On protecting users from being befriended by strangers without compromising on freedom

An entrepreneur who wears many hats recently came up with an innovative visiting card. Apart from his photograph, on the reverse, it has a dotted line with a very useful hint — ‘We Met At’. Often while shuffling through visiting cards or even our mobile phone books, we end up racking our brains over who certain people are, or how we got to know them. If an individual can hit upon this novel idea, it’s time the social media dished out similar options to users.

Facebook recently started analysing friend requests through user feedback. Over the last few days, you may have noticed that if you confirm a request from someone with limited mutual friends, you are asked if you know the person outside of Facebook. What it plans to do with this feedback is unclear. Earlier, all that this social networking site did was to gently remind users that sending requests to strangers isn’t allowed; with a button to confirm that you know the person to whom you are sending a friend request.

I know of users, well-known professionals (with 3,000 to 4,000 friends and about half that number of pending requests from strangers) who have been ‘banned’ from sending requests for 14 days — which we assume is for allegedly reaching out to whom Facebook considers strangers. The provision to plead ‘not guilty’ exists, but Facebook only manages a ‘sorry’ without making an attempt to cross-check or lift the ban, or even reveal the name of the alleged stranger who was befriended.

Facebook can learn from LinkedIn. If you want to add someone to your professional network, you need to click on options such as ‘friend’, ‘classmate’, ‘colleague’ or ‘we’ve done business together’, in which case, a drop box with the places the sender worked will be listed and an option must be clicked. But it’s not foolproof. If you select any of your previous work places to denote having done business together with someone, even if you haven’t, the invitation still goes out. There is also an ‘I don’t know’ confessional statement!

How I wish Facebook brings back the option to edit a post. The current option to ‘edit or remove’ a post is limited to changing or adding a date or a location. Right now, you can edit or delete a comment. Removing a post after many likes and comments is not usually preferred. Perhaps Facebook feels that if a post is ‘liked’ and the content is subsequently changed, that would be unfair to the person who liked the original post and whose name still appears in the list of ‘Likes’. Valid point, especially when people are arrested for liking posts! How I wish the owners of social media sites were open to suggestions and feedback and periodically tweak formats and notify changes to users. The occasional guided tour concept won’t do.

The format of Twitter doesn’t presumably warrant stopping anyone from following a handle. If tweets are protected, a request to follow will be sent out. And if a handle is blocked, that option too cannot be exercised. But, except in the cases of a history of online abuse, any restriction, even self-imposed, goes against the grain of social networking. Sylvester Stallone is one of the latest stars in a long list of celebrities to terminate his Twitter account, predictably because if you’re not politically correct, you stand the risk of being pounced upon by all and sundry. Or in ‘Rocky’s’ own words: “If you find yourself in a mood when you wanna be a bit controversial and you post something, you suddenly realise, ‘Oh my God!’ because you’ve opened yourself up to criticism.”

Presenting a contrarian view of Vishwaroopam, a Kamal Haasan fan rated the movie with a 3 / 10. Within minutes, furious other fans of the actor lashed out questioning the credentials of the author in a ‘who the hell are you’ tone, giving the post 0 / 10! Shouldn’t free speech cut both ways?

Have you noticed the vulgar and downright nasty speculation and innuendoes about the Pope’s decision to step down due to ill health and old age? What was even more disturbing was that these unprintable and communal comments were retweeted by some senior journalists. Yes, retweets may not be endorsements, but public figures must remember that with their large base of followers, retweeting nonsense gives it more traction. ‘Ideology’ is perhaps more pronounced on Twitter than even political manifestos!


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