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Reengaging Facebook

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Back in April I decided that I was going to attempt to reduce my “online presence” by dismantling my MySpace, Facebook and Twitter accounts with one fell swoop. The reasoning behind doing so seemed simple enough at the time, but since I’ve come to understand a deeper significance to these sites, one which I hadn’t really emphasized when making my decision. At about the same time that I closed up shop A.L. decribed the process of making Facebook a more effective service and I felt it appropriate to leave him a comment, relating the direction I was taking.

“Well, call it an experiment… 

I initially opened my MySpace account with its only purpose being to serve as an auxiliary site to my blog. For many people it has become a great way to interact with friends, but for me the realization was that it was simply an outlet for me to collect band-spam…1000+ friends who I don’t know, y’know? 

Despite my initial attempts to follow even the most compact group of friends on Twitter I failed at adding any worthwhile commentary to the day’s events…how many people really care that “I’m Tired”? It’s a great tool to follow your friends lives but when it comes down to it, if I’d like to take you out to dinner or see what Loomer is up to…chances are, I’m just going to call or drop an instant message. 

But Facebook was, and for the past three years has been, an exception to my views on social networking. It’s allowed me to gain new real life friends, catch up with people I once knew way back when, and stay active with friends who are in different cities, states and countries. I started Facebook as an individual and have attempted (though occasionally failed) to maintain it as a branch of my personal life rather than an extension of my blog-persona, whatever that may be. 

But now Facebook too had become something less fulfilling. With both your and Ed [Kohler]’s commentary in mind I went and looked at what it was Facebook was evolving into for me. In the past year I had begun to receive and (much of the time) accept “friend” invitations from people who had begun to follow my blog despite not know them as individuals. I was still able to use the service to interact with “friends,” roughly 80-90 % of which I actually knew, but in an entirely superficial manner – it was becoming a source of division between real life friends and myself rather than a means of bringing me closer to my friends. 

So I quit. 

I closed my Twitter account, my MySpace account and asked the kind folks at Facebook to delete any and all of my personal information from their database (which they did in a timely manner). 

Again, call it an experiment…”

In the following months however it began to dawn on me just how shallow my approach to all this. All I really had to do was take a moment to think about the impact that online social networking has had on me, and my relationships, in order to realize the significance that these sites have had on my life. A good share of my real life relationships began, in one way or another, as online contacts and a lot of my real life interactions (event planning, networking, etc.) were at some point in time mediated by Facebook. Nonetheless I can still justify the concerns that I had at the time, the similarities to MySpace’s friend-spam and the detachment increasingly associated with the site were both individually enough to warrant my retreat. Additionally I wasn’t sure how to honestly accept a stranger as a “friend” when I considered the medium to be a personal experience. My troubles with semantics only escalated because, rather than being MySpace band accounts or people posing under some sort of pseudonym, these requests came from real people and I really didn’t want to offend them by rejecting their offer to virtually befriend me. So, with all my complaints and discomforts with the site in mind I figured it wise to make my purpose and reasoning behind rejoining the site clear before I jumped back in.

In his article, “Facebook Suicide,” Micah White disparagingly explains a number of personal security issues that tend to arise with Facebook, relating them to his own experience surrounding unauthorized inclusion. After considering the article, and others like it, in addition to my own thoughts, I came up with a few simple guidelines to help make Facebook a better experience for myself:

  • Only “friend request” people that I’ve met in person or have engaged in actual discourse with online (and with that being said…)
  • Accept any reasonable incoming “friend requests” with the goal being to expand a personal network
  • Limit the amount of personal information I associate with my account (contact info, personal pictures, pictures tagged by others, etc.)
  • Generally refrain from being too personal with individual matters (essentially becoming less revealing with things like “wall” posts and “status” updates)

The list is compromised of only a few simple parameters but in being honest with my purpose I hope to better maintain and expand my personal network without oversharing, being disingenuous or risking the security of too much personal information. Not to say that I won’t use Facebook to build and expand friendships, I will, it’s just that I won’t look to Facebook as the primary way of staying connected to friends. And keeping in mind that by posting this article I’m being embarrassingly self-important I still thought that it would be a good idea to publish some helpful guidelines to help ensure that my new Facebook experience is a far more rewarding one; even if only to help keep me in check.