New Definition of “Friend”

One of the ways that I first knew that Facebook was having a major impact on our society was that I heard my friends in the real world, many of whom are English professors, using the word “friend” as a verb.  Before Facebook, “friend” was a noun.  Before Facebook, the verb form of “friend” was “befriend.”  But now, it is common to use “friend” as a verb, as in “He wants to friend me” or “She friended me.”  Of course, this use of the word refers to the creation of a symmetrical relationship between two Facebook accounts in which each acknowledges the relationship in a way that allows the owner of each account to see the content posted by the owner of the other account.  At least, that has been how we Facebook users have used the word from 2004 (when Facebook was founded) until this week.

And that’s because Facebook is once again changing the definition of the word.  Until this week, when someone made a request to be my friend, that would appear on my Facebook page with two options.  I could either accept this friend request or I could ignore it.  I’m not sure why I wasn’t able to outright REJECT such requests but ignoring them certainly appealed to my ever-shrinking nice side.  In any case, in anticipation of the new Facebook movie (The Social Network) and the “real” Facebook movie (Catfish), Facebook has made a change.  We no longer get the options of accepting or ignoring friend requests.  Instead, we can either accept the friend request or we can say “Not Now.”

So what does “Not Now” mean?  When you click “Not Now,” you are putting that particular friend request into a pending state, indicating that you want to deal with it later.  While this friend request is in the pending state, the person who did the requesting, when looking at your profile, will see the “Awaiting Friend Confirmation” message that they would have previously seen before you dealt with their request at all.  In other words, they will have no idea that you have put them into this pending state. 

Meanwhile, if you look at the right side of your main Facebook page and scroll down, you’ll see a “Requests” section and the friend request will appear there.  If you then click on it, you will be given the option at that point to either confirm the friend request or delete it.  By the way, THIS is how you really say you don’t want to be friends with someone.

But there are some other important points to keep in mind.  First, remember that you have to pay attention to your privacy settings.   For example, I make the majority of my information available to “Friends Only,” which means that only my friends can see my information.  Another of the options is that “Everyone” can see your information.  If that is the choice you have made, you might be interested in this new change made by Facebook concerning Friend requests.  If you have some of your settings set to “Everyone,”  then any Friend requests that you have said “Not Now” to and have not yet deleted from your Requests menu will get your status updates in their Newsfeed.  As though they had been approved as your friend.  Even though you have put them into this “pending” status.

So I think there are a couple of important things to pay attention to here.  The first is that “Everyone” is always a dangerous setting for privacy.  So think carefully about whether you want something to be set to “Everyone.”  The only things I have set to “Everyone” are “Send me Friend Requests” and “Send me messages.”  In other words, everyone can request to be my friend.  And everyone can send me a message.  I set this to “Everyone” because I wanted people who were requesting to be my friends to send me a message about why I should accept their friend request.  But since I don’t have “Search for me on Facebook” set to “Everyone,” I feel pretty safe here.  I have that set to “Friends and Networks.”

Now that the logistics of these settings is out of the way, it might be interesting to consider why Facebook would be making these changes.  Why would Facebook be changing the way friend requests work?  I think Facebook wants to change the way we think about the word “friend” so that we will be prepared for some additional changes in the future.  Currently, I think most people think of a “friend” relationship as a reciprocal relationship, a two-way relationship between two people.  By allowing this “pending” state for friends, Facebook is trying to get us to believe that friendship may not be reciprocal, may not be two-way.  If you put someone in this pending state (and you haven’t set privacy settings correctly), then they will have things put in their newsfeed about you that “non-friends” won’t have.

Why would Facebook want to change the definition of “friend?”  I think it’s all about money.  More specifically, I think it’s all about advertising.  I think Facebook is trying to push the envelope in terms of the definition of “friend” so that we increasingly accept things from our “friends” (even those in a pending status) as somehow more valid than “real” advertising.  Somehow Facebook will make money from our acceptance of non-friends as friends of some type, even if that type is “pending.”  Facebook doesn’t want us to think too much about this.  They just want us to accept.  Or at least say “Not Now.”

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