Be My Friend?
Exploring the weight of the word “friends” on facebook
In order to further my understanding of social norms through social media, I broke an unspoken yet widely accepted rule on facebook. I sent facebook friend requests to people who are close friends of my close friends, but whom I have never met in person. After they had accepted me, I sent them a direct message in an effort to strike up and maintain a conversation with them. The results this experiment were somewhat mixed, but I found several commonalities. For example, the subject of my experiment (the person I attempted to befriend on facebook) would often text our mutual friend asking them about me before accepting me or engaging in conversation with me.
After several days of conducting this experiment, my findings lead me to believe that initiating friendships with strangers on facebook, especially platonic friendships, is against a social norm.
I began my experiment by speaking with a few of my close friends. I asked them who I could friend from their facebook friends list that might contact them rather than another mutual friend if they had questions about my outreach. Some people I simply friended because we have only one mutual friend, and I know that they and I are both close with this mutual friend. Once I sent them a request, they did one of two things: they either accepted the request immediately, or they contacted our mutual friend in reference to my request. Of the 5 people whom I requested, all 5 accepted my request. These “friends” became the subjects of my experiment.
Upon acceptance, I sent each of the subjects a direct message introducing myself. I messaged the subjects privately rather than posting on their walls because I wanted to ensure that if a subject did not respond, it was not because they had not read the message. Wall posts do not send read receipts, but direct messages do.
I attempted to set the tone of the conversation as informational, friendly, and platonic. The questions I asked were in relation to things that I could gather from their page, such as their school or work. I made no mention of our mutual friend, except in the case of Subject E.
The responses (or lackthereof) ranged; the subjects who showed little engagement with me responded once or not at all, while the subjects that responded to me continuously did so over the course of 4 days at most. The experiment ended when I revealed that my intentions were to collect data for a class project. I then asked them a few follow-up questions about the interaction. I recorded all of these conversations by screenshotting them on my phone.
I’ve organized the following results by level of responsiveness. I have blurred out the names of each subject in respect for their privacy.
Subject A was the first to contact our mutual friend upon seeing my request. She screenshotted my request and sent it tour our friend. Our friend’s simple reassurance that I was a friendly person was enough to get her to accept me. However, Subject A viewed my message and chose not to respond.
Subject B screenshotted my friend request and sent it to our mutual friend asking who I was. B sent it to a group chat comprised of the subject, our mutual friend, and 3 of their other friends. Our mutual friend confirmed that she knew me from school, and our mutual friend’s twin vouched for my normalcy. One of the other people in their group text suggested that I was pursuing the subject in a non-platonic way by saying “She likey like [Subject B]?” B then responded to my initial message, but did not respond again after my second message.
Subject C did not contact our mutual friend before adding me, but did screenshot my message to her and asked our mutual friend about it. Like Subject B, Subject C contacted our mutual friend through a group message of their friends. Also like the case of Subject B, Subject C’s friends suggested that my intentions in contacting C were romantic. The first friend to respond said “[Subject C]’s getting hit on”. Another in the group agreed. Subject C responded to messages twice before stopping. In the case of Subject B and Subject C, I could see that they had read the message, which means that they simply chose not to respond.
Subjects A, B, C, and D are all females, while subjects E and F are male. Both male subjects were the only subjects who responded to me continuously over the course of 3–4 days. Subject E accepted my friend request without contacting our mutual friend. He responded to my first few messages unenthusiastically, and only answered my questions rather than reciprocating questions. After a few more messages, he began asking me questions about myself as well. Still, he had not contacted our mutual friend. In order to see if he would contact our mutual friend after I established that I knew her, I namedropped. I mentioned our mutual friend in a casual way, saying that I she also participates in intramural soccer at St. Joe’s. He responded to the message, but did not acknowledge the comment about our mutual friend or contact her at any point in the rest of the conversation. Our conversation continued until I revealed that it was for a class project.
Subject F was also male, and also held the longest conversation with me. Unlike Subject E, Subject F accepted me as a friend but asked our mutual friend about my message. He insinuated that I was flirting, though my message was very similar to all of the other initial messages to subjects; I was not complimentary or suggestive in any way. After our mutual friend confirmed that she was friends with me, he asked me if we our mutual friend and I were friends. After I confirmed that we were, we continued the conversation without further mention of the mutual friend.
Subject F was the only subject to ask me what my intentions were in messaging him. I explained, “Facebook is a platform for making new friends, right? I like meeting new people.” He agreed.
Analysis and Conclusion:
Based on the reactions of the subjects, I conclude that it is not a social norm to initiate friendships with strangers through facebook, especially not platonic relationships. I base this conclusion off of the fact that most subjects contacted a mutual friend asking about me rather than responding directly to me.
It is also abnormal to attempt to talk to these people via private message, regardless of whether or not they’ve accepted your request. This defeats the purpose of calling these people whom you give the opportunity to message you and/or view details of your private life “friends.”
Furthermore, direct messaging has implications of flirtation with the message recipient, similar to the way that a message on tinder is assumed to be a flirtation. I base this off of the fact that none of the females in this experiment responded more than twice, while both males maintained a give-and-take conversation with me until I ended the conversation. Several subjects or their friends explicitly said among their private group texts that I messaged the subject because I was interested in them romantically, whether or not the subject was a boy or girl.
This forced me to think about social media, particularly facebook, gender/sexual orientation and hookup culture in the age of the internet. Though none of the subjects told me that what I was doing was out of the ordinary, they drew their own conclusions from what my actions were, in the same way that I drew conclusions from their responsiveness or unresponsiveness. Reading between the lines on the internet, particularly on social media, is crucial for this reason.