Facebook Horrors

You know how it goes… You sign up for Facebook, and pretty soon people you knew back in school are asking to “friend” you. You think “I couldn’t stand this person back then, but I should give them a chance. I wouldn’t want to be judged on who I was back in high school. I’ll bet I’d really like them now– I’m sure we have a lot in common.” Next thing you know you’ve got “friends” who are fans of Fox News, Joe the Plumber and Benjamin Netanyahu, and who spend inauguration day “with a stomach ache because the Democrats are going to ruin the country”. Oh, and they love the Left Behind series (with no hint of irony), and have written books about angels. Aaarghhhhh. What do you do? Un-friend them? Write bitchy (possibly gloating) comments? My response has generally been to cringe, then quietly congratulate myself on the good taste that led me to dislike these people even back when I was young and had bad taste in other matters. Share your thoughts, and your facebook horror stories!

31 thoughts on “Facebook Horrors

  1. I figure it’s a very, very good thing, at least for those of us who tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people. My long-lost half-cousin recently found me on Facebook, and she’s a self-proclaimed conservative Christian. It’s good for her to exposed to my beliefs and values – it puts a human face on them for her, so that she can’t be quite so likely to make unidimensional statements about what those liberals are like. It does the same for me, too. My work environment and social life are probably way too congenial for me; everyone thinks like I do. It’s good for me to know more conservative Christians as well-rounded people, not caricatures.

  2. You can set up your Facebook account to more or less avoid friends you don’t actually like. You can tell it to not show stories about specific people in your news feed, and you can set up subgroups of friends to use in different ways.

  3. Thanks for the tip, lga! I may have to do that– I may just be a bad person, but I don’t find these updates to be enhancing my comprehension of right wing people. (It perhaps makes a difference that I’m *not* fond of these people– and I’m guessing you are fond of your right-wing relatives.) I’m sure you’re right, Domino.

  4. I’m sure you’re not a bad person at all, Jender! Far from it.

    (I’ve never met my half-cousin, and my only impression of her was rather negative, but I like the opportunity to know her better. I do really like that the Internet is exposing people to each other in ways that sometimes help break down stereotypes. If only we could get rid of the trolls, though.)

  5. The settings work fairly well to allow you to avoid seeing stories about people you want to “know less” about (and I specify who I want to “know more” about to further decrease the chances that the ones I don’t care about will show up in my newsfeed). This seems to work pretty well. Also, you might be interested to know that when you “defriend” someone, they are never even notified. You just no longer show up on their friends list. So, if you think that simply ignoring the friend request would be too rude, you can accept the request and then simply “de-friend” them later. I’ve done both!

    Keep in mind, too, that many facebook users have a lot of “friends” and may not even notice you disappear from their list.

  6. i have conservative relative ‘friends’ on facebook. at first i worried about it, but now i find it’s a rather nice way to inform them in no uncertain terms who i am and what i believe without being confrontational. i also accidentally friended a school friend who is a ‘fan’ of john mccain. i put up a photo of obama as my profile pic on inauguration day. and i enjoyed knowing that it showed up on his friend list :).

  7. I too have many facebook ‘friends’ who are relatives of mine and evangelical christians… my profile clearly states my own views and several of them have queried me on the subject but none have un-friended me. More appalling to me than different views is the cousin-in-law who is trying to sell stuff…

  8. I never joined – due to these potential horrors – and sometimes feel bad for being such a social shirker.

    But comments here suggest I’m making a mistake: i) I need not be exposed to such horrors if I get the settings right. Moreover ii) maybe there are good reasons to join and confront the horror – to get beyond seemingly polarised viewpoints, debunk silly myths ‘friends’ might have about e.g. what liberals or feminists are like.

    And I like lp’s point about being able to be clear about one’s beliefs without having to engage in a confrontational conversation…

    Any strong reasons *not* to join – other than the rocketing of procrastination rates…?

  9. I haven’t joined Facebook either and won’t be ever if I can help it. Partly this is because as an early career philosopher, I already have a million and one things to do and just can’t face committing myself to even more computer screen staring! But also because had I wanted to stay in touch with people I went to school with (and suffice to say that I have had no such desire with 99% of those people), I would have already made the effort and they would currently be *actual* friends of mine. I feel like being Facebook ‘friends’ with people we can’t actually stand, makes a mockery of the notion of friendship. Also, and perhaps this is scaremongering, I wonder whether people’s conceptions of friendship change for the worse, if we lose sight of some important qualities required for genuine friendship. This is all very vague, I realise. Of course, our conceptions of friendship might change for the better: we can imagine being friends with people we can’t stand. But it seems to me that just ‘being able to put up with x’ is not sufficient for friendship. So, really this is just my inner pedant taking: if Facebook ‘friends’ were called ‘acquaintances’ I’d be ok with that!

  10. i think most people have a clear divide in their minds between friends and facebook ‘friends’. so i don’t think there’s so much of a worry that the concept ‘friend’ will be corrupted. (tho if i’m wrong, then i share BTPS’s worry.)

    my husband (also a philosopher) also refuses to join facebook for reasons similar to the ones BTPS and stoat have mentioned. and what i’ve said to him–and i think this is right–is that it seems like quite a lot of professional socializing, as it were, is happening on facebook these days. so i would worry that actually you put yourself at a disadvantage by not being on it; it’s as if shunning facebook is the 21st century equivalent of not (ever) going for drinks afterward when you attend a conference.

  11. lp,

    you’re probably right that most people know the difference between Facebook friends and friends. Or, at least, I hope so (saying that, many distinctions that are obvious to me, like that between consent and refusal are not clear to everyone else.) Maybe what I said earlier is entirely unjustified. But, I can’t help but feel disingenuous about having ‘Facebook friends’ that I wouldn’t (and couldn’t perhaps) consider being my actual friends. Not sure this is a reason not to join; just one reason why I can’t bring myself to join.

    And I really hope you’re not right about being disadvantaged if one doesn’t join Facebook. The thought of having yet another avenue of personal choice being taken away from me by philosophy makes me very very depressed.

  12. The journal “Ethics and Information Technology” (see also http://www.springerlink.com/content/1388-1957) just sent out a call for papers on this subject:

    “Social Networking Sites (SNS) have become one of the main means for exchanging and sharing information between people. More so, SNS are increasingly recognized as a rich source for gathering (personal) information. People are encouraged by e.g. peers and (potential) employers to participate in social networking sites and enjoy the benefits, on the other hand the prominence of SNS give rise to ethical questions, concerning the processing and dissemination of personal information, the disclosure of sensitive/intimate information, privacy, identity (theft) and many more.

    The editors at Ethics and Information Technology are seeking articles for a special issue in this area. Submissions will be double-blind refereed for relevance to the theme as well as academic rigor and originality. High quality articles not deemed to be sufficiently relevant to the special issue may be considered for publication in a subsequent non-themed issue.

    Closing date for submissions: June 30th, 2009

    To submit your paper, please use the online submission system, to be found at http://www.editorialmanager.com/etin

  13. Professional networking on facebook raises another whole set of issues about work-life entanglement.

    A friend of mine was encouraged to join facebook by her employer because their colleagues did a lot of communicating there, and now she uses it to keep in touch with friends, too. But I find it uncomfortable to look at her page and see cheeky and personal exchanges with friends alongside work-related exchanges with her boss.

    In real life we can keep aspects of our lives quite separate, and we behave in different ways with different people. That seems harder on facebook, or at least, even if it’s possible it doesn’t seem to happen in practice.

  14. another good reason not to join facebook: avoiding stalking by students (though i suppose the controls work just as well…)

    i have so far resisted the pull of facebook, because i used to be on yahoo groups, and then was a friendster early adopter and moved onto myspace when everyone else did and the whole thing just seems too absurd. but then again, i have friends and family who are far more likely to respond to a facebook message than email, or probably even a phone call. so though i would like to agree with btps above, i think that the purported authenticity of real friends in the meat world is becoming harder to defend!
    i have to say, though, it’s kind of nice being friends with people like simone de beauvoir and secretly canadian in the sns world.

  15. I want to echo the concerns that Heg raises above. I really enjoy facebook, but I use it mostly to stay in touch with people I’ve met *outside* of academic contexts. Being single and nearing 40, I’ve found that it’s essential for me to have friends who are not part of my work life, and to have a community that isn’t limited to my colleagues. I made a decision recently not to friend any students–and even “defriended” the several grad students in my program who I’d already friended (I’m a recentlly-tenured faculty). I think the grad students who I “defriended” understand, and depending on how well I know the student who sends me a friend request, I sometimes send a note explaining why I’m “ignoring” the request.

    Honestly, I’d prefer it if my faculty colleagues (at my own institution) would not “friend” me. I don’t like worrying that my colleagues are going to read things that are posted on my wall, or see pictures posted of me that are from my non-academic world of socializing. I think if I weren’t already tenured (and generally well-liked and respected by my colleagues), this would be a greater concern. So I generally accept requests from other faculty who I know, but I’m not really happy about it.

    In any case, there’ve been times when I wished I could have two separate fb accounts, since I really do want to keep my professional and personal life at least somewhat separate.

  16. It would be so nice to have to make an effort to get to know right wing conservatives! I’m supposed to be at a breakfast tomorrow for our ‘community leaders,’ and I expect I will feel quite lonely, except for the few other faculty.

    The last time I had lunch with a state representative the ‘development office’ asked the dean not to expose the legislature to faculty any more. I forget what I said, but I think it was something about hypocrisy. ;)

  17. This is somewhat off-topic, but I’d love to see Feminist Philosophers on facebook. Would you consider setting up a page, so people can become fans (or join a group)? I’d love to get updates from this blog via facebook (and it’d help spread the word about FP)…

  18. jj – I think fear breeds conservatism. I hope the new govt. can fix the mess so that we’re not in it for the long haul. Hang in there – you’re not alone.

  19. Thanks!

    The funny thing is, there’s currently a CFP for a “Facebook and Philosophy” book… looks like some of you already have ideas for abstracts :).

  20. very interesting conversation here.

    i’ve run into the exact same problem and am still undecided on how to handle it. i signed up and purposely did not enter any hometown or high school information. Soon enough, one friend found me and the onslaught of high school “befriending” started. Only one of them is a democrat. All others are far to the right conservatives that talk about hunting, McCain, etc..

    I created an “acquaintance” list but i don’t hide everything because i don’t feel i should have to- i mean they don’t hide their comments from me.

    Sadly, it’s getting to the point that i don’t want to associate myself with this group anymore. The new “friend” requests come in daily. Funny thing is, none of these so called friends even bother to initiate conversation with me. So it’s really just a continuation of high school- one big popularity contest (at 30+).

  21. Shadowsoup, that’s exactly what it’s like! I hadn’t realised it, but it is. I do find myself thinking, “Hey, why all the praise for A’s 25 random things? Mine’s much funnier.” I have voluntarily signed up to be publicly ignored by the same people who ignored me in high school! Very nicely pointed out. Right, I shall go follow lp’s instructions so that they will disappear.

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