Facebook, for many people, has become an inextricable part of the social experience. We share details of our daily lives, our closest relationships, and our personal opinions. Most of us even have explicit opinions about formerly-taboo social subjects like religion and politics openly declared on our Facebook profiles. So what happens when someone you wouldn’t want to know everything about you sends you a friend request? Do you really want your coworkers or grandmother to know that you’re a Pastafarian? Or that you spend your weekends going to renaissance fairs (or however it is you spend your personal time)? Probably not.
How can you politely decline Facebook requests without risking your real-life social capital? You don’t want to offend your boss or grandmother, but you also don’t want them to have that much information about you. Fortunately, Facebook has some built-in controls to make the rejection process as painless as possible for both parties.
Sure enough, it’s not unheard of for employers to expect Facebook friendship as a condition of employment, and your family members are just looking for a way to stay in touch, but we’ll also look at ways to control the information you share with those requests you have no choice but to accept.
Option one: Ignore.
Your first and best option is to ignore any requests you get from people you don’t want viewing your Facebook. Fortunately, Facebook understands that this action can be embarrassing or even insulting, and has made it possible to reject people without calling attention to it. A friend request that you do nothing about will perpetually show as “pending” to the requester, leaving them in Facebook limbo. It’s not ideal, but it spares them the sting of outright rejection. The requester also cannot send another request if you take no action on an existing request. In a best case scenario, the requester will take your hint and avoid mentioning the subject in person.
The second choice is to select “Ignore” in response to a friend request. When you use this option, Facebook removes it from your requests list and the requester is NOT notified. The requester will only receive a notification if you accept his or her request for friendship.
Option two: Control who sees what.
This is a somewhat more recent Facebook innovation: when you post a comment, link, or picture, you can decide who sees the publication by selecting the drop down box that says “friends” next to the “publish” button. If you already have friends sorted into lists (you can assign friends to special lists as you add them or edit them from your “Friends” tab), you can specify which groups see the publication. If there are people you do not want to see a particular publication, you can specifically select who shouldn’t be allowed to see it by name. This is useful for when you just can’t get away with ignoring or denying a Facebook friend.
Option three: Remove people from your feed.
Maybe you’re sick of readings your weird uncle’s extreme political ramblings, or posts about your coworker’s cosmetics-selling pyramid scheme. Luckily, you can control which people’s posts actually appear in your news feed, hiding those you don’t wish to see. Use this strategy when just don’t feel comfortable removing someone from your friends list, but do not want to read what they have to say. You can do this directly from your news feed: select the small down arrow next to any publication and choose “hide.” It will give you the option to completely hide the person’s future posts from your feed.
Conversely, if you don’t want contacts to see everything you post, you have the option of adding them to your Restricted list, which you can find under your privacy settings. This limits them to seeing only what you post publicly and posts that you tag them in. This is a good option if you’re worried about your boss or certain family members getting an overly vivid picture of how you spend your leisure time.
Option four: The retroactive de-friending.
Sometimes you add someone who you later realize that you want nothing to do with – even Facebook contact has become intolerable. You can remove people from your friends list very simply by hovering over the checked-off “Friends” button on their cover photo, and clicking “Unfriend” at the bottom of the dropdown. If you choose to remove someone, you will still show up on their friends list, but your posts will not show up in their feed, and the person in question probably won’t notice that you have de-friended them unless they actually look at your Facebook page.
It can be tough to navigate the digital waters of social media, where hard-and-fast rules of etiquette have yet to be established, but learning the specifics of a system can make the process a little easier. Facebook’s designers know that users will eventually find themselves in difficult positions and that’s why the company has provided the tools to handle such situations as tactfully as possible. However, you may come upon an issue in which none of these strategies work. In that instance, go to the last resort: conversation. Explain to the person that you like them and want to connect with them, but you reserve Facebook for family and close friends only, which is not uncommon. Suggest that they email you or call if they want to talk. If it’s a colleague, try referring him or her to your LinkedIn page. Remember that even if you ultimately reject someone’s Facebook friendship, being polite and considerate still pays off in the real world.