Who Knew You Were So Popular? Deciding Who Is Worthy to be Your Online Friend

Social media is both a bonanza and a bane. It’s useful to stay connected to family and friends. And it’s great to grow your professional network. In fact, when you’re starting out, it’s natural to want to accept EVERYONE who wants to friend, connect or follow you. However that’s not always a good idea, because when you’re not discriminating, social media can become your bane.

People who do not have a business or don’t do much business online tend to be a lot more picky about who they accept as friends on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, see everyone as a potential customer. Networking for the purpose of activism—a trend that’s growing—is a hazy middle ground between the two extremes.

For the purposes of this article, I will use the term “friend” to also include whatever the connection is called on other social media platforms, like “connection” on LinkedIn or “follower” on Instagram. This is primer on when to accept a friend request.      

General Guidelines (what you need to decide before you post something):

  1. Super important caveat: Remember that anything you say online, either as an original poster (OP) or a commenter, is available to other people. This should also help you decide where you’ll post what kind of information. For example, you may not want to post detailed information about your kids or your vacation plans (beforehand) where they can be publicly accessed, or your political views where you conduct business.

  2. Decide where you will do business (for example, LinkedIn and Twitter) and keep the other social media venues dedicated to close family and friends. For example, keep Facebook exclusively for friends and family and connect with potential clients exclusively on LinkedIn and Instagram. This is getting harder and harder to do because so much business is happening online, but it is doable.

  3. Maintain multiple pages, one for your personal, one for business (usually Facebook or Instagram). Therefore, if you don’t know the person who is requesting this, you can send them to your business page (through a personal message). The downside of this is managing multiple pages, losing the connection because they don’t like your page, or not realizing that someone really just wants to know you personally for some reason.

  4. Where you can, create different groups of who can see what. You can do this in Facebook, but you cannot do this Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter. However, you can disconnect and/or block people across most of these platforms. Note that “public” means that everyone—not just your friends network—can see your posts, except blocked accounts.


For each friend/connect/follow request that comes in:

This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:
First and foremost, these are YOUR social media accounts, so unless you’re under 18 (when your parents should have a say) or POTUS, you get to pick and choose who has access to what you post on your social media account. This means that you are under no obligation to accept the friend request from your racist uncle or your sex-obsessed kinky cousin (if that’s not your thing) or your super religious classmate from grade school (again, unless that's your thing). No apology needed. Because even if you can deal with them, it's often their friends that cause issues. 

So you get a new friend request. Here's how to make decisions as to who to accept:

  1. If it’s a new account (last couple months) and it is all pictures and no comments by them or their friends, delete/ignore request.
  2. Do NOT use the number of mutual friends as a gauge. Too many people (especially FB friends who you may not know personally and only through business) tend to be less than discerning.


  3. Check out who your mutual friends/connections are. If they don't send you a PM, you'll be able to figure out how you're connected to this person. And after a while, you'll figure out which mutual friends' discernment to trust or not when they accepted friend requests.


  4. Check out the requester’s FB feed and see if you like what they post. If you find their posts too negative, annoying, or offensive, delete/ignore request.

  5. Catfishing usually geared toward women: The requester is a man, you have no real mutual friends, he is single, in construction/engineering/works on an oil rig, and sometimes has a daughter (often divorced or widowed). His profile will also not have comments or interactions with friends. (The parameters may seem weird, but there’s a scam going around and this is the general profile.) Ditto with young “billionaires” who self-identify as such. (Why would a billionaire be managing his own Facebook page?) Don’t even think about it, just report the profile and delete/ignore request.

    Here's a typical-looking profile. Note that I tried to limit identifying information because photos are usually stolen from someone else.

  6. Catfishing usually geared toward men: The requester is a woman, you have no real mutual friends, she is single. Pictures are sometimes very revealing and even downright kinky (often naked, black leather, etc.). There is often an offer made for sex (phone or otherwise). Her profile will also not have comments or interactions with friends. When you see these red flags, report the profile and then delete/ignore request.

    Here are some typical profiles. Ditto about hiding obscuring identities for the same reason (likely stolen pictures).


  7. If someone you don’t know personally starts PM’ing you with vague messages, like “Hi, how are you?” or “I saw your picture and you’re beautiful,” be suspicious. The best bet is to unfriend/disconnect and block. If you ignore the PM and they start to get upset and obnoxious because you didn’t respond, definitely unfriend/disconnect and block. 

If this seems too much to do (I promise that it’s not, once you get a system going), you can always accept everyone and when they turn out to be creepy or asshats, delete and block.

I'd love to hear what your parameters are for deciding whose friend requests to accept. 


Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash

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