I Can’t Be Your Facebook Friend. It’s Not You OR Me, But My Privacy

I didn’t expect to write a post like this, but recent events have made me rethink that decision and perhaps be more specific in what I’m talking about. I recently posted something on my Posterous blog (“The Mobile Ken”) where I debate whether to establish a Facebook “fan page” instead of continually leaving my Facebook “open” to the outside world. I’d like to talk about what predicated me to write that post and what led me to think about setting up a “fan page” since it would be for a non-narcissistic reason.

Everyone wants to be friends with everyone

Too many Facebook friend requests

I know this is entirely different for each and everyone of you, but when I grew up and first started using the Internet, my parents warned me not to give too much information out to people I don’t know. Almost like the adage “don’t talk to strangers”, privacy has evolved from more of being just an analog phrase to something more applicable to the digital age. Now, granted I’m not in the same league as those from the Mashable team in terms of writing – not everyone wants to be my friend because I write for my blogs, or that I’ve some great insights and wrote a couple of best-seller books like Brian Solis, or that I’m an outstanding photographer like Lisa Bettany, but I do get my fair share of friend requests. But often times I’m just not sure who you are.

Above you can see a screenshot of the number of Facebook invites that I’ve received – over 150 of them, but there just isn’t enough reason for me to friend you. If there was some other reason to friend you, then that would be worth me clicking on the “confirm” button, but at this point, I just leave them in their own Facebook purgatory awaiting either to meet them or just finally push the “ignore” button.

The problem

Ken Yeung Facebook Profile

Surely it can’t be because that I have over 150 friend requests plus countless other odd requests that has led me to write this post. No, that’s not it at all. It wasn’t just one thing, but a multitude of things that have me worried and should probably concern you as well. I suppose it all started with the whole Facebook privacy debacle that has since blown over and caused some people to even delete their Facebook accounts – is it even considered a social network or a market research project for businesses? Regardless, that had me wondering about my privacy settings so I’ve made some adjustments in my account and then moved on with my life. However, I have also noticed that with friending everyone on social networks, I’m opening myself up to some unwanted attention. I’m all about sharing most of my thoughts, but I am also noticing that my friends are locking down more of their profiles- no wall posts are allowed on their profiles and less information is being shared.

Surprising trends I’m noticing:

  1. People I’m friends with are hiding more of their information from everyone.
  2. More friend requests, but less interest in accepting them.
  3. Less personalization.

Just this week, I attended the Geo-Loco conference here in San Francisco where they talked about the safety and danger of these location-based services (LBS). Granted, this isn’t necessarily tied into Facebook yet, but this has me thinking about how to really reorganize my content in a way that is widely accessible, yet still gives me some shred of privacy. This issue is not isolated to just Facebook, but I think that the best place to start where most of my social media presence is rests with the largest social network on the Internet today.

Often I’m hearing people talk about how there’s just too many friend requests, but there’s just no telling about who these people are. As I mentioned earlier, I have over 150 friend requests and I’m not willing to accept any of them. Why? Because there’s too little information for me to go on. Think about it this way, would you friend everyone on your city block without knowing who they were? Is it enough for you to friend someone just because the only thing you two have in common is that you live on the same block? That’s an absurd reason unless you’re only concerned about getting more followers and friends – it’s ridiculous and this leads me to the next point.

Why I will not be accepting your friend request

I’ve tweeted my disillusionment over accepting friend requests a couple times now but I think that this post will give me good space to air my grievances. Believe me, I’m definitely in favor of being your friend, but only if you give me a reason to be your friend. No, I’m not trying to be a douchebag…in fact, far from it. If you think that I should accept your friend request because you added me, then that might be a reason why you aren’t being accepted. In fact, let me cover a few reasons more:

1. No personal message

Facebook invite fail: no personal messageWe all have met a lot of people. Whether it’s at conferences, networking events, parties, social gatherings, etc. and it’s really difficult for people to remember one another. Just by a name and a picture isn’t a good way to meet someone. It really just requires some more research on my part to find out just how do I know you. If you’re also trying to reach an influencer or someone who could help shape your business, then I think that the personal message would go a  long way. Don’t assume that I or anyone else will remember you, especially if it was a crowded event and there wasn’t anything memorable. It takes all but a few seconds to leave a helpful note along that says why you’d like for a Facebook connection to happen and you could even say “we met at event X” or “we’ve exchanged emails about project Y”. Something helpful really goes a long way.

2. If I have to do research, then make it easy on me

Facebook research fail: What kind of info are you sharing?I might recognize some of the people that send me invites – your faces or names sound familiar. But before I blindly accept your request, I’d actually like to know more about you – like who you are, where could I possibly have met you, or if you were in some photos that I took at a party/event. But what I’m seeing is that people are not really letting others do more research. Why won’t you show an avatar or profile picture of you? If you want me to be friends and yet set your privacy settings so that I can’t see any photos of you, then please DO NOT set your profile picture to something so abstract or hilarious that I don’t even know who you are. I need to associate a face with the name, NOT a LOL Cat image. Also, just putting your interests and your Facebook URL does not tell me anything about you. Make sure people can see other things that might interest them, like what company you work for, specialties, etc – what will motivate them to say “Wow, that looks like someone I really need to be friends with.”

3. The number of mutual friends just isn’t convincing enough

Facebook mutual friends fail: who doesn't accept everyone?I once relied on the mutual friend count, but soon realized that I follow a lot of people who also are prone to following everyone that follows them – and all of this is with good reason: some are authors or well known bloggers/influencers or just like to live in public. That’s fine for them, but there are also others who only follow a select few. For me, if I see we have friends in common, I’d look to see who specifically we match. A majority of people there need to be those that I know doesn’t follow everyone back. This isn’t a rule that’s “set in stone”, but I have heard others who say that there is a specific quota of mutual friends that someone must have before they are accepted as Facebook friends. What that number is depends on the individual and is purely arbitrary.

4. You pitch in your personal message – we’re trying to be friends

Facebook friend request fail: no pitching allowedI once saw a Facebook friend request come by my way and it had a personal message. But when I looked more closely, the message was a pitch. A pitch. What the heck is this about? It’s a hard sell…and frankly I’m not too fond of that. I didn’t even know this guy and he sends me a message asking me to buy his stuff? He’s also friends with a brand so that makes it easier to befriend? No…

Is this a solution?

Ken Yeung Facebook Fan Page

So this has all helped shape my next steps for a solution. Within Facebook, I’d like to continue with my personal profile and post my photos and interesting news to share with my closest friends and family, but I’d also like to let others who I may not have accepted their friend request to have them join a “fan page” that is named after me. I don’t consider myself famous enough either in real life or on the web to even think I have fans, but I would like to use this “page” as a means of opening up my life and letting people share in the experience. By doing this, I’m hoping to post specific photos from tech events and blog posts so that people can follow along and learn more about what’s happening in my world. To put it this way: my profile page is more personal (friends/family) while the “fan page” would be my professional entity…my business persona’s attempt on separating itself and still protecting my privacy while still remaining open.

Hopefully you won’t think of me as becoming a douchebag because I do not intend to be one. Rather, I see my online presence becoming way more open than I feel comfortable right now and I’d love to reclaim some of it for myself so that I can still be free to share information.

So what do you think? Should I keep with one profile or separate the two and develop a fan page to help promote my “brand” and other things more efficiently?

Image credit: takethebus / sxc.hu

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."