Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

Would it be creepy to friend that person on Facebook?

I was invited to a Facebook group full of interesting people today and after thinking 'someone thinks I'm an influencer?' and 'why isn't this a mailing list?' and 'apart from the money, why aren't Facebook and Twitter protocols rather than services?' and 'when will I ever have time to read what all these interesting people have to say?' I noticed the names of a few people I'd call really senior in tech. People I always enjoy getting the chance to talk to because we have such interesting conversations, people I might email if something really important came up, people I'd connect to on LinkedIn in a second because that's a professional network and I don't worry it might look inappropriate. And I can't decide if it would be creepy to friend any of those people on Facebook. I know them, I like them, I've met them in person, but if they ask me out for a beer it's as part of a press event (and my Facebook friending policy is very much about the 'would we have a beer /pot of tea at Samovar/dinner together?' level of connection). We have 'mutual friends' on Facebook but those are people who I definitely drink beer with. If I friend them on Facebook, I'm asking them to manage their Facebook presence to segregate real friends and work connections - or to actually come out and say 'it's great talking to you sometimes, Mary, but not in this particular space', and that makes me feel like I'm crossing some kind of line.

When he was at Microsoft Research, Marc Smith used to show a wonderful slide about the overloading of the verb 'to friend' and the list just gets longer; I went to school with you/am married to you/cried with you/laughed with you/danced with you/drank with you/worked with you/worked for you/met you at a conference/somehow got your business card/want to ride on your influence/sent you a copy of my slides/pitched you a business idea/bought ice cream from you/want people to think I know you/am stalking you... Friend is an emotional word (as is Like); LinkedIn's 'network' puts it on an obviously professional standing, and while you can ask for endorsements there (and that's definitely egoboo of a sort; I still miss the wonderful endorsement one senior geek left on my Orkut profile), it's less fraught to say 'I'm not really sure how to phrase that' than it is to say 'you're not my friend'. Following someone on Twitter says 'I think you have something interesting to say'; friending someone on Facebook says 'I want to stay in touch with you'.

Social networking is a democratising force. There are people on Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere who I would once have been filtered out from by distance, by minders and PR folk and other explicit gatekeepers. Now it's (in an idealised view) my own level of interestingness; if I'm 'worth' connecting with because of what I think and say or who I have influence with. I tend to think of this as the geek currency; are you interesting enough to pay attention to? Available time is still an issue; fitting in a tweet or an email reply is easier than an half-hour interview but time is still finite and there are a lot of interesting people talking to each other.

Some of this feeds into questions about journalism (news and beyond). A lot of journalism is about finding the right person to ask the right question of, to get an interesting and useful answer. When we all have more access to the right people (who still have only 24 hours a day to work, live and interact), there's still asking the right question and evaluating the answer (and knowing who it's interesting to, and actually doing the writing work of presenting it). Access to information is far less exclusive than it used to be, but so much of the information in the echo chamber is repetition, inaccurate repetition and rumour that I'm not sure it doesn't balance out to be about the same. But mostly I'm thinking about boundaries, and as so often I expect it's a relative thing; there are probably those of us who worry about boundaries - our own and those of people we like or respect - those who can fluidly and respectfully surf the different levels of connection, and the boundary tone-deaf who wonder what I'm making a fuss about.
Tags: netiquette, social networking, technology

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