Facebook Friends – Fact or Fiction?
In this edition of The Lowdown with Lou, our resident texpert (that’s tech expert, thanks, thank you) is taking a look at Facebook – how friendly is your friends list?
After my last blog post, I got to thinking about your information on social media, and how wise it is to make sure everything you post about yourself online is kept safe. This doesn’t just refer to security settings either, there’s something else incredibly important you need to think about…
So, you’ve signed up and got your very own Facebook account. You’ve (hopefully) taken heed of my last blog post and not only considered how much information to enter about yourself, but you’ve also set your privacy settings so only your friends can see your information and posts (good call). And speaking of friends – you’ve got loads! (Some you know personally, some friends of friends, and others you’re not quite sure how you know them, but you just do); you’ve posted loads of photos of you having fun, at school, at home, at the weekend, those really nice pictures of you playing with/walking your dog, linked all your other social media (Twitter, Instagram etc.) to your account and your latest status update saying you’re at the park got more than 20 ‘likes’. Cool!
Now, have you ever stopped to consider, just who exactly can see what you’re posting? Who is reading your status updates and check-ins? Or looking at your photos? (After my last blog post, I hope the answer to all of these questions is ‘yes’). I’m not going to lie; it was something I never really thought about when I started using social media. I liked having lots of friends and having a good time, so I wanted everyone to know it!
The thing is though, although my security settings were set so only my friends could see my posts, it never actually occurred to me to check that my friends were actually, well, my “friends”. I have to admit, I’m still guilty now of having friends on Facebook that I probably wouldn’t even say hello to if I passed them in the street, but they are people I physically know, i.e. people I have physically met and been friends with at some time in my life (like when I was 10 years old at school, for example). Back then though, when I started looking through my friends list, every now and then I came across a name and thought ‘who on earth is that?!’ as after looking at their profile I was pretty sure I’d never met them in my life! I even had friends in common with some, and when I asked them ‘who is this person?!’ I was often met with the same response ‘I don’t know, I thought you knew them?”. Well, no, I don’t actually, so this complete random stranger who I’ve accepted as a friend has been enjoying a front row seat to “The Life of Lou” for who knows how many months – experiencing my statuses, check-ins, photos, opinions….
Just incase I’ve lost anyone, the point of my story is it’s all very well and good being the ‘security setting queen’ and having your account locked down tighter than Fort Knox, but sadly it’s about as effective as a chocolate fireguard if you’ve got people ‘on the inside’ i.e. on your friends list, who you don’t know, who can see everything, and potentially share anything you post anyway.
This probably isn’t too big a deal for most people – who cares if I have people on my Facebook who I don’t know! What’s the worst that could happen?!! I’m almost positive that this is the response for a lot of people (some of my friends have even said this to me) but when I’ve asked them ‘why would you want to be Facebook friends with someone you’ve never even spoken to, never mind met?’, it’s always been met with one of two responses – either “I don’t know”, or “I have met them, they were on the next table to me at my cousins best friends brothers party” (or words to that effect). The first response I can work with, the second, personally I think it’s a case of them trying to convince themselves that having that complete stranger, as a friend is actually ok. Those who said ‘I don’t know’ I’ve always said if you don’t interact, know anything about them or know why you have them then you surely wont miss them if they weren’t there? Sure it’s great to make new friends (I’m always in the market for new friends – who isn’t?) but how can you be sure that this person is who they say they are? You can’t, is the simple answer to that, no matter how much you have or haven’t spoken to them, but more so if you’ve never physically met them (anyone who has seen the film or TV show Catfish will understand this I’m sure).
Sadly it’s quite common for people to create ‘fake’ profiles online, and pretend to be someone they’re not. Why do they do it? I’m sure there are lots of reasons why; some are quite innocent, like they just want to melt into a new life online and escape from reality for a couple of hours, others may feel suppressed in the physical world and a new persona online allows them to express themselves easily and feel totally ‘free’. Others unfortunately, do it for malicious purposes, and use fake online identities to trick people into doing what they want – and these are the ones you need to be aware of, and watch out for.
Firstly, there are those who use information they find online to pretend to be someone who already ‘exists’ (the personal information posted online by others that I was referring to in my last blog post) and then there are those who create a whole new person, making up information such as birthdays and home towns and using pictures they have collected from other accounts or websites. I’d like to think that some of the owners of these fake profiles just want to be accepted and make friends, after for whatever reason they feel they can’t do that by being ‘themself’, but I know that it isn’t always the case, and you can never be sure that a) someone is who they say they are and b) what their intentions are, and its better to be safe than sorry. I hasten to add I’m not suggesting for 1 minute for anyone to arrange to meet any unknown Facebook friends to confirm if they are who they say they are, (please don’t do that as it really wouldn’t be a wise thing to do), but I am suggesting to just have a think about the reasons why someone you’ve never met, might want to be your Facebook friend?
If you have any friends on your social media that you’re unsure of (or ‘randoms’ as I like to call them) just take a few minutes to have a proper look and think about what they mean to you. You don’t even have to delete them if you don’t want to, I’m sure Facebook lets you put friends into ‘lists’, which you can then organise in terms of who you’re happy to see what on you’re profile (for example, if you add your family and best friends to a list, you can set your profile to only let the people on that list see your status updates – everyone else will see a limited profile.) Easiest thing to do though is just to delete them – job done! Sure it might be hard to take a hit on how many friends you actually have, but surely quality has got to be better than quantity, right?
So, to summarise:
• Have a check through your friends list and identify any ‘randoms’
• Take some time to think about who they are, and if you really need them on your list.
• If you really don’t know them – just delete them!
• If you’re not happy deleting, consider adding people to lists to effectively control who can see what you post on your profile.
• If you have friends in common, speak to your ‘real friends’ and find out how they know them. If they don’t, delete them! (And encourage your friends to think about this too!) If they say they do know them, it might be worth finding out if they’ve ever actually met them. If they haven’t, then alarm bells should start ringing.
• If you have any concerns about ‘randoms’ on your own profile, or that of a friend, speak to a parent, a friend, a teacher, someone for more help and advice.
Until next time, stay safe!