I debated whether I should even write this post–it feels rather Scrooge-like in the face of what inspired it. Chris Kieff of the 1Good Reason blog recently posted a very nice and well-intentioned idea of “Give the Gift of Facebook to Someone you Love This Holiday.” Chris Brogan, another supremely nice and generous person, picked up the meme, and suggested that you should “Put Your Skills to Use” for someone else this holiday season. From what I’ve seen, the idea of a Facebook present is being warmly received–and that makes me nervous.
I’m actually in agreement with the idea that people who know how to set up Facebook pages and the like should assist those who are interested but less technically adept at doing so. What this post is begging people to consider is please, do not create a Facebook page for someone as a surprise, unless you know full well that they want to be on Facebook.
It’s hard, I’m sure, for some of us to understand those who resist these social networking tools. For many of us it’s become a primary means to connect and share, and the idea that someone would not want to be on is completely foreign to us. Why wouldn’t you want to share photos and connect with others? And yet, there are people who don’t want to join, and their reasons are valid.
I have a very good friend who has yet to join Facebook. Among other reasons, she is a teacher and doesn’t know if she wants to spend the time negotiating the minefield that is figuring out the complexities of who she should connect with and who she shouldn’t. Parents of students, former students, and current students are all on FB. I’d love to have her on Facebook, but it’s not my decision. I wouldn’t dream of setting up a page for her without her express permission.
With the recent privacy changes made on Facebook, I also think it’s ill-advised timing to be setting up pages for people who are unfamiliar with social networks. With a number of formerly locked-down areas now thrown open for public viewing, there are all kinds of problems that could arise.
A Facebook page isn’t like giving someone a sweater they can graciously accept and then tuck away, wear a few times, and then donate to Goodwill. A Facebook page has to be maintained, updated–you are giving someone the gift of connection, yes, but you are also giving someone an obligation. Rather than a sweater, you’re giving them a houseplant that needs to be tended to, watered, and maintained (metaphorically). To be fair, Chris Kieff suggests setting up the privacy settings, and points out that quite a few on Facebook are lurkers who use Facebook more as an information source than as a communications tool. I’m sure there are those who will push back and point out it’s just like email–except that it isn’t. It’s personal, and presents trickier questions. Some of us who operate in this space daily are still figuring out how we want to use these tools, who we should accept friend requests from, and whether we are comfortable allowing different social spheres to collect in the same space. Is it fair to force those questions on someone else? And, I haven’t even addressed the point that setting up a page for another person, in their name and without their prior consent, probably violates Facebook’s TOS.
I suppose all I’m getting at is that it’s like any gift–it’s best if you know that a Facebook page is something they really want.