Have you ever received a friend request from a stranger and, as your finger hovered over the ignore button, wondered, “What if?”
A year ago today, I posted a meme on Facebook that went semi-viral. It was meant as a response to the growing trend of posts saying, “I’m testing to see who my real friends are by asking that you copy and paste…”
To be clear, the original text of the meme was not my own. I saw someone post a slightly different version of the text elsewhere, and liked it so much I really wanted to share it. But when I went looking for a meme, there was only one with typos and a plain white background. I decided to make a more attractive and shareable meme.
This was what it looked like:
I had no idea just how much the meme would resonate with the general Facebook population. Quickly, the likes and shares began to add up. The meme reached about 26,000 shares on the original post, and was shared as a screenshot even more times.
Something I didn’t expect started to happen. Along with all the like and share notifications, I started getting friend requests — A LOT of friend requests. I had about 200 friend requests the first day, and I continued to receive about 100 a day for the next several days. For weeks after, I would receive dozens of friend requests per day.
At first, I started declining all the friend requests. I didn’t know these people! The irony of the situation was not lost on me. I had posted a meme about considering my Facebook friends “friends,” and now I was getting friended by strangers.
As the requests continued to roll in, and my level of annoyance rose, I decided to embrace the irony and respond with: “Thank you for the friend request. We don’t know each other, but if you’d like to ‘prove your friendship’ to me, you can like my real estate page” with a winky face and a link to my page. Not surprisingly, this didn’t result in many likes, but that wasn’t really the point.
A week in, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I considered making my profile private, but people I don’t know often reach out to me for legitimate reasons, like if they’re looking for real estate services, or are interested in writing.
I had just recently taught a class about building your author platform, and I started to wonder: could having Facebook friends all over the world one day help me publicize and sell my books? What would happen if I accepted all these friend requests?
I decided to try a little social experiment.
First, I went through my Facebook profile and removed most of my personal information. I deleted photos and made the rest only accessible to a small circle of friends and family. Then, I started accepting the requests.
I went from about 200 Facebook friends to over 1000 very quickly. As can be expected, I started to receive messages from various people I didn’t know. I responded to some and ignored others depending on my mood, which varied a lot depending on the contents of those conversations. I tried to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they, like me, just wanted to make connections with people all over the world.
A few messages were positive, like this one:
And some were funny:
Of course, the vast majority of exchanges were neither positive nor funny. It’s amazing how many people feel entitled to your time and attention just because you accept a friend request from them. It’s also strange to think that you need to explain why you don’t want to talk to them. Perhaps the most confusing was the anger some of these strangers displayed over my lack of interest.
Here are just a few samples of some of the conversations (unsolicited dick pics not included):
Even a year later, I was still receive several friend requests a day from strangers. By that time, I’m sure it had less to do with the viral post from the year before and much more to do with the fact that I had accepted so many friend requests.
What did I learn from all these infuriating and shallow exchanges with strangers? Well, now I can almost always recognize which ones are the bad ones before I’ve even said a word. The conversations that go badly almost always begin with a compliment, an opening line like “hi beautiful” or “you have a nice smile.” While these things appear to be positive, in reality they are a way of disarming the recipient so that they will be more open to hearing what else the sender has to say.
Eventually, I started giving a canned response to people who opened the conversation with any reference to my looks:
I realize of course that this response may seem a bit gruff and unwarranted, but it comes from a place of experience. I recently explained my reasoning to someone who clearly did not get the point. Here’s the entire, rather long, exchange:
The social experiment is over. I learned quite a bit from the experience, and recently said Goodbye to Facebook scrolling altogether. The profile is gone, and so are all the “friends” it had accumulated. I guess I’ll have to develop my international audience some other way.
Have you ever wondered, “What if?” Now you know.