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Understanding 'Friend' Etiquette on the Internet

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Understanding 'Friend' Etiquette on the Internet

Digital Life

Understanding 'Friend' Etiquette on the Internet

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Once you may have learned how to navigate new communication technologies, there's a new problem. How do you actually communicate? Should you feel free to be able to ignore unsolicited invitations to play online Scrabble and compare movies with someone you've never met? In fact, can you be friends with someone you've never met? On the other hand, how do you ignore their request? Steve Johnson, internet critic for the Chicago Tribune joins us from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Thank you so much, Steve.

Mr. STEVE JOHNSON (Internet Critic, Chicago Tribune): It's a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And this is awkward. And not a day goes by, I don't get asked to be somebody's Facebook buddy, and typically they're strangers.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yes, especially if you're in sort of the public eye. You get a lot of people kind of, you know, looking around and trying to cozy up to you. It's a tough thing to figure out how to handle it.

SIMON: What's the etiquette?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, it's evolving, you know. This is a brand new world, and especially for those of us who are sort of out of the original Facebook demographics, shall we say. As Facebook expands and we all...

SIMON: What do you mean us? Go ahead.

Mr. JOHSON: I haven't seen your birth certificate so I can't say that. I'm making assumptions here...

SIMON: Hey, what if I'll say it's printed on parchment? Go ahead.

Mr. JOHNSON: Scroll - it's a scroll. So this stuff is fraught. To me, the term friend means something pretty specific, and yet, you go on Facebook and business acquaintances are asking you to be a friend, or somebody you knew in high school, but haven't talked to since, and you sort of have to muddle your way along and then kind of guess at it.

SIMON: Now, is somebody offended if you don't friend them?

Mr. JOHNSON: People can be. As we get further into this - it's starting to work itself out a little bit. You can send a nice note saying, you know, I keep my friends to close friends and business acquaintances. Or I know people who have a different standard, a colleague of mine says I'm tired of dealing with it. I'm just going to friend everybody. And I suppose that gives you an out if one of your friends later turns out to be Ted Kaczynski, you can say well, you know I'm not discriminating here, so it's not my fault.

SIMON: Yes, but what if Ted Kaczynski sent you an email asking to play chess with you?

Mr. JOHNSON: This is another problem. You get another etiquette issue. Beyond the friend thing is you get all these applications sent your way you know. Do you have to accept good karma from this friend? Is it rude to ignore good karma? Is it rude to point out that it's kind of silly passing digital good karma around? It's a quandary.

SIMON: Karma is a nonsense enough phrase. When you add digital good karma to it, it really makes it hard to get through, Steve.

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, have you received the sort of digital margaritas and cups of coffee that are passed around as gifts, and people apparently actually pay a dollar to send around?

SIMON: Yes, yes, of course.

Mr. JOHNSON: You sort of, you know, on the one hand, you're like well, thanks. That's a nice gesture. And then on the other hand, you're like, you know, I used to think you had better sense than to spend a dollar on something like that.

SIMON: Now, my children are quite young. But when the time comes, can you really be Facebook friends with your children?

Mr. JOHNSON: Yes, that's s a huge issue. Do you really want to get into that part of your son or daughter's life? You know, when you become friends, the Facebook world that they have created kind of opens up to you, and that's a real issue. Same thing with your boss, I think with your boss, the rule is if your boss asks you to be friends, you'd better say yes. But you probably don't go out of your way to friend your boss.

SIMON: Do you have anything that will chance to cold rules that people ought to observe if they're approached to be somebody's friend?

Mr. JOHNSON: Boy, as in most things, the golden rule really applies. It's amazing how well it endures. If someone tries to friend you and you don't want to be friends, don't be a jerk about it, be polite and decline politely. Don't go out of your way to collect friends. Just basically do unto others even in the digital world.

SIMON: Well, Steve, poke you later.

Mr. JOHNSON: Please, please don't. Hey, one virtual margarita coming your way.

SIMON: Virtual latte right back at you.

Mr. JOHNSON: Awesome.

SIMON: Steve Johnson, internet critic for the Chicago Tribune.

Mr. JOHNSON: Thanks.

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