When friends use social media badly
April 20, 2009 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend who just discovered new social media and he has no boundaries. How can I tell him to back off without hurting his feelings?

I use social media. If you think it's stupid, please avoid reading this post.


My friend "Bob" and I have known each other for about 15 years. 15 years ago, we were in regular contact, but that stopped about 7 years ago, dwindling down to maybe an email or two a year. We see each other every once in a while at events of mutual friends.

Within the past six weeks, Bob has discovered Facebook. And Twitter. And all of the web sites I write on and for. He responds to everything I twitter. He is upset I won't follow him on my professional account so he can direct message me, and actually ARGUED WITH ME about it.

So he started sending me text messages instead.

It would be okay, probably, if we were closer friends, or if he was being helpful or interesting. But instead, he send me stats for baseball games I am SITTING AT (and yes, he knows I am there). he would text me "sky blue" when i just posted a picture of the sky. etc etc etc etc.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with my elderly aunt and as such was not online or tweeting or texting or doing anything of that nature. When I had seen her into her car to go home, I took out my phone and turned it on... only to get a text message from Bob, asking why I wasn't tweeting about [live event]. Frustration got the better of me, and I replied, "Because I 'm not CNN."

His response: "But you told me you took this seriously and that was why you couldn't follow me!"

I did not reply to that.

Today he sent me a text regarding something that was not interesting, or timely, or necessary (regarding something happening NEAR MY HOUSE... in a neighborhood he does not live in). It could have gone in an email. It could have been a phone call. It could have been a @ in twitter.

I replied back that I was over my text messages this month on my phone plan and was asking everyone to please stop txting.

That's going to work for a while, but not forever.

The problem is, that this guy isn't a close enough friend that I could just say, "Hey, I know you're having fun with this stuff, but could you turn down the volume?" and he isn't a distant enough friend that I can just block him. I know that this is like the friend who gets on Facebook and takes every quiz and sends you every application and puts you in every top 25... except that it is on my phone. all the time. and costing me money. he has sent me more text messages than my boyfriend, more text messages than my sister. i don't reply to them all, and when I do, I am curt. he isn't getting it.

how can I tell him to stop without hurting his feelings? or is there no way around this? I know, it sounds stupid, but every time my phone buzzes, it's him with some other inane, stupid comment. I know this is the danger of Twitter. I know Twitter is stupid [TM Metafilter]. this is not like teaching your relatives to not forward chain letters or cookie recipes. This is on.my.phone.

this whole thing sounds so stupid. but I am jumping every time the phone buzzes. and if i don't find a nice way to do it the next time he annoys me out of my mind I will say something not-nice and then completely lose a friend.
posted by micawber to Computers & Internet (39 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Emphasize the this-is-costing-me-money thing.
posted by box at 12:07 PM on April 20, 2009

Is it possible to block his number on your phone when it comes to texting? (No, that's a serious question, I sincerely don't know if you can block a number when it comes to receiving texts but not calls.) It strikes me that this is the best way, maybe - he sends his things into the ether, but you never see them, and everyone's happy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Dude, maybe I'm an asshole, but I'll just call out my idiot friends or not-quite-friends and basically say "listen, you're basically life-spamming me and it's annoying as fuck."

Seriously. Verbatim. I'm sorry that might hurt their feelings a bit, but I'm not sure why you're so worried about that with someone so ancillary.

If you don't want to take that direct a route, I'd just ignore him. I have some "internet only" friends who sometimes IM me weird things or random things, and if I'm the least bit busy or uninterested, I simply don't reply.

I've never been twitter/facebook/txt stalked like this before, though, and it's... creepy. I'd ask him to back off the Twittering to a balanced one a day, and if that doesn't work, I'd just block him. Once or twice a year for someone this annoying whom you clearly don't spend much of any time wanting to converse with isn't a relationship worth protecting, especially if it's this annoying.
posted by disillusioned at 12:12 PM on April 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible that once the novelty wears off, he'll give it up?

My mother finally did, once the initial "OhmygodIfoundyouonFacebookandTwitterandandand" wore off.
posted by tristeza at 12:13 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

With regard to Twitter, you can remove him from device updates without unfollowing him. Go to your Following page and click on his section.

Can you set up text-message profiles on your phone, the way you can for calls, so that his SMSs don't have an alert? Like her Excellency above, that's a literal "can you" question. I don't know.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2009

Oh, and it didn't take too long, like maybe a month of my mom cyber stalking me and it's pretty must passed.
posted by tristeza at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: Empress, thanks, that was the first thing I thought of, it would have been so simple.

I can block his number completely but cannot block him just from texting.

box, the problem with that is that he can see if i'm posting to [social media x] from my mobile device, and given the argument we already had, he's probably going to say something like "but you are texting all the time, I see you". that's what worries me.
posted by micawber at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2009

This is maybe slightly deceitful, but can you set up a secondary non-professional twitter/facebook account that you can tell him is there to keep up with friends since you're over your text limit for the month? Added benefit: you only need to check that whenever you feel like it and can give it to everyone you don't necessarily want let into your closest circle.
posted by bookwo3107 at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: yeah, i wish i had the ability to set up profiles on this device, it's what I'm used to doing but can't here.

disillusioned, the "old" micawber would do that, but i've worked hard to try to be "nicer" to people. however, you are probably right. that will probably have to happen. that and a combination of getting over the ability to constantly respond on his side.
posted by micawber at 12:18 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: it would all be manageable if he hadn't seized on text messaging as a way to get my attention when he wasn't getting enough of it (I hate Facebook and my profile page says EMAIL ME, I DON'T CHECK THIS THING). I don't follow him or get text updates in Twitter.

The problem is him sending constant text messages from his phone to mine because he has my phone number from 80 bajillion years ago when we were trying to meet up at SXSW.
posted by micawber at 12:21 PM on April 20, 2009

You can be nice and still be firm with him. His social media contacts are overboard, costing you money, and frankly, kind of creepy. Tell him to twitter at you, Facebook you, email you all he wants but that the next time he causes you to go over your allotted text messages, you're sending him the bill. Then do it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:25 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you can ask him to stop directly and still be nice. Explain that you use a certain number of text messages every month to update twitter and to keep in touch with your family, and his excessive messages are putting you over your limit. Ask if he could do you the favor of emailing his observations instead of texting them, unless he has something especially important to say. There's nothing unreasonable about any of that, and if it hurts his feelings that you aren't willing to give him more resources than you give your family, then that's his own problem.

On preview, what peanut_mcgillicuty said.
posted by fermion at 12:32 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

With regards to texts, you could try contacting your provider to find out about options if someone is essentially spamming you constantly.

More broadly, I'd simply say that you go ahead and ignore him if possible, and if not, straight up tell him to stop -- and not worry about hurting his feelings. You're not close with this fellow, and this sounds frankly disruptive to your day to day activities. It also sounds pretty strange, as if he's "disinhibited" or somehow lacking insight into what he's doing; if you're not close enough a friend to assess that and potentially get help, then what you need to do is take care of your needs and keep him from getting in the way.
posted by davidnc at 12:33 PM on April 20, 2009

I see two issues. One is his: Bob found a new toy and isn't very aware of the impression he's making with it. The other is yours: Someone is annoying you, probably quite unintentionally, and you are permitting it by not having made your boundaries explicit. It sounds like you are side-stepping the issue and hoping he'll "get it". It's really very reasonable to point out to someone that what they're doing is probably a lot of fun but it's intruding on your space and please [stop it; reduce it; text these kinds of things but email those; etc., whatever fits for you]. And you don't have to frame your reasons objectively or use technology to subtly avoid his messages. That you want someone not to do something that impinges negatively on you is reason enough. If he takes it badly, there's a learning opportunity for him (he may or may not use the opportunity). But you're allowing his behavior and resenting it. That does each of you a disservice.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2009 [11 favorites]

Being nice to people does not mean you need to become a doormat. This guy is harassing you; you've said you are jumping every time your phone buzzes for god sakes!

I think the next time he texts, just text him back and say, "Please stop texting me. If you want to send me something, do it via email. Thanks." And then, don't respond to any more of his texts. Ignore him if he tries to point out you are using texting for other things; frankly that is absolutely none of his business and you don't owe him an explanation. Then, either answer or ignore emails as you feel like. You aren't obligated to him in any way, shape, or form. And as for being nice, you have to be nicer to yourself, not letting yourself be victimized this way, and the nicest thing for Bob might be giving him a negative response (just maybe he will adjust his behavior and not harass the next person on his phone list).
posted by JenMarie at 12:47 PM on April 20, 2009 [10 favorites]

Why not give him a call or meet him face to face, and talk to him about this? Tell him you are thrilled he's having so much fun with social media. Then tell him that you like to use it in moderation (and give him a guideline about what that means). Tell him you wish for the days when most of his correspondence came via email, because email allows you both to share thoughts that were fully developed (like, instead of a photo of a sky, and him confirming it's blue, perhaps an email to each other about the beautiful Spring weather and how you are both enjoying it).
posted by Houstonian at 12:53 PM on April 20, 2009

Does it cost you money for him to text you? (just wanted to be clear on that point as it makes a difference), if not just stop replying to his texts. You don't even need to read his texts, just delete them as soon as they come in. Once they calm down to a reasonable level you can start reading them and replying again if he restarts the spam-fest then start ignoring again.
posted by missmagenta at 12:54 PM on April 20, 2009

and he isn't a distant enough friend that I can just block him.

The person you describe is not a friend.
posted by phearlez at 12:55 PM on April 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

Next time he texts you, text back politely saying:

"Oh that's [cool/interesting/funny], but in the future unless it is urgent please send stuff like this to me email address, [email@domain.com]. Not only will it save me money, but my [boss/boyfriend/spouse/parents/professor] gets upset every time my phone rings at inappropriate times. Thanks for understanding, hope to see you at [friend's] next party."

I think it is better positioned that him changing his behavior will [i]save[/i] you money versus his previous behavior [i]costing[/] you money.

The second part of my note differentiates between your inbound messages vs. potential outbound messages you might be sending, which is more at your discretion.

Simple as that. Hopefully.
posted by jameslavelle3 at 1:03 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

he's probably going to say something like "but you are texting all the time, I see you". that's what worries me.

This guy is rapidly moving from pain in the butt to all out stalker. I think you are going to need to be "rude" to him, if by "rude" you mean standing up for yourself and telling him firmly that if he does not stop his behavior, you will remove him from all methods of communication, including blocking his calls from your cell phone. If he argues with you, hang up.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:06 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is bizarre behavior on his part.

I would just tell him to stop, that it's annoying and overboard, and if he gets upset, too bad. Because he isn't thirteen-he's old enough to KNOW how overboard this is.

I'd have blocked his phone a long time ago. But that's just me. And I am a very nice person!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:06 PM on April 20, 2009

Does he do this with other "friends"? To be honest, it sounds more like there's some unrequited romantic interest thing going on here (perhaps that you aren't aware of), because this isn't normal behavior between friends. You compared it to quiz-taking spam on Facebook and email forwards, but it's really not the same -- he's firing this stuff at you directly, following everything you post, and getting upset you aren't keeping him in the loop on the minutae of your personal life. This is bizarre behavior for someone you hardly know and suggests to me that there is an imbalance in how you view your relationship. Apologies if I'm way offbase on the romantic interest angle, but a few red flags went up for me there.

Maybe I'm a dick, but I would treat him more as a stalker than an annoying friend and take appropriate action: tell him in no uncertain terms that he is bothering you, block him if he persists. That will get the message across more than passive-aggressive nonsense such as creating shadow accounts or lying about your text limit. Yeah, it's going to upset him. But it's clearly upsetting him right now that your interest in including him in your online life does not equal his, so what's there to lose?
posted by cj_ at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think at this point you HAVE TO hurt his feelings. This guy don't take hints and he's constantly offended at the lack of attention as is. I think you're going to have to be mean and block him from everything.

I have to ask: is there any possibility Bob has a crush on you?
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:25 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

This I don't understand. You can't expect him to know what you find annoying unless you tell him.

It's possible to do so while being friendly and firm. If you tell him and he ignores you, follow through on the consequences and do what you have to do - blocking, etc. Make your boundaries clear and then enforce them. Don't make excuses, just tell him what's okay and what's not.

Don't overexplain - tell him that it's what you need. If he argues, politely shut him down, tell him you're sorry he feels like that and wall him off. If he's that socially clueless, he's not much of a friend.
posted by canine epigram at 1:26 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: he's probably going to say something like "but you are texting all the time, I see you". that's what worries me.

You're in an awkward position where your version of politeness doesn't really have a response to someone who is behaving as he does -- with good (you think) intentions but still totally missing what's appropriate. It's awkward, but as you've seen by other responses, your friend is going outside of the politeness realm himself by not taking fairly polite cues from you and by arguing with you when you ask/tell him how you'd prefer to be treated. I also hate to have discussions with people where I think they will argue with me, even if I think they are irrational or I know that I am actually correct about whatever the issue is. So, I sympathize, but...

I think you just steel yourself to have the One Last Conversation about this. This will not be super fun for you but I think you can get yourself through it by saying that if you do it correctly you don't have to stomp all over your friend but you also don't have to continually try to get him to figure out how to do things properly. In this talk you need to get across

- Do not text me anymore, it costs money and I find it invasive which i do not think is the message you are trying tog et across
- You can contact me via other means (explain means here)
- If you seem to be getting the message that you want to be in contact with me more than I want to be in contact with you, that is the correct message. I am sorry if this is uncomfortable for you but I have been trying to politely get this across. My apologies if this comes across as abrupt.
- This is not a negotiation.

For your part, you are going to have to get better at not feeling hemmed in by his overcontacting or be prepared to block him in some way. This is totally your choice, but unless you feel that he's doing this sort of thing in bad faith [as opposed to him beign bored or just more into this than you are] you guys seem to have both differing threshholds for wanting contact AND differing threshholds for talking about this. By making polite excuses in the past, you may have obscured the extent to which he was bothering you and that's put you both in a situation that is less than optimal.
posted by jessamyn at 1:50 PM on April 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

> The problem is, that this guy isn't a close enough friend that I could just say, "Hey, I know you're having fun with this stuff, but could you turn down the volume?"

I have no idea why he'd have to be a close friend for you to say that. It sounds perfectly polite to me. And it's way more consideration than he deserves at this point.

By the way, echoing a couple of others - is he doing this to ALL of his friends? If not, he has a major crush on you and you need to nip it in the bud before things get even creepier.
posted by mmoncur at 2:08 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

If he's doing this to you as a middle-distance friend, you can bet he's doing it to more people as well. Give him disillusioned's STOP IT NOW treatment and you'll be doing a good deed for more than yourself.

Or point him to this thread. It's clear you don't hate the sinner, just the terrible, terrible sin.
posted by mdiskin at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2009

1. "Bob, are you responding to everything a friend does online, or just me?"
2a. (Everyone) "Don't you have stuff you're doing yourself, or a job, or hobbies?"
2b. (Just you) Don't you have other friends that you can spread the attention around with?

If he's protesting your complaints and doesn't get why he's being irritating, is it possible he's mentally ill?
posted by mikeh at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2009

that stopped about 7 years ago, dwindling down to maybe an email or two a year. We see each other every once in a while at events of mutual friends...

I can block his number completely but cannot block him just from texting...

it would all be manageable if he hadn't seized on text messaging as a way to get my attention...

The problem is him sending constant text messages from his phone to mine...

I don't see why this is so complicated. Just block his number. Problem solved. Email him once a year and "see each other every once in a while at events of mutual friends." If he really needs to contact you, he clearly has lots of ways to do it other than calling. He has waived any right to keep using your phone number.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:56 PM on April 20, 2009

I've had more than a few friends and acquaintances who used to include me in their mass forwards ALL the time. I finally told them, "If you don't have anything real to say, then don't forward stuff to me someone else has sent you. It's impersonal and chances are, in the X years I've been on the internet, I've already seen your silly angel kisses or chain letter emails."

The result? I hardly ever hear from those people any more. And really, I don't notice it. We talk on the phone occasionally, we write email with actual content every once in a while, but I no longer have the constant drone of white noise issuing from them in my inbox.

The side effect? I can't think of much. It only helped to underscore for me how truly fringe those people were in my life, whereas before they seemed omnipresent but empty.

I second the crush suggestion, however. If I were expending that much energy on someone, I'd have to either want back the money they owe me, or want into their pants.
posted by hippybear at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should block his number completely.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:33 PM on April 20, 2009

If he's texting you that much, print out a list of the texts. Ten cents a text, for example ... makes a nice little bill. Present it during The Conversation, after he says, "I'm not really sending you that much."
posted by adipocere at 5:28 PM on April 20, 2009

I would just block his number and be done with. If you're not that close, then this is not just annoying, it's creepy. His behavior is alienating. You have a right to act on that alienation. Send him an email saying that you don't mean to be hurtful, but your texting fees have gone through the roof and you have to block some phone numbers now to protect your wallet. Remind him that you are always available via email. Then create a filter to send all his email into a folder that you deal with once a week.

Without the gratification of your immediate response, he may find another victim or lose interest. My guess is that this guy is awkward and lonely, and since you respond to him, he's latched on to you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:45 PM on April 20, 2009

"@Bob - dude, sorry but I'm unfollowing you, you're JUST TOO MUCH. I'll give you a call soon and we can catch up properly."

I just had to unfollow someone I've been following on Twitter for over a year. Uncomfortable, but it's better to just deal with it honestly than let them bring you down/harrass you.
posted by saturnine at 10:56 PM on April 20, 2009

Please, please don't do the passive aggressive thing and just block or ignore him. That will hurt his feelings more than anything. Just tell him in as nice a way as you can; lots of good suggestions here. Think of it as good karma - he might learn something, and you might spare other people the same annoyance. Be the bigger person here - he deserves to know.

I had a friend who gave me the deep freeze for 3 weeks. I couldn't understand why she looked daggers at me every time I walked in the room. Later she confessed that she was mad at me, but never told me why. Guess how that ended.

There was a good "This American Life" episode about this - a guy finally finds out why all his friends think he's annoying and try to avoid him.
posted by metaseeker at 11:22 PM on April 20, 2009

Please, please don't do the passive aggressive thing and just block or ignore him. That will hurt his feelings more than anything.

Nope. You're not married to this guy. Do what's going to make YOU happy. You will be happier with his number blocked. At this point, it'd actually do him some good to have his feelings hurt a little, to realize how much he's disregarded other people's. You've already explained the problem with texts and he's ignored it; he can hardly complain if you block them.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:45 AM on April 21, 2009

Jaltcoh, no, she hasn't explained the problem with the texts. All she's done is stall by telling him she's over her limit for the month - she hasn't told him he's being annoying and to knock it off.
posted by canine epigram at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2009

Jaltcoh, no, she hasn't explained the problem with the texts. All she's done is stall by telling him she's over her limit for the month - she hasn't told him he's being annoying and to knock it off.


From the question: "Today he sent me a text regarding something that was not interesting, or timely, or necessary ... I replied back that I was over my text messages this month on my phone plan and was asking everyone to please stop txting."
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2009

Response by poster: Woah. I hadn't seriously thought about the crush thing, since he is married and has been for some time, and he knows I am in a very LTR. I realize that that in his mind that doesn't necessarily have to mean anything. That makes it even weirder.

Bob is definitely not mentally ill. I was talking with another friend who knows Bob and she pointed out that Bob has always had boundary issues, and that 15 years ago, when we all first met, he was always trying to meet up IRL and I always kept making excuses b/c it seemed a little too strong. This other friend had the same problem with him, and eventually took him aside and told him that he was coming on too strong. It took us a while to realize that he was just really happy to meet other people who shared similar interests. Not long after that, he met the woman who would become his wife, and then everything kind of shook out even.

Which of course now makes me think that the posters alluding to him having more than a casual interest might have something to that.

Mr. Micawber, who generally knows the mind of the dorky guy because he is one, and has given me 'DON'T ANSWER HIM AT ALL IN ANY WAY' advice before, is of the mind that Bob is just trying to reconnect and just doesn't know what he's doing, and thinks that he's going to calm down. While Mr. M. avoids social media like the plague, he's been online forever.

I am also going to deliberately not respond to anything for a while; I think the immediacy of it all is part of the attraction for Bob. And if he starts texting me again, I'm going to tell him that he has to stop. Period. I don't have to justify it or explain it.

Thanks everyone. By the # of favorites I see that this might be a more common problem these days...
posted by micawber at 10:18 AM on April 27, 2009

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