people who I don't know personally to my company fan page or my Twitter account," says Monica Danna, Founder and CEO at local PR firm colab.

I came to the realization that maybe I didn't want rank strangers to see pictures of me visiting my grandmother in the nursing home, or hearing about my weekend plans at the gun range with my family, so I started cutting out being so open. As for my Twitter account, only about 25 percent of that is real anyway, and the rest is invented in my head while I drive.

In a lot of instances, a friend from another social media outlet like Twitter will take the next step and attempt to add you on Facebook, to get another facet of the "you" experience. It's something that freelance public relations rep Candace Kizer deals with too.

"If it's a person I know from Twitter, I still look at whether or not we actually communicate regularly and whether I'm willing to let them into my personal life, like family stuff," she says.

"When I was trying to promote a bar, I was willing to accept pretty much anyone in Houston. I now use number of mutual friends as a filter. I spend more time weeding out people now. If you post spam on my wall, you are gone. Too many posts with no substance, gone," said local management consultant Alexander Flenner, who has had years of experience inside the social media revolution.

The more people that "know" you in a public forum, the more they will think you owe it to them to let them enter your private life. Along our social media journey, we lost what was personal and private in lieu of creating our own mini media empires. LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Google, all of it acts as a conduit to broadcast your own personal channel.

I guess the basic rule that one should go by is that if you have never met this person eye to eye, spoken to, drank with, shared a giggle, or shared blood with, think twice, maybe thrice, about welcoming them aboard. Too many times I have posted something that was familial, only to have people I have no connection with in the physical realm slag it, which is confusing to everyone else and a tad demeaning.

Then you sit back and wonder why you ever clicked "Confirm." Was it because I was feeling unpopular that day and needed validation of my existence?


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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty