What to tell a ‘friend’ when they’re not one

Small sculpture on four clay figures embracing each other in a circle, in friendshipIt’s something of an understatement to say the word friend is overloaded with intended and unintended meaning. With the term carelessly appropriated by Facebook and others, I feel the strong word is being diluted.

Yet, when it comes to telling someone she or he is no longer a friend buttons are invariably pushed. What it means to make friends may be irrevocably morphing, but taboos surround even talk of unmaking them.

If I was actually thinking about unfriending someone I’d want to know how to do this in, ahem, a considerate way.

Illinois romance writer Arlyn Presser might be someone to consult on this. She systematically purged de-cluttered her Facebook account, but only after contacting and asking to visit all 325 of her ‘friends’. (See “Facebook and Twitter: the art of unfriending or unfollowing people” from The Guardian.)

In this instance, it’s an awkward friendship of another sort that I’m thinking about.

I’ve recently come across two community organisations that seem to have accidentally set themselves up on Facebook using a Profile, rather than using a Page or Group.

As a friend, any of their friends can readily see what I share (unless I customise my privacy settings). I know the organisations’ won’t intentionally misuse any updates, strongly worded opinions or trivia, but I don’t know about all the friends the oragnisation is linked to.

Other reasons why an organisation with a Profile may like to switch to a Page or Group include:

  • being able to access tools to ensure your Facebook presence is well run, including setting up multiple admins and access to statistics
  • if you don’t do something, your Profile maybe deleted. It’s against the rules for an organisation to use Profiles.

Facebook take some of the pain out of switching. You can use an automated process to shift over your bio, and transfer friends to Likers (see Facebook’s Profile to business Page migration page). Everything you’ve typed in and uploaded can be downloaded, then manually uploaded (if you so wish). Instructions on how to covert are outlined in a short blog post by Beth Kanter.

But which way to go: a Page or Group. Each has pros and cons, which are ably set out by misty on the Social Source Commmons blog.

A dilemma remains: how do I tell my ‘friends’ they should sort out their presence on Facebook? Perhaps I’ll heed Oscar Wilde’s dictum: “True friends stab you in the front.”

Photo credit: drhenkenstein

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3 thoughts on “What to tell a ‘friend’ when they’re not one

  1. Richard Aston

    I have always struggled with Facebook’s rather un-nuanced use of the word friend. Its so black and white. In reality we have circles of friends and even these circles are layered. Aristotle tried to map the territory of friendship, in his somewhat clunky way, to three types of friendship depending on what brought you together; usefulness, pleasure, or goodness. Its a start but I wonder if it more complex than that. In any case un-friending someone on Facebook is as unsophisticated as having one type of friend. In the real world there is a whole range of options to ease out of a freindship that don’t include simply saying ” you are not my friend any more”.
    Perhaps Facebook designers need help here .

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  2. Stephen Blyth Post author

    I’m always delighted when one of the ancient philosophers is mentioned on my blog. The way we connect may change, but we’re still people regardless of how we’re represented in pixels.

    I actually wonder if computers are capable of the nuance meanings humans can grasp.

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