New to Facebook
November 22, 2008 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Am I too old (shy, paranoid, etc.) for Facebook?

I am a few years short of 40. I know my way around blogs, know a bit of HTML, and how to find reference information and search databases online, but I've never used social networking sites. I have recently gone back to grad school where some of the students are quite a bit younger (under 25?). One invited me to join Facebook. Not wantng to be rude, I signed up.

Since then I have been getting random friending requests once or twice a week. I don't know these people at all, and when I Google their names I find no professional reason to know them. There is very little on my page to attract people; it is a bare-bones starter page.

I know the issue has been discussed here and here before, and that the random requesters are probably spammers, phishers, or people desperate to build their friend lists.

At the risk of chatfilter, is my emotional reaction normal? I am a shy person (female) with a narrow social circle. I feel paranoid about the random friend requests. I feel much as I did when I was living in New York and used to get a repeat caller, a guy who was never explicitly sexual, just saying, in a soft and diffident voice, "I want to talk to you. I want to get to know you better." He would never give his name, and repeated similar lines no matter how angry I started to get. After a while I hung up as soon as I recognized his voice.

It makes me reluctant to expand my Facebook page and maybe get dozens or hundreds of friend spams a week. I don't have time for this, working 30 hours a week (where I cannot use the computer for non-work purposes) and taking graduate courses. I might quit Facebook and sign up with LinkedIn, which would be more appropriate professionally.
posted by bad grammar to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Under Settings-->Privacy Settings-->Search, you can uncheck the box that allows people to add you as a friend when they search for your name. That way, they'd have to send you a message first (which will weed out most people), and then the "friending" ball is in your court.
posted by phunniemee at 12:07 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm on Facebook, and I never get spam friend requests. Perhaps you have a generic name and don't have a picture of yourself posted? Back when I had myself listed as "single" on there, I did used to get all kinds of messages from unattractive guys. One kept emailing to ask if I'd ever kneed a guy in the groin. I never replied, not being sure if my answer of "only accidentally" was what he was looking to hear or not;-) At any rate, I removed my single status and just left the relationship status blank, and haven't had another such message since.

You're not too old. I'm not much younger than you (35) and I know people who are older than you who are on it. But it's not for everyone.
posted by orange swan at 12:07 PM on November 22, 2008

Facebook is great if your friends have facebook. Otherwise, it's not really worth it- it's more for keeping in touch with friends than for making new ones, in my somewhat limited experience. If you'd like, you can set the privacy of your profile so that only people you're friends with can see it. That might not stop the random friends requests, but it would keep them from seeing your profile even if they're in your network. All they'd be able to see would be your name, a small version of your profile picture, your network and a similarly limited list of your friends- enough, usually, to tell if you're the person they're looking for.
posted by MadamM at 12:07 PM on November 22, 2008

Seconding scabrous. I've found facebook to be less spammy than MySpace. But if your page has little more than your name, people may friend you thinking/hoping you are someone else. Something like your hometown, alma mater, or a photo will help stop these requests.
posted by kimdog at 12:10 PM on November 22, 2008

As someone who not so long ago deleted his Facebook account, I can fully sympathise.

There does seem to be a distinct divide between those people who have never (at least since their early teens) known a world without the web, email, mobile phones, instant messaging and social networking... and the rest of us. And it's a strange one, because it seems to be entirely possible to be 100% up-to-date with all the latest technological trends and yet still be utterly puzzled as to why Facebook could hold any intelligent person's interest past, say, a couple of hours.

So I would suggest that you're neither too old nor too paranoid, just a person of a different generation who has their own tried-and-tested set of social tools; and those tools are not necessarily the same tools a 20-year-old would use.

Take comfort in the fact that you're probably 50 times better at mental arithmetic than they are... and join LinkedIn.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I (at 45, mid-career, in a long term relationship) find Facebook mainly useful for keeping track of some old friends (as in from h.s. and college) who are also on Facebook. I ignore the majority of requests I get (that is, anyone I don't recognize).
posted by aught at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2008

At the risk of chatfilter, is my emotional reaction normal? I am a shy person (female) with a narrow social circle. I feel paranoid about the random friend requests.

yes, you're being paranoid—a lot of people get spam friend requests, male and female. that's just how social networks are. if you have your privacy settings done correctly, it's not like any of those losers are going to be able to find out anything about you or even know that you rejected them or blocked them, so what's the big deal? i'm female and my profile is currently only fully visible to friends or people from one of my networks, i'm shy-ish but have over 350 friends (many of whom are a LOT older than you) on facebook, and i still get random requests from people i have no friends in common with. just ignore them and forget about it. phunnimee's comment about putting the friending ball in your court is pretty good.

I might quit Facebook and sign up with LinkedIn, which would be more appropriate professionally.

actually, as someone who's gone to grad school and has profiles on facebook and linkedin, facebook has been far more useful to keep in touch with my grad school friends and therefore stay in the casual loop for possible jobs. because linkedin is so specific about being only for for work, it feels impersonal and sometimes even a little sleazy, whereas facebook is really about maintaining the connection.

It makes me reluctant to expand my Facebook page and maybe get dozens or hundreds of friend spams a week. I don't have time for this, working 30 hours a week (where I cannot use the computer for non-work purposes) and taking graduate courses.

seriously? overreacting much? it only takes 30 seconds for me to click "ignore" on a year's worth of spam requests. hundreds of thousands of people manage to use facebook with less time than you do.
posted by lia at 12:21 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had a facebook account from the early days, back when you had to be affiliated with a univeristy or college to get an account.. I never used it until recently (the past six months), when I realized my son was on it, as was his wife, it was a neat way to keep track of them (3,000 miles away) besides bothering them with phone calls and e/mails... Once I got get account active I also connected with a few of his friends that I hadn't seen for years..

It also turned out my sister in law, her husband, a few other folks were also online...

I"m not obsessed with it, but it's fun to check in a couple of times a day and see what people are doing...

I also agree, make your profile more specific... I've never had a "spam" friend request..

and, I'm MUCH older than you...
posted by HuronBob at 12:23 PM on November 22, 2008

I refuse people all the time. For all they know, I just didn't check my facebook for a couple of weeks and their invitation expired.

The odd thing for me is that people friended me who didn't seem interested in contact, only checking out to see what I'm doing or boosting their numbers. So defriending them was easy and painless. In fact, I don't think they know I axed them.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 12:26 PM on November 22, 2008

Dittoing that if you provide a little more information, you'll get less random-to-you requests. I am neither Sabrina Dent the MLM maven from new Jersey, nor Sabrina Dent the Iraq widow, and I no longer get friend requests for those two women. I very rarely - about once a month - get a friend request that is clearly just along the lines of "i can haz Facebook friends, plz?" and it is easy to manage.

And broadly speaking, I would encourage you to chill out, be a little less self-concious about Just Saying No, and getting into the fun aspects of FB. It's been great for seeing my old grade school friends' kids, which I find endlessly amazing - we were six the last time we saw each other 30 years ago, and now these people have their own six year olds!

In terms of "not making me mental" I have *all* FB notifications turned off, and I drop by FB when it suits me - about once a week. It's hardly taxing and it's nice to just check in on a handful of people every now and then.

I also use LinkedIn, but realistically, it's low on networking and low on the social, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:33 PM on November 22, 2008

Last time I saw a number I think the average age of a Facebook member was 35ish. I have about 100 friends on Facebook and about 200 on LinkedIn. I know every single Facebook contact. Probably 25% of my LinkedIn contacts are people I met once at a conference and I wouldn't recognize without a name tag if I saw then again. Facebook is actually far more useful. Plus my wife has been trying in vain for weeks to beat my Word Challenge score :)
posted by COD at 12:33 PM on November 22, 2008

It seems odd to me that you're getting so many spam friend requests. Perhaps you have a common name or haven't uploaded a picture. Adding a photo or a couple of details (location, etc) may reduce accidental friend requests.

You're definitely not too old...I'm in my thirties and more and more people I know are signing up- mostly people who have kids and don't go out as much anymore, but want to share photos and keep in touch with friends.

I've only received a few spam friend requests, and yeah, they kind of weird me out for a moment, but I just ignore them and that's the end of it.

Lastly, there's nothing wrong with being a private person. If you're not comfortable with having a Facebook profile, just delete it.
posted by emd3737 at 12:34 PM on November 22, 2008

I was a late-comer to Facebook, but I like it quite a bit now. Of course, I just use it to keep up with a few friends and such (my profile is basically set to private) and not to meet people. I don't tend to get random people trying to add me and when it happens, I have no problem denying the request. But if you're not into it, or getting anything out of it, I don't see what the problem is not being on Facebook.

My boyfriend has similar reluctance to sign up on social networking sites, though. I tell him Facebook is one of the better ones, but he manages to keep in touch with his friends across the country without it, so it's not like he really needs it.

I don't think you're too old, shy or paranoid for Facebook, but if you don't like it, you don't like it.
posted by darksong at 12:34 PM on November 22, 2008

Are the people trying to friend you from your school?

I have my privacy settings set so I only show up in Facebook search results for other people within my network, and I'm only a member of my college network and work (also a university) network. The only people I ever get requests from are people I know well, had classes with, or work with.
posted by puffin at 12:41 PM on November 22, 2008

I resisted Facebook for the longest time - until my Luddite aunt mentioned it to me. Since then, not only did I get an account, I helped set up the alumni group for my high school graduating class.

I really like it. I only add people that I personally know, like relatives, current friends, and former friends and classmates that I lost touch with. I don't add 'cyberfriends', such as acquaintances from SA, Metafilter, etc., so that I can keep it manageable. I only got one spam request, but that was for some shitty emo band, and it took about .58 seconds to hit 'Ignore'.

I like it a lot more than MySpace, which is too shiny and scattered for my tastes - I only use that account to track bands I like. I only check Facebook once a day, read it for 5 minutes or so, and I don't participate in any of the little games or addons that they offer.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2008

I'm on Facebook. My hiking friends are on it, my family is on it, some of my former grad-school classmates are on it, my running friends are on it, my real life friends are on it. I check the status every day (it's one of the tabs on my default-opens on Firefox) and enjoy the interaction.

By the way, you might find this article about social networks useful: NYT: I'm So Totally Digitally Into You. Despite my having many friends online on Facebook, this article gave me pause on social networks' impacts on face-to-face interaction with friends and family. It's a good weekend read.

As for LinkedIn, last week I received a spam email from someone. LinkedIn is not set up to report these spammy emails (it was a 'work from home and make $whatever a day' email) and I fear that this is the first of many. I don't belong to groups or networks on LinkedIn, yet this email found its way into my inbox.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:55 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not about age. My 60-something aunt is on Facebook. Try building out your profile and limiting your privacy settings (only friends can see your profile, remove your search engine listing, remove your picture from search results, etc). Once you do that, I imagine your spammy friend requests will drop to practically zero.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:22 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

The thing you have to keep in mind - the thing that most younger people don't know - is that Facebook is not a substitute for real friendship. It's a great way to share photos and send short messages... but beyond that you'll probably find it lacking. Real friendship, the kind that requires commitment of time and emotion, won't be found there. Indeed, because Facebook gives the illusion of connectedness, you may find yourself becoming increasingly lazy in building friendships with your thinking being, "Oh we're Facebook-friends, I can see his/her pics and contact info, I don't need to do much more than that..."

So sure, get on Facebook - it's a good way to organize your contacts, and as long as you recognize it for what it is - a glorified roldex - you'll be fine.
posted by wfrgms at 3:07 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing "you're not too old". If it makes you feel any better, in Canada (which has the greatest Facebook saturation outside the US), more than half of Facebook users are OVER 35.

As well, Facebook is pretty explicitly NOT about meeting people using the system (as MySpace was/is) - it's about connecting with people that you already know through some other channel. With that in mind, don't hesitate to ignore friend requests - unless the person checks specifically, they're not even advised that you did so.

The other advice about putting a little more information out there to counteract people who only think they know you is a good idea.
posted by mikel at 3:13 PM on November 22, 2008

I'm older than you. I hate facebook. I realize I'm outside of the generation that finds it useful. I need to be there for work, so when someone comes to me and says, "And I'd like this to work like X does in Facebook..." i know what they're talking about. And as someone who fancies herself a web professional, I need to keep up with it.

THere are times it is fun but I know it's not how I like to do things. So I stay there just because it's fun to keep up with some people.

That said, I get missives and friend requests all the time from people I actually do know from high school. These people were utterly horrid to me in high school. It wasn't just that we weren't friends, they bullied the shit out of me. So I'm kind of dumbfounded to get chatty letters or friend requests. But I just ignore them.

You are being a little paranoid here.

BTW, you will also get random requests on LinkedIn. Mostly from recruiters. But you will still get them. If you don't want to get messages from people you don't know, you need to avoid social networking entirely. Which is absolutely a choice that you can make. Mr. Micawber, for example, does not participate in any of them for various reasons which are his own. He's a fully functioning human and gets around cyberspace just fine.
posted by micawber at 5:47 PM on November 22, 2008

Eh, I've been using the Internet since I was about eight and I still don't think Facebook is all that wonderful. I think it's more about basic personality than age - all of the notifications creep me out ("Sam has updated her profile! Alex is at the library!") and the Wall thing is just confusing - so if you really don't like Facebook, social networking sites in general will probably give you that same weird vibe. Not to mention, you're hardly comparing apples to apples - Facebook is very much for friends/family and LinkedIn looks like it's strictly business.

Personally, not wanting to totally alienate classmates by passing out business cards, I set up a basic Facebook page and joined my university's network so that people could get a little more information about me but I wouldn't have to deal with the general public. I don't get any of the e-mail notifications and I turned off all of the "notify my friends!" settings. I only actually use Facebook as a means of communication when everything else - meetings, telephone, text messaging, e-mail - has failed, but my classmates seem to appreciate me playing along.
posted by teremala at 5:50 PM on November 22, 2008

I hate it because I like to (try to) keep my various circles of friends separate (for various reasons!), but it's hard, so I have a minimal profile and I just ignore requests.

The "good" (?) news is that the hotness of FaceBook seems to be in decline among all but the 13yos.
posted by rokusan at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2008

I'm 41 and have a Facebook - along with my 15 yr old daughter, 30 year old husband and his 66 year old father! So, no you're not too old for Facebook, nor too young...

My daughter has tons of "friends" on her Facebook, people from her school, people she meets at concerts, games, etc. I limit my "friends" to people I actually know, not just folks I've met once or twice. That seems to be the norm amongst folks my age, or at least in my circle of friends. I have co-workers, high school classmates, my spouses co-workers and several family members in my friend list.

To avoid the spammers, only accept friend requests from people you recognize. I find Facebook is a really neat way to keep in touch with family members that I normally only see 1 or 2 times a year and to keep up with those few folks from high school that I still want to be in touch with...
posted by ktpupp at 7:17 PM on November 22, 2008

Whether or not you're paranoid is beside the point; you don't seem to be enjoying Facebook at all. Dump the mfing website already.
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:52 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm 54, and am on Facebook all the time. It's convenient for keeping up with people. I have only ever gotten one friend request that seemed odd, but I have a fairly unique name. I have, in fact, re-established communications with long-lost acquaintances this way.

So, no, you're not to old for it. You're just on the steep part of the learning curve- it will get easier.
posted by pjern at 2:30 AM on November 23, 2008

I'm probably exactly your same age, and have had an account for several months. I never wanted one, since myspace, facebook, etc. All seemed to me like the people who were to lazy to roll their own blog.

I also have been around long enough to see several of these services come and go. friendster, etc.

I view facebook like I view txt messaging, something I think I am a bit too old to "just get." But then I've learned.

And I am a highly technical person, and this isn't rocket science, but it can become a suck-whole for time. Nothing like metafilter (for me), but if you are already time crunched, and you're nearly 40, I think I can say you're life won't be incomplete if you decide to forgo.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:02 AM on November 23, 2008

Facebook friend requests, in my experience, get fewer as time goes on, not more plentiful, and more accurate as you add information to your profile, not more plentiful. There's an occasional burst of them when Facebook ups the sensitivity of 'you might know this person', but that's about it. There are not screaming hordes of people out there just dying to be your Facebook friend -- they're all still on MySpace, near as I can tell.

That said, if you don't want to be on Facebook, don't be on Facebook, other than a detailed perspective on the child-rearing habits of a bunch people I went to highschool with, most of whom I would have been happy to never hear from again, it hasn't added a tremendous amount to my life. Well, other than an obsession with playing Boggle.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:58 AM on November 23, 2008

I'm on Facebook. My method of dealing with my luddite paranoia: I don't install *any* other applications, and I reject *all* friend requests that come from someone I don't know I know.

I also have yet to find a real use for it. I think I'm probably using it more like twitter than ... whatever it's meant for.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2008

So I would suggest that you're neither too old nor too paranoid, just a person of a different generation who has their own tried-and-tested set of social tools; and those tools are not necessarily the same tools a 20-year-old would use.

This hasn't been my experience at all. I'm around your age and facebook is the one site that has worked in getting our high school class back in touch with each other. Most don't know much about blogs, or anything to do with html, myspace scared them, but they've jumped all over facebook and seem to love it.

And I don't get the 'move to linkedin' comments. Only similar to facebook in the smallest of ways.
posted by justgary at 4:10 PM on November 23, 2008

As others have suggested, it sounds like you could explore the privacy settings more. It's possible you'll be able find a more comfortable level without having to give up on it altogether.
posted by Coaticass at 4:26 PM on November 23, 2008

Do it. Have fun! My facebook friends range in age from 22 to 72. You can do as much or as little as you like with facebook but it really is fun to see what people are up to -- friends, family, aquaintances. I just found out through facebook that a friend of mine knows another friend of mine and that led us to the realization that there's the whole social circle that we should try and put together to hang out. Would have never known without facebook.
posted by amanda at 4:35 PM on November 23, 2008

Ditto on the "they probably think you're someone else"-- I have an uncommon name and a variety of identifying details, and I get friend requests from unknown people only a few times a year.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:17 PM on November 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for your concern. I was surprised mainly because I also have an uncommon surname. I have created a more specific profile and turned my privacy settings up.
posted by bad grammar at 5:36 PM on November 23, 2008

I am ... well.. let's say over 50 by a margin... and have just started Facebook. It is strange experience and it does feel uncomfortable. But then I realised that the term 'social networking' is exactly what it is. People connecting (i.e. social) via a network (i.e. the Internet). That makes it easier to understand. I now know more about my nephews and nieces, and our extended family in Hungary, and even people at my own workplace through Facebook, than I ever would via 'normal' networking. Yes, this is strange and doesn't feel particularly right or the way it should be. But it is more of the way the world now is, than the one I grew up in. I struggle with it, but will persist. You mileage is undoubtedly varying, but all I wanted to say is for some of us too, this new era feels odd. But we continue to explore...
posted by vac2003 at 12:33 AM on November 24, 2008

I'm just about your age. I joined Facebook about 4 months ago, and I love it. I only very rarely get true spam friend requests, and those I just ignore—the person who tried to friend you has know way of knowing whether you actively clicked "ignore" or you just haven't seen their request.

When I say "true spam," I mean people I don't recognize and people who have no (or maybe just one ) mutual friends with me. I find the "mutual friend" listing of people who send a friend request very useful. I have a fairly visible position in a moderately large organization and meet quite a few people through that, so I don't always remember everyone I've met (or maybe they heard me speak at an event but didn't talk to me personally), but when such a person sends me a friend request, it comes up with "12 mutual friends" or whatever, and those I accept. But you're under no obligation to do so if you don't want to.

In any case, I don't think there's a reason to feel paranoid about the spam requests. As others have said, they're probably either people who go and friend any random person they can find, or people who think you're someone else with the same name. I've been on the other end of that once that I know of, having sent a request to someone with the same name as someone I knew. I only know about my error because she wrote back and said "Hi, I'm not the person you think I am, I just have the same name as her," but if she hadn't done that I never would have known whether she had even seen my request.

The only thing that was uncomfortable to me on joining Facebook was having different groups of friends on there, as I'm the sort of person who generally likes to keep his different social circles separate, and it made me a bit nervous to have people from one group of friends see the identity and comments, etc., from a different group of friends. But I've had no negative impact from that so far, and I do manage privacy settings so I'm not completely open in that regard. You can assign your friends in Facebook to different "groups" (which I believe are invisible to those friends) and have different privacy settings for each group. For example, people in my "Family" group do not get to see pictures of me posted by other friends.

One thing to keep in mind though: there was an article on a month or so back about Facebook's terms of service. Their TOS actually allows them to make anything (pictures, comments, etc.) anyone posts visible to the entire world, regardless of privacy settings, should they choose to do so. They're not likely to do that intentionally, as it would anger many of their users, but they could, legally, if they wanted to. Or if they did it accidentally there's not much users could do about it. For me, it's an acceptable risk, but you may feel differently.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:02 AM on November 24, 2008

Facebook is extrovert heaven and introvert hell. The major problem introverts (such as myself, and you) have with Facebook is the word "friend". This has strong emotional meaning to an introvert, implying a degree of intimacy and obligation that is far beyond what "Facebook friends" should expect.

Change the meaning of the word. Think of them, instead, as "contacts". As I see it it's a pretty easy sort of social test: anyone who you'd give your email address or phone number to, by all means friend on Facebook, or return their friend request. It can be as low a bar as "I approve of you as a human being", or "I have a bunch of things in common with you"; the kind of casual acquaintance you'd cheerfully wave and chat to if you randomly met them in the shopping centre. On the other hand, if you don't know them, don't really approve of them, and/or wouldn't trust them with your email or phone contacts, don't friend them. Similarly, don't feel bad about de-friending people you no longer have any reason to contact, just as you'd delete their number from your phone if they'd given it to you for some reason some time ago, and the time has passed.

Conversely, don't put any pictures up on Facebook or write messages or join groups for things that you wouldn't be comfortable displaying in the window of your house visible from the street, or talk about at work, or letting your parents/kids see. Facebook is a "public face" for you - it therefore should be as uncontroversial a "you" as exists.

If you were an extrovert you not only wouldn't need this advice, you wouldn't have even asked the question. Party-animal extroverts happily put up "WHAT I FOUND IN MY UNDERPANTS" and "LOLFOTOZ OF MANDY SPEWING ALLOVA THAT FAT GUY FROM ACCOUTNS PAYBLE WHO MYUMBLES TO HIMSLEF". Sporty extroverts happily add supporter apps for their teams and photos from their sports and friend all their teammates and anyone else who expresses an interest in the game. Academically-inclined extroverts happily put up their lectures and research and philosophical thoughts and links to the blogs they read and so on.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:01 AM on November 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Facebook is extrovert heaven and introvert hell.

As an introvert myself, I don't agree. Although I do agree with your larger point that it may help some people (not introverts only, however) to think of "Facebook friends" as more akin to "contacts" than "friends."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:45 PM on November 25, 2008

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