When I logged into my e-mail today, I saw this: "Patrick W. [deleted to protect the innocent] has added you as a friend on Facebook." Who? I thought. I don't even know this kid, and he's calling me a friend?
Turns out he went to Georgetown too. Given that, I figured that he's a typical SFS-er* who, at the tender age of 22, is attempting to create some kind of robust virtual friend presence that he will convert into a powerful political springboard. Kind of like Dane Cook, but with an eye on the Capitol Building. I shouldn't be so confused...he probably just invited any and all Hoyas to be his Facebook pal.
Upon closer inspection (i.e., I went to his page), it turns out that I casually knew Patrick during my brief career at G.U. I don't know that I'd call him a friend. I might not even call him an acquaintance. And at that moment, Gentle Reader, I realized that there's a messy, complicated world of netiquette that I haven't had to deal with all that often. Sure, there are the universally known rules of playing nice, like DON'T TYPE IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING, keeping curse words to a minimum, and not forwarding a bazillion bad joke/inspirational tale/get-rich-quick scheme/do-this-and-you'll-have-good-luck chain e-mails.
However, there are a ton of sticky situations that today's under-30 crowd has to navigate on a daily basis. To wit:
1) Adding friends. Clearly, you'll want to add your real, true blue friends to your page. But what if acquaintances want to be your "friend" too? What if someone you don't even know want to be your friend? Do you check out his site before accepting him? Or do you blindly accept the request because you want to inflate your number of friends? Ooh, and what if the request is coming from someone that one of your real friends dislikes intently? Do you accept the newbie and run the risk of a flame war with your good friend?
2) Organizing your friends. Social sites will allow you to move your friends around in any order you'd like. You can leave them in chronological order, or you can put them in order of importance. How awful is that? You're someone's #1 friend, then you have a tiff, and your friend bumps you to the #42 spot. What if you accidentally bump someone out of pole position -- do you call them to apologize? What if you break up with someone, but you want to stay friends -- do you leave them in a top spot, or do you knock them down a few virtual pegs?
3) Deleting friends. Oof. Separating the wheat from the chaff. Is there a statute of limitations for how long you need to "keep" a friend? You could delete ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and everyone would understand that. But what if you've just grown apart from someone? Do you hold onto them, or cut them loose?
4) Lurking. How many times can you check out someone's page or blog before introducing yourself? One? Seven? Seventy? Seventy times seven? My own personal opinion is "infinity," but that might be rude.
5) Commenting. How do you handle anonymous comments on your blog? Most folks I know don't allow anonymous comments through the moderation phase, because they are viewed as cowardly. Some people, though, just don't have accounts and so they can't comment under their own names. And if you're the commentator...is it OK to argue with the commentee? Or delete the post on which they've commented, effectively deleting their posts?
Those are just a few of the situations I've thought of while surfing the blogosphere. I'm sure there are more of them. And Lord knows there's a host of etiquette quandaries with other messaging media, like texting, and blackberries, and podcasting. Thinking about them makes me feel about a hundred years old, though, so I'll go ahead and leave it for now.
*this will only make sense to other Georgetown alums.