Facebook 211: Friend Lists

In Facebook 210, a course developed over two years ago, I described how to use friend lists to make Facebook your all-purpose networking platform.

Back then, Facebook had “only” 100 million active users. Now it’s over 500 million. And over the last couple of years there have been changes to the site and resulting controversies about privacy. I will deal further with privacy protections in Facebook 212 and 213, but for now I want to update the Friend lists concept and highlight the role it can play, enabling you to be friends on Facebook with a wide variety of people without giving all of them the same level of access to your information.

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Facebook 103: Facebook Friend Etiquette

In the 1960s, when I was too young to be in on all the rebellion, the anti-war protesters had a slogan expressing wariness of all those who had begun their fourth decade: “Never trust anyone over 30.”

For those of us who are now among the thirtysomethings and above, here’s a general rule of Facebook etiquette I follow with few exceptions:

“Never friend anyone under 30.”

I still accept friend requests from youngsters, but I let them initiate the connection. Especially since I’m a grandpa I don’t want to unsettle the younger Facebook crowd. I don’t want teenagers wondering “Who’s this old guy who wants to be my friend?”

If you’re old enough to know better, I’d recommend the same rule for you.

Some other helpful hints:

  1. Do invite people in your e-mail address book to be your Facebook friends. If you use Web-based services like Gmail or Hotmail, it’s an easy process. We’ll cover how to do it in a future course. The benefit of adding people as Facebook friends is you can retain contact with them even as they change jobs (and consequently their e-mail addresses.) Their Facebook profiles will stay the same, though, and they will likely update them with their new e-mail to stay in touch.
  2. Do use Facebook Friend Lists to group your friends, as described in Facebook 210. You can assign varying levels of privacy for personal, family or professional friends. Besides the enhanced privacy settings, it also makes it easier for you to send a quick message to a group with a common interest. A person can be on more than one of your lists.
  3. Don’t just network for networking’s sake. Even worse, don’t network for marketing’s sake. If you’re just adding friends so you can later spam them with get-rich-quick schemes, you’re missing the point. Social media aren’t about aggregating eyeballs; they’re about making real connections. That’s why I have these rules for accepting Facebook friend requests.
  4. “Unfriending” is OK, but you have other options. If I accept a friend request from someone who turns out to be a spammer, I “unfriend” without a second thought. They have tons of “friends” and won’t be personally offended. In the hypothetical example of a real acquaintance or former classmate who gets uncomfortably friendly after all these years, you can start by putting him or her into a group with restricted access to your profile, including taking away the ability to see your wall or photos. Again, see Facebook 210 for instructions. If that still doesn’t create enough distance, you can unfriend and block the person. But the preliminary steps may be enough, without invoking the nuclear option.

How about you? What additional “Miss Manners” advice would you offer for people new to Facebook?