Sorting through Facebook friend requests can be a tedious process. There are the obvious denials – Dad’s crazy cousin Bob who taught you to shoot a gun when you were seven, Mom’s old high school friend who loves to talk about that time you missed the last serve in your elementary school volleyball game to finalize the loss, and that random fifty-year-old man with the same last name as you who claims to be a long lost relative interested in making some sort of connection.
Sure, Facebook can be great for breaking down barriers, strengthening bonds and getting to know who someone really is, but where do you draw the line between a Facebook accept and decline? Who do you send a friend request to? Who are your real “friends”?
According to the Facebook Help Center page, “You should send friend requests to people you have a real-life connection to, like your friends, family, coworkers, or classmates.” This is a fairly accurate definition of whom you should be friends with. Once you get past eighth grade, and it’s no longer a popularity contest based on who has the most “friends,” who to be friends with and who to deny can be a relatively painless decision.
There are some people you obviously shouldn't add. You probably don’t want to be Facebook friends with your boss. He’s going to know you called in sick to go to a concert, and one status about how much work sucked on any given day can affect your paycheck. If your boss inappropriately friend requests you, that’s another story. Can you decline the request without offending him? Without making him wonder whether you are hiding something? That’s really up for your own interpretation.
Also, it’s really not necessary to be friends with every member of your high school graduating class. How many of those kids were you really friends with? Four? Five? If you are lucky, you’ll be able to avoid most of them until your class reunion, so do yourself the courtesy of avoiding them in cyberspace as well. And definitely do not friend your ex, especially if you are doing it for the sake of stalking the pictures of him and his new girlfriend. You’re only hurting yourself.
Besides these obvious candidates for rejection, there are two groups of people that you should avoid a Facebook friendship with – the people you have never met in real life and the people you met once and will probably never see again. Don’t friend the person you have a lot of mutual friends with but have never actually met. Sure, maybe you two will be best friends someday, but as of now, “friending” them will only make it awkward and creepy if you meet in person; after all, you already know everything about the person based on his or her profile. Friends of friends means just that – they are your friends’ friends, not yours.
On a related note, you don’t need to be friends with the person you met in the Mods last night. You two aren't friends. Maybe you had one of those moments where you instantly became friends over the fact that you both have an uncle whose step-daughter’s cousin’s neighbor’s fifth-grade teacher’s tennis instructor’s brother has a border collie. That’s nice. I’m glad you have so much in common, but she’s just going to clutter your news feed. If you wouldn't talk to them in person, they don’t need to be your friends on Facebook.
Most of us worry that rejecting friends is rude, but where do we draw the line? Have you ever had that experience where Uncle Billy friends you, and in a desperate attempt to avoid hurting his feelings, you leave him in “purgatory” for about seven months?
Don’t bother – Uncle Billy is not going to know how to find out whether you accepted or denied, and if he does, he probably isn't going to hold a grudge about it. It’s his own fault for making the bold move of friend requesting you. Denying a friend request is not as harsh a notion as it may seem.
Facebook can be great for keeping in touch with cousins who live in every part of the country, keeping your high school friend group together and getting to know a bit more about the friends you already have. Just know that you should never feel obligated to friend or accept anyone. Limiting who you are friends with can have a lot of benefits. By being careful of who you are friends with, your news feed may actually be interesting rather than being flooded by hundreds of pictures of your elementary school classmate’s favorite recipe, your Freshman Writing Seminar classmate’s intramural dodgeball mug and Aunt Mary Lee’s sister-in-law’s second wedding.
Possibly consider a friend purge to make up for all those times in the past when you accepted a request and later regretted it. De-friending can mean saving a lot of time by avoiding pointless Facebook stalking. Just be careful about who you de-friend because de-friending takes the act of a friend request deny a step further, but honestly, the person will probably not notice the loss.
At the end of the day, who you want to be friends with on Facebook or not is your decision. It is a very personal decision, and it can often make or break your Facebook experience. I only hope that the next time you receive a friend request or you are considering requesting someone, you can weigh the costs and benefits and make the right decision.
Screenshots by Katie Carsky/Gavel Media.