Howard Rheingold on Facebook Friends as “a public”

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  • by Frank Paynter on December 25, 2024

    I just never felt right about refusing friendship to a stranger who claims to have been influenced by my publications. Although for the first year or two my Facebook “social graph” mapped in some not terribly accurate way with personal relationships that I maintained on a face to face basis — or, if virtually, over a long term. For a while, when strangers friended me, I sent a friendly email, asking them to remind me of what our relationship actually is. That way, I figured, I would have an email archive to refer to in the future. It got to be too much work to do that. It got to be too much work to explain how I know the Facebook friends I actually do know. So I’ve been granting Facebook friendship to everybody who seems to be familiar with my work and makes a friend request. Which means, I’ve begun to understand, that I best treat this not as a mapping of my personal social network but as a personal public.

    [From "Treating My Facebook Community as a Public," December 23, 2024, by Howard Rheingold. Read the rest here.]

    Rheingold followed that with a post addressed to his Facebook friends, that includes the following…

    But as I blogged yesterday, the small number of people I friended when Facebook was more private and the people who friended me because we share some offline connection have become outnumbered by people who know me exclusively through my work. Why should I ditch all these readers who have been generous with their attention? However, danah boyd, who I cited as one of my sources in learning about the nature of publics online, pointed out that when I promiscuously accept friend requests I am exposing my friends and public to strangers through my actions. This is a legitimate concern, and I’ve decided to opt for openness — and to try to seek informed consent from those who join my public

    If you friend me, you will find that a large network of people who don’t really know me in real life will have some access to information about you. If you get friend requests from people who are part of my social graph, please don’t assume that they are actually my friends or that I endorse them. If you are not comfortable with the exposure that being a Facebook friend of mine brings to your profile, unfriend me — I won’t feel slighted.

    [From "My Facebook friends: please read this," December 24, 2024, by Howard Rheingold. Read the complete post here.]

    These posts make specific Rheingold’s experience and the way he has chosen to manage a growing web of relationships behind the Facebook wall. They provide a springboard for a thoughtful discussion.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Charles Follymacher 12.28.07 at 3:37

    It’s happened to me on a couple, three occasions, where I get a friend request from someone I can’t for the life of me recall ever meeting in any fashion.

    My memory isn’t the best so I give em the benefit of the doubt and not assume right off that they’re some sort of popularity hound that I can ignore. So I asks em how I know em. They admit they don’t know me, that they found me by skimming through a mutual friend’s list and (mistakenly) thought I was a nice guy (one one occasion, even the mutual friend didn’t know the person).

    One of em, who did not respond to my who-dis interrogative, I ignored outright but the others I just adjusted my privacy settings to limit their access to my comings and doings. I think that’s the trick right durr.

    Frank Paynter 12.28.07 at 5:22

    That’s pretty much how I handle it too, Charles. I’d rather not pretend to exclusionary self-importance, but I draw a line if I get a creeped-out feeling.

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