Planned Optimism: I Sent 1,000 Facebook Friend Invites in Three Hours
One day I decided to binge on Facebook friend requests. I clicked on the friends suggestion list and went crazy.
There was no thought involved. I did not stop and consider each invitation I was sending out. If Facebook thought this person might be an individual I could be friends with then so be it. Tap, tap, tap.
At first, a trickle of notifications popped up. John Doe and 4 others accepted my invitation. I kept tapping on invite, wondering when Facebook might stop me. “No one has that many fiends, especially not you,” is what I imagined would be the warning I might receive once it was noticed I had exceeded an invite limit.
300 invites went out. A steady stream of accepts.
600 requests. A flood of new friends.
1,000 connections requested. A sense of wonder distracts me from continuing.
I wondered how many friends I am allowed to have on Facebook. The answer is 5,000.
I wondered if users would report me as a spammer. Being reported is no doubt what would happen if I sent out emails to 1,000 people I have likely never met and said, “Hi, we might know these three people in common among the thousands you have ever met. If you click here you can see some pictures of me and my family. Can we be friends?”
I was never told by Facebook if anyone indeed told on me.
By the way, if you are looking for how to report spam to Facebook, I found this easy to remember link: https://m.facebook.com/help/217854714899185#!/help/181495968648557
That day, I was treated with making over 700 new friends. Within 12 hours I leaped from 300 friends to over 1,000. Friends of friends were now my friends. A wonderful sense of acceptance and validation washed over me. Seven out of ten people immediately feel I am a person with whom they could be friends. Celebrate me!
Then a darker cloud formed over my sudden popularity. What if people are just accepting my request to be friends and never looked at my profile? What if they all just accept anyone because they too want to be loved and validated? I mean, they risk so little in accepting my request.
If I were to meet one of my invitees in person no doubt we would have a conversation, judge the interaction and then decide if friendship was a possible future. That “in real life” interaction would require effort and vulnerability. In a digital life it is just a click. And there is also an undo, the unfriend function.
There were exceptions to blind acceptance or rejection.
One older man messaged me and asked “Why do you want to be friends?” I looked at his profile. He is a university professor with an interest in the arts. I replied “I’m a lifelong learner. My wife is an artist. I love the arts.” He must have felt ok with my reply because we are Facebook friends now.
One middle aged woman messaged me and asked “Have we met?” I didn’t look at her profile, only her picture in the message. I replied “I went on a friend request binge today, leaning into the digital life and clicking on Facebook friend suggestions.” She replied thank you but that she was leaning out. We are still only friends of friends at this point.
A woman I will not describe messaged me to ask if I was friends with another male individual on Facebook. I said I was not but thought I recalled the name from childhood. “Why do you ask,” I inquired. She that explained “he is still under a restraining order. I can’t be friends with anyone who is friends with him. Just trying to protect myself and my children.” I was saddened to hear the reason and let her know under the circumstances I would not be insulted if she did not friend me. All her replies were removed by her moments after she saw I read them.
At least a dozen of my new digital acquaintances opted to wave at me in Facebook Messenger. When I waved back the exchange was over. Not satisfying. A few times a second round of more emotional emojis were passed. Happy face. Excitement meme. Thankful hands in prayer position. Somewhat satisfying.
I responded to the wave a few times with words instead of waving back. I thanked them for connecting. I said have a great day, for example. I always received words in exchange. Same emotions as the emojis, just different symbols.
In the days that followed my newfound bounty of friends I watched my Facebook news feed become extraordinary and foreign. So many artists had friended me and images of creative expression multiplied. Photography I would never have sought out on my own. Paintings by artists too far from me to see in any gallery.
There were posts about the news of the day as everyone experienced politics, world events and daily family life. Food that brought joy. Momentary encounters and outings where friends joined each other for a meal or gathering. The endless feed brought me smiles at the celebrations shared by my barely curated collection of online friends.
Facebook is a wonderful place to express our gratitude.
The technology is also a container of fear and shame. People get mad at Facebook for both valid and irrational reasons.
They are upset that strangers from foreign lands are allowed to post lies. The fault, according to these folks, is placed squarely on Facebook for allowing lies to be spread in the form of politIcal advertising. There is little blame accorded to the public that accepts such lies as truth. The gullible horde are in need of protection is their thinking.
There is no doubt that Facebook could set ground rules for posting and do its best to prevent users from inciting illegal and harmful activities. Extreme examples of promoting hatred or encouraging violent acts are simple to spot, once they are noticed by Facebook or a user that reports the content.
Identifying and wiping out bigotry, hatred and lies would create a beautiful world. And were those problem posts easy to identify no doubt every social media platform would deploy the technology and people to monitor, analyze and delete all day long.
I have so many questions. Here is a list of items that create the quagmire I can imagine Facebook and other social media platforms find themselves in.
Where do we draw the line?
What is a lie?
When does an exaggeration become a lie?
Do the rules only apply to public figures?
If traditional news media are discussing a specific lie by or about a public figure and everyone is posting about it on Facebook, how do we know which posts promote the lie versus debate it?
Do the rules apply to any post, paid advertising or both?
What if one group accepts what is clearly an opinion as truth and another calls it a lie?
When a company operates in 100 countries moral flexibility falls on a massive bell curve, so where are rules enforced and how are digital borders drawn for exposure to potentially immoral content?
A new way of thinking about social media platforms is required. The ability for collective good to rise above the clutter is needed. As a culture we have been able to solve this quagmire across other communication channels, such as radio, television and even bulletin boards at the local coffee shop.
There needs to be tools that assist millions of people in becoming content editors so lies and inappropriate material is discouraged. Let the democratic process play out, just likely Google did when constructing algorithms for internet search. Popular ideas win. Fringe and hurtful ideas fail to surface.
The solution appears to be a dream at the moment. We can more easily imagine methods for policing the content and issuing stringent policies than we can providing opportunities for the masses to organize themselves.
The magic of connecting a few billion people online is still a brand new occurrence. We have had less than one generation to get our arms around this massive leap forward in global access. Historically mankind has taken multiple generations to fine tune technologies to societal advantage. It is unrealistic of us to expect we will get it right in the first 10 or even 20 years.
This is why we rehearse. Producing software and technology has much in common with producing a play in the theatre. Artists, designers and performers gather to collectively agree on a shared vision of what that production will look like, how it will feel and how the audience will interact with the content. Then the ensemble of talent plans it out, rehearses and repeats the performance many times. The show is not the same after 20 performances as it was in opening night. Timing, nuance and a hundred small moments have been adjusted, often without discussion, to meet the audience at a place that creates the magical sensations.
This is why we design technology, then update, then launch refreshed versions, then promote additional plugins, then incorporate plugins into the core and so on. There is a rehearsal process to technology. And then there are millions of performances where the programmers and architects must make nuanced adjustments until everyone involved is satisfied with the experience.
Traditional news and broadcast media is a performance with limited audience participation. Often these outlets bring in a live audience just so they can calculate nuances. Social media is a performance where every audience member is also a broadcaster. The learning curve is enormous for both the individual news provider and the viewers. We want to tell the world what we think, and then we want to tell them how we feel about what they think. Social media offers the opportunity for us to do that on an unprecedented scale. We just need more productions and performances to get the magic right.
To start with, we might look at how we add new friends online. The ability to invite 1,000 people to connect with me in one afternoon is not an appropriate way to encourage high quality dialogue. It is not how real life works and our digital,lives should encourage more human behavior.
We we can have hope. We can create new social platform tools, encourage good, suppress evil and fine tune until social media helps far more than it hurts.
That’s planned optimism.
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