We’ve all heard the social media horror stories – pedophiles on MySpace, away-from-home Facebook clues to entice burglars, etc. The typical security advice is to carefully control (and periodically review) your privacy settings and be very diligent about what information is offered up.

But there is another more obvious measure…

…don’t let people that you do not know well to be your friend.

I receive Facebook friend requests from total strangers. I ignore them, assuming that they just got the wrong person. What I did not realize is that these introductions may have been intentional in spite of any unfamiliarity with me. And such techniques actually work – some people do befriend non-friends online! No such open-minded openness here. In fact, just the opposite. I am, unfortunately for many, overly literal when it comes to choosing online ‘friends’. This article is, in a sense, a humble apology to all those – strangers or otherwise – whose requests I have declined.

Those that know me would agree that I am a guarded, private individual – the sort that has many acquaintances but only a tight circle of close friends. I don’t volunteer my maladies or celebrate my acquisitions in casual conversation, and I am not a public spectacle even with alcohol involved. So what is this sort of individual, namely me, willing to do online?

In the social media circles, LinkedIn as a business tool is a no-brainer. I use it more as a career support tool than as some random assortment of business cards. I invite connections from current and former coworkers that will be able to vouch for me as a professional, and I for them. I occasionally connect selfishly to those who might expand my networked circle even without that close personal connection, and no doubt my association is a strategic play for some that choose me.

But Facebook? It  is being increasingly used by businesses, and it can be hard to keep things straight in such a blended environment. But no blending here. I, as an un-affiliated un-employee in Facebook, am strictly un-business. “Bill Houle the individual” does not ‘like’ products or services or companies that he otherwise ‘likes’ while at work. “Bill Houle the professional” does not have his own business venture, but if he did (and it were necessary) there would be a separate Facebook identity for fostering such relationships. I made a conscious decision to draw the line between personal life and work life, keeping my primary Facebook the exclusive domain of my friends.

So what exactly constitutes “a friend”? Ah, now here’s where I start feeling the peer pressure. I often get requests from coworkers and acquaintances with whom I have shared only the most basic of real-world  interaction. They know nothing of my family, my hobbies, my likes/dislikes, etc – and yet they want to be my Facebook friend. Would Facebook be a great opportunity for them to learn such things about me online? Most certainly. But that would be cheating. It is one reason I consider social media to be too impersonal. I know people – real people, not celebrities – that have thousands of Facebook friends. I’m sorry, but I just don’t want that many people to know what I am thinking or doing.

If I want to gripe about my job or share a personal foible online, I want to do so in an atmosphere that does not have eavesdroppers who barely know me. Yes, I know I could accomplish all that with a careful dose of Facebook groups & posting permissions, but I am too lazy. And until their security track record improves, I still don’t trust Facebook. Instead… If we shared a meal, I’ll call you friend. If we played sports or attended an event together, there is likely a bond. If I helped you move or posted your bail (and vice versa), welcome to my FB world. If we geeked out over a mutual interest, it’s a done deal. If we partied raucously, you’ve probably seen me at my worst. And if you’ve ever seen me naked, most definitely. (FB friend exercise: review my friends list and see if you can guess who fits which category. :))

I want to get to know a person in person before anointing as virtual friend. That way, “a friend online is a true friend of mine”. So with all due apologies to those who just barely know me, I’m sorry that I did not accept your request. Let’s discuss over a cup of coffee…