Saturday, April 10, 2010

Verbs ala Facebook , the Politics of Unfriending and my own Facebook report card

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about Facebook. I actually, although not sure I want to admit this spend an awful lot of my downtime on Facebook. It has sort of become my background noise without the noise. A large percentage of time that I am at home I have a FB tab running on my computer. I'm not always on, but there it is like the radio playing in the background (sorry I mean iPod). On the one hand I am sometimes completely bowled over by what a phenomenon Facebook is. I am now 'friends' with more people from high school than the amount of actual friends I actually had when I was in high school (ahhh, the good old days when telephones had cords and you had to get up to change the channel). To me the most interesting aspect about this whole social media phenomenon is how it has created new verbs. Facebook is now a noun but also a verb:

Are you on Facebook? (noun)
I am Facebooking (verb)

Facebook and other social networking sites like My Space, Friendster, the favorite of Dutch teeny boppers, Hyves and the most hated by me Twitter have spawned other verbs as well.

Friending is now clearly a verb. Following while always a verb, now has a new meaning words which have taken on new meaning in cyberspace.

Although to be fair to Twitter, really, where else can you see Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan and one of those Kardashian chicks cat fight in public? I am a normal person who can't get into Bungalow 8 or the Ivy so, Twitter is the only other option to see first hand celebrity idiocy (as opposed to the press, which is second hand celebrity idiocy). Okay I guess Twitter does have a purpose. Forgive me all you Twits, oops, I mean Twitter fans.

Anyhoo, for the last two weeks or so I have been giving FB a lot of thought. I love FB, it allows me to keep track of friends and family without writing emails (and exacerbating my carpal tunnel), enjoy little snippets, exchange ideas, get alerted to news and other cool stuff and shamelessly pontificate which is my favorite non-guilty pleasure. I love reading what my friends are up to, I love seeing how people I have not been in touch with since high school have grown up. I love, love, love seeing people's photos and I really love seeing what people in my cyber circle post about. You learn a lot from it, like what is important to people, what are their passions, what kind of issues and things matter to them. Also because of cyber space in some way people are freer about their affections and emotions than they are sometimes in person. People (including me) easily status their love for their kids, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, dogs. FB to me is sometimes like a big sociological hand knitted sweater, where each post, status and comment is some intricate knit 1 pearl 2 stitch.

There are however some FB habits which rub me the wrong way. The only two I will mention, because I think they are truly distasteful and show a real lack of manners and cross the line of good taste. The first is that of the friend-stalker. This is someone you have friended that uses your status and wall as a way to keep tabs on you or your other friends in common and then uses the information 'innocently'. I have had one such friend, let's call he/she 'Friend X'. We have some people in common, but this particular friend has had a falling out with the others, who are also my friends but also my FB friends, let's call them Friends YZ. So Friends YZ do not have very strict privacy settings on their profiles and therefore this allows end X to view loads of information about Friends YZ without actually being friended (there's that verb again) to each other. For example when I have seen Friends YZ they have once in a while posted a status update about our activities, or they send me a post to my wall about it. Friend X sees said postings and then innocently asks me on the phone, what did you do yesterday? Me trying to be tactful and not stir up Friend X's hurt feelings over the lost friendship with Friends XY says not much and then gets hit with the 'well didn't you go out to dinner with friends XY? So not only has friend X been busy practicing for his/her guest starring stint on Cold Case, but now my attempt to be tactful and not hurt Friend X's feelings has gotten me in trouble, when all I was trying to do was spare Friend X's feelings. Now due to his/her stalking, I get branded as a liar. I am as curious as they come and I often look at friends profiles to see what they are up to, but 'using' information to trap someone is a bridge too far in my opinion.

The other one is the using FB to air your dirty laundry, particularly couples airing their dirty laundry via status, posts, etc. Luckily I haven't seen that too often but from time to time it does occur. Thankfully the offenders have not been people from my own inner circle but more from the periphery, but still, I find the whole thing distasteful. Nearly anyone can post some passive aggressive status probably in search of support from their FB circle and as much as I really try not to do that, I do look the other way when I see it and chalk it up to friends having a bad day, and we all need out outlets, right? But I draw the line at directly or pretend-passively slamming someone via status. OK, you broke up, you're angry, your working the 7 stages of grief, I get it. Call up your girlfriends and do this over cocktails but please don't put it out there in your cyberspace world. Many people you are connected to are not in your inner circle, do not know the details and you just come off looking spiteful, plus it makes me angry that you are slamming a friend of mine. I am protective of my friends. A similar thing happened to me recently and for the very first time, I ended up unfriending someone from FB for the first time.

Unfriending - yet another new verb courtesy of FB!

I posted about my unfriending situation and amazingly that drew a lot of comments from my friends, all messages of support. Some people shared their own experiences of unfriending. I was literally amazed. I am an avid FB status updater. My statuses teeter on the boring, what am I doing today kind of things interspersed with occasional humor or marginally interesting stories which garner comments from my friends which I really enjoy.

To be honest, I am always a little envious of people who get loads of comments from every post as many of my posts end up commentless (sigh). I have one friend who literally posts very creative, funny statuses and she literally gets 25-30 comments each one. I finally had to drop her from my regular news feed because, 1. I was spending so much time reading all those comments that I was not getting anything done and 2. Yes, I admit it, I am a little envious of all the attention via comment (is that so WROOOOONG?). Actually this friend hosts a website helping people create interesting status which will garner lots of comments from your FB community (there are many such sites out there believe it or not). Most of my other FB friends who get zillions of comments on their posts I have noticed are people who have big families or connected to their mom's, who comment on every single post. In a strange way FB is kind of like a big popularity contest, how many friends do you have (too little, too many), how much do you post, do you get lots of comments? Life really is like high school.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, unfriending. Apparently unfriending is an acceptable practice. The great part about it is that it is not confrontational, the person you unfriend does not get a notification of the unfriending, the person just subtly disappears from your news feed and vice versa and if they try to search for you in their friend list, they will not see you anymore and if they search for you on FB, they will see you are not connected anymore. But how many times do you actually do that? When you think about it, unfriending is kind of the cyberspace equivalent of not returning a phone call. After I received all these comments from my friends showing their support over my unfriending, I Googled unfriending and there is a cornucopia of articles on the topic that also unequivocally support unfriending as totally and completely acceptable FB etiquette. Miss Manners approves of unfriending (direct object now isn't it?)

Actually after this experience, I have now actually unfriended the stalker too (I hope they don't notice).

There are literally tons of articles on Facebook etiquette which cover loads of topics like the rules for friending and unfriending, how many friends should you have, what you should and should not post on a wall. Interestingly enough I was pleased to find that in most categories I am more than acceptable Facebooker. I have neither too many, nor too little friends. The majority of my friends are either friends, family members, colleagues, friends from college and high school, even elementary school, a few friends of friends, but I am not friends with anyone that I have never met at least once and all but one are people I have 'known' at least some time in my life. I am connected to my boss, and also to some people who report to me. I post to the appropriate places (wall/inbox) although I do violate some of the rules on statuses since I do post about mundane things frequently (but then again, what is really mundane?).

All in all, my overall Facebook GPA? I'd say 3.4. Don't agree? Well there's always the option to unfriend me.


  1. I once had a middle school principal tell me that life operates, at best, at an eighth grade level. Facebook confirms this. But I try and rise above it to at least a high school level. Unfortunately, many people never mature and hence continue with their sophomoric behavior, manifested in a 'grown up' manner.....Carol S.

  2. Great article! I like the whole concept of cyber relationships and how online communities grow and develop and communicate. We've come a long way since the days of usenet (anyone remember it?), but human behavior doesn't change. We still have people we want to stay away from, as well as those we want to be closer to.

    FB allows me to remain in touch with a lot of people, in a fairly low maintenance manner. I mean that in a good way. Normally, I have a hard time maintaining relationships over time since I've moved around a lot, and usually only have time for the most immediate relationships, these days that usually means people with kids the same age as mine, and not necessarily people with whom I have much to talk about. FB helps me maintain relationships over time and over job changes.

    I'm very happy with FB as an overall tool to help me communicate with people I like. Some of my "friends" I have never met in person. In fact, I have some very good cyber friends who have proven their sincere friendship. I'd like to meet them in person some day, but even if I don't, I'll be happy to have "known" them.