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is it okay: to deny a friendship request?


Friend requests are more exciting online than they are in real life. It is hardly surprising; if you translate the scenario to a real world example, things are more likely to be creepy and awkward than anything else. There you are in your pyjamas, sitting at home, when all of a sudden there is a knock on the door. It’s an old friend, a high school acquaintance, or that person you spoke to on the bus. You lock eyes.

‘Be my friend!’ they blurt out. ‘Accept or ignore?’

‘What would being your friend entail exactly?’ you quiz them. ‘Will it be time consuming?’

‘Oh well, you know. We don’t actually have to spend any time together. Basically it means that I can go through all your photos and interactions with other people at any time without you knowing about it, and you can do the same with me. In our underpants! We can also invite each other to events and stuff.’

‘Can’t we just do the inviting thing over the phone?’ you wonder aloud.

‘Well yeah. To be honest it’s mostly about the photo and stalking thing. Accept or ignore?’

‘Cool. Accept.’

I think we are all aware that Facebook is just a little bit over the border of creepy and just choose to ignore it. It’s a strange distillation of human behaviour. In real life, friendship is built over time through interaction, common interests and (in some cases) mutual love of terrible music. On Facebook however, the foundation for “friendship” is rather different. Outside of the people who meet the real life criteria, friendship here is extended to being based on things like ‘I met you once’, ‘we went to the same school’ or ‘hey, I am a man looking for pritty women. You look nice I enjoy your profile.’ Solid.

While in the case of the latter it is easy to hit ignore, have a long shower and wash off the ick; when it comes to the others, things get a little bit more difficult. The problem is that Facebook has simplified everything down to yes or no answers. There are no shades of grey here in the blue and white world. You ‘like’ something or you don’t. You are someone’s friend or you aren’t.

It is hard to deny a friendship request outside of the complete-left-field-trawling-for-friends-I-like-your-profile types. There are multiple reasons for this, but essentially it usually comes down to one of three things: empathy, awkwardness or friendship hoarding.

As humans, for the most part, we are empathetical empathisers who empathise with empathy. If you’ve met someone, you form a bond – even if it is tenuous, fleeting or never to be strengthened. Requesting someone’s friendship, either in real life or on Facebook, maybe even especially on Facebook, means that you are putting yourself out there, leaving yourself vulnerable, and opening up the potential for rejection. We all recognise this, and as a result when it is we who are the requestee, we project ourselves into the requester’s shoes. Saying no in this case can make you feel like you’re kicking a newly born orphaned kitten as a baby seal watches on while a string quartet plays nearby.

Further along the spectrum you have awkwardness, which is what results when one person ignores a friendship request, only to bump into the same person a few weeks later. Enough time has passed that the lack of acceptance can’t be written off as busy-ness, and so a conversation littered with pregnant pauses and aggressive avoidance of Facebook related topics awaits.

The final potential reason for difficulty in ignoring friendship requests is friendship hoarding. This is less common than the previous two, but still occurs enough to warrant a mention. These are the people who are still stuck in the MySpace mentality; where it is a race to see who can get the most “adds” and make it in to everyone’s “top friends”. At least the surveys about “who do I miss the most?” and “what colour undies am I wearing?” have stopped.

Facebook’s privacy settings are almost already enough of a joke-laden minefield without throwing extra random components into the mix. While people use social networks in numerous ways for different reasons, we should all, logically, be very careful about who we let see our personal information. But we won’t. Politeness is a more powerful force than wariness, and like everything else on Facebook, addiction has made us blind. Our information is being sold, police use it as a tool, and settings change without us knowing. Zuckerberg’s new world is frankly a little bit terrifying, but by now a lot of us are so entrenched, we just go with it. So, I guess for now at least, we’ll just accept the good stuff, and ignore the rest.

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