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.

copy-and-paste-meme

I knew the meme was relevant, but I had no idea how much it 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. There’s no telling how many times it was re-shared as a screenshot. I saw it pop up a few times on my own feed, and let me tell you, that’s a strange experience in itself.

While all these like and share notifications were stacking up, something else I didn’t expect started to happen. I started getting friend requests — A LOT of friend requests. I had about 200 the first day the meme was posted, I continued to receive 100 a day for the next several days, and then dozens a day for weeks after.

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.

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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 help with buying a home, or are interested in the guild.

This was also around the time I started taking building my platform more seriously. A platform is a term publishing houses and agents use to describe a writer’s ability to publicize and sell their own books.

Then I started to think…what if I accepted all the friend requests?

As a writer, having a large, international audience has its perks. Not only does it help me spread the word when I post links to recent publications, but it also looks good in a query letter when I’m ready to publish my debut novel. And as a social and political commentator, it’s also nice to gather input from people from all walks of life.

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:

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And some were funny:

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Of course, the vast majority of exchanges were neither positive nor funny. It’s amazing how many men feel entitled to your time and attention just because you accept a friend request. 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’s a sampling of just some of the conversations (unsolicited dick pics omitted). You should probably be able to pick up on some of that moodiness I was referring to earlier:

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And then there was this absolutely ludicrous exchange:

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The following guy was at least honest with his intentions, calling me a “waste of time” because I wouldn’t respond to him. To be clear, every time he messaged me and I told him I was busy, I was legitimately in the middle of something important, not that it would have changed my desire to chat with him:

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To this day, I still receive several friend requests a day from strangers. At this point, I’m sure it has less to do with the viral post from a year ago and much more to do with the fact that I’ve accepted so many friend requests.

As far as what I’ve learned after all these infuriating and shallow exchanges with strange men, 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.

Lately, I’ve taken to providing this response to anyone who starts out by making any reference to my looks:

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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 exchange:

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A year later, the social experiment is over. I got what I expected out of the experience, though it has yet to be seen if my “international audience” has any positive impact on my writing career. I’d like to say that I will no longer be accepting friend requests from strangers, but there’s still the chance I’ll miss someone legit.

Perhaps you can learn something from all this though. Have you ever received a friend request from a stranger and wondered, “What if?” Now you know.

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