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What's the Right Way to Say 'I Don't Want to Be Your Friend'?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 11, 2009 07:45 AM

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The advent of social networking has added a task to our daily to-do list: approving, rejecting, or simply ignoring requests from people who want to befriend you on Facebook, add you to their digital Rolodex on LinkedIn, or persuade you to sign up for some new service like Loopt, which shares your current location via your mobile phone.

We all have our policies about how to respond, and maybe I'm a little old-school (or just cranky), but if I don't have a clue who you are, I probably don't want to be your friend. (Sorry.)

But how to explain that? I have my go-to excuses, ten of which are listed below.

And I'm also curious: What do you say when you get a friend request from some random person whose name rings absolutely no bells? You're probably much nicer about it than I am...

- If we ever met, I had taken too many antihistamines that day.

- I know several people named Mike D. Your profile picture is that of a scowling tiger. Can you help me figure out who you are?

- I'm gonna pass, although it was nice visiting your booth at [INSERT NAME OF TRADE SHOW HERE] and I am enjoying the free stress ball with your logo on it.

- Thanks for the invitation, but I am not planning to join OvrSharer, the new social network that shares with my circle of friends every Web site that I look at.

- It was great sitting next to you on the red-eye from San Diego. And thanks for the compliment -- no one has ever told me how soft my shoulders are before. I'm turning down your LinkedIn request for now, but will get in touch if I ever decide to buy term life insurance. Thanks!

- Refresh my memory: did we share the same pole on the Red Line or the Green Line?

- You seem like a nice person, but having never met you, I would rather not open up my LinkedIn network to your ceaseless and aggressive business development efforts.

- It's cool that you found me using Facebook's Friend Finder. Here's the thing: software sometimes makes mistakes.

- Yes, I vaguely remember you from second grade. I too loved Mrs. Shereshevsky. But I don't want you perusing my summer vacation photos.

- While I no longer remember who you are, there is a perfectly good biological reason: Did you know that roughly 9000 of our brain cells die every day?

OK, so how do you respond to friend requests from people you don't know -- or at least don't recall meeting? (Maybe you just ignore them?) How do you wish you could respond?

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3 comments so far...
  1. I've known people that have said "Please use LinkedIn for professional connections" and I think that's fine.

    The best approach is to develop a personal philosophy before an interaction occurs, so that it doesn't appear reactionary. Maybe you friend anyone on Facebook but add most people to a limited group. Maybe you only friend a few people that you're actually close to. Maybe you friend everyone but only post quasi-public content and use another method for more private communication.

    I think there are a lot of options, but the most important thing is consistency — you can't blow someone off by saying "I only use Facebook for close, personal relationships" and then have them see that you have 700+ friends.

    Unfortunately, Facebook still hasn't implemented the fine-grained levels of access they need. Despite this, Facebook is very effective as a simple contact manger (like Plaxo but without the spamy emails), so even if you add everyone you meet, and then immediately add them to a restricted group, and then hide they're updates, it's still useful.

    Posted by Sean Fitzroy August 11, 09 11:12 AM
  1. Yes, I do remember you from high school. I didn't like you then, I don't like you now. Go away.

    Posted by Ralph Protsik August 12, 09 07:47 AM
  1. sometimes it's best to say nothing at all.


    Posted by tom summit August 12, 09 07:25 PM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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