My husband and I went to a graduation party over the weekend, and while he went to get us something to drink, I was greeted by a very friendly man wearing white jeans and a Tommy Bahama shirt who acted like he was a long lost friend. I had no idea who he was but played along for a bit (“Hey there!”) hoping that eventually a light would go on. Just as he was filling me in on his shoulder surgery, it hit me. This man was a Facebook friend, one who I hadn’t actually talked to in person since were were chaperones on a kindergarten field trip two decades ago.
The encounter reminded me of a recent conversation that I have had with Matthew, who has autism, about Facebook. He’d “friended” a guy-I’ll call him Joe-that he knew remotely in middle school. He noticed that Joe lived near him in Santa Cruz. “Do you want to hang out sometime?” Matthew wrote on Joe’s wall. “Yeah, we’ll have to do that one of these days,” Joe replied. Encouraged, Matthew tried to nail down a date, sent way too many messages until Joe defriended him. The incident was one of many disappointing interactions for Matthew on Facebook.
When Matthew asked me to help him sign up for Facebook about a year ago, I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. He was already confused about the difference between a true friend, an acquaintance, a stranger and everything in between. “I’m a regular guy!” Matthew argued, “Regular guys do Facebook!”
The only way Facebook was going to work for him was if I moderated it. Once we took the plunge and created a profile,Matthew felt more popular than any time in his life.
In the first few weeks, he accumulated nearly 5o “friends”, most of whom he’d always wanted to be real friends with. Now it seemed that Facebook had made his wish come true. What made Facebook even more exciting were the ads on the side. (“Do you want a girlfriend? Click Here!”) Since Matthew didn’t have a computer, he called me each night to ask “Who wrote to me on Facebook? No one? Will you write to someone for me and ask them to write back? How many friends do I have? Will you read their names to me?” It was exhausting.
After the recent defriending incident, I sat Matthew down and explained my perception of Facebook:
Explaining the Facebook Friend
1) A lot of people are on Facebook, but most of them don’t visit Facebook unless they want to share a photo, a video, or some news. Don’t take offense if you write someone a message and they don’t get back to you right away.
2) If you write a message to someone, don’t send another until they reply. If they don’t reply, assume they are busy and move on.
3) Some Facebook friends aren’t interested in hanging out. Sometimes they just want to see what everyone is doing, and that’s all.
4) Some people have a lot of Facebook friends that they don’t know at all! Don’t feel bad if you have fewer “friends” than them.
5) Events. Sigh. This is a tough one. Sometime people invite you to events even when they don’t think you will be able to go. It’s a way of showing you what they are doing, and how much they’d love you to join them in case you happen to be in New York on a Wednesday in the middle of a snow storm.
6) About friends. Most people have just a few close friends, the kind that stay in touch with you, no matter what. It’s better to meet friends like that in person–not on Facebook.
Have you had similar “issues” with Facebook? Any rules you would like to add to my list would be appreciated.
Are you prepared for a family emergency? Read my story in the Huffington Post.