Facebook tests definition of ‘friends’

Dear Readers: I’ve briefly stepped away from my column to work on a new writing project. This week, I’m rerunning topical Q&A from 10 years ago. Today’s topic first surfaced during the dawn of Facebook: Social media friendships.

Dear Amy: What is the best course of action to take when someone who tormented you in high school and college asks to be your friend on Facebook? Should I assume this person has changed for the better and add him or her as a “friend”? Or do I click “Ignore”?

— Friend?

Dear Friend?: People use Facebook in a variety of ways. For some users, Facebook is just another venue to broadcast their latest activities. They accumulate “friends,” are not discerning about their contacts and are simply into quantity. (I assume that this is how I became “friends” with Ryan Seacrest.) Others take Facebook as an opportunity to make, renew or keep up with actual friends.

If you don’t want to accept this person into your virtual life, then by all means don’t. Don’t overthink this — your former tormentor’s overture might not be personal, but a shout-out to everyone in your yearbook. (Dec. 2009)

Dear Amy: I’m in my mid-20s, and I just finished my master’s degree. I maintain contact with several colleagues and professionals on a popular social-networking website. I have a wonderful group of girlfriends I met in college, and we also stay in contact on this same site.

The problem is that some of my friends continue to post photos that were taken many years ago in college. None of the photos are downright scandalous, but I would be embarrassed if a potential employer saw a picture of me posing with giant beers in a crowded bar.

My friends seem to think this is harmless and funny, but I work in a competitive field and want to be taken seriously. Is my concern legitimate? I cherish my friends, but would I be out of line to ask them to remove pictures of me from their pages? How can I do so without offending them?

— Wondering

Dear Wondering: Your letter should be laminated and posted on dorm room white boards as a cautionary tale. Unlike the fleeting buzz of a Jell-O shot, those youthful beer-guzzling and bikini-posed photos have a way of outlasting their original entertainment value. You should say to your friends, “Could you all do me a favor and only post old photos of me that my Grammy wouldn’t mind seeing?”

According to HR professionals, employers increasingly are checking social-networking sites to make sure their prospective hires are respectable and careful people. If your friends can’t imagine how these photos could be professionally embarrassing to you, then they’re not trying hard enough. (Jan. 2009)

Dear Amy: My cousin unloaded a rant on me years ago and has never explained, apologized for or even acknowledged that she did anything inappropriate. I am civil to her, but I do not feel safe around people who use me as a dumping ground. She either thinks I have no feelings, or just does not care about them.

Now, my cousin has sent me a Facebook “friends” request. I do not think Facebook is the place to repair our relationship. I would feel rude just ignoring the request, but I would feel uncomfortable sending her a message through Facebook, which would open up my Facebook page to her. What is the most appropriate way to tell her I do not want to be Facebook friends?

— Friendless on Facebook

Dear Friendless: Based on the tone of your letter, I think it’s entirely possible that your cousin is completely unaware that her rant of all those years ago has affected you so deeply. (For people who don’t know, Facebook is an internet social-networking site where people can invite a large group of “friends” to interact online.)

Your cousin has probably contacted dozens, if not hundreds of people, asking them to be her Facebook “friends.” Based on your distant relationship so far, you could probably ignore it and she wouldn’t notice. However, I think you should seriously consider connecting with her on the site. I disagree with you that Facebook is not the place to resume or repair your relationship. In fact, this might be the perfect venue to establish contact. It could grow into something more substantial if you were both willing. (Feb. 2009)

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