7 types of Facebook friends

One of the most scary messages in one's inbox is the line "Giepie de Lange (or whoever) wants to be friends on Facebook", says Susan Erasmus.

It's the problem with social networking – you never walk alone. The Giepies of the world are right there beside you, whether you want them or not.

There are a few things about Facebook that I find downright scary, apart from friend requests. One of them is the facility where one can suggest friends for someone else. Another is the automatic friend search section. By the looks it, they should introduce a section called "Find friends at gunpoint". Are those the ones who can shoot you if you don't reply in 2 hours?

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who has hundreds of friends on Facebook. How many people can you know? Or more importantly, how many people do you want to know you? If someone has 987 Facebook friends, I know I am looking at a person who is either a public figure, or who has a self-image so low that they would trawl the telephone directory for possible contacts in order to make themselves look popular. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

No one can stay in contact on any meaningful level with more than about 40 people. And that's pushing it. Even if you phoned them just four times a year, that would be 160 phone calls. Not counting birthdays and Christmas. To keep in contact with 987, you would have to give up your job, your marriage and all hobbies. Mr "Popular", you're not fooling anyone.

One great shortcoming on Facebook, is that I think they should introduce categories of friends. Not all friends on Facebook are really friends. Some of them are distant acquaintances – both wanted and unwanted.

If Facebook accepts my constructive suggestions, a small fee will have to be negotiated.

Here are the possible categories:

Immediate family I like: these are people who might not even be on your Facebook page, because you speak to them or see them just about every day. You would leave pets and children with them and they are definitely mentioned in your will.

Fabulous friends: these people are like family. You see them at least weekly, trust them and like them. You would call them if you were in an accident and needed someone to bring you pyjamas and a toothbrush to the hospital – and they will come, bearing your favourite magazines and a hug and a smile. You would do the same for them. You know where they keep their spare keys and you know the inside of their houses almost better than they do.

Extended family: this category covers a multitude of sins and can include cousins you like, cousins you dislike, in-laws, and hangers-on of in-laws – in short people you would see once or twice a year and with whom you share a genetic heritage or some shared history. There are some people in this category who could move up into category 1 if your situation changes.

Acquaintances: these would include former colleagues, neighbours you haven't seen since you moved, the receptionist at the vet. These are people you would recognise in the street, and you would chat for a minute or two, but you would not invite them over for a braai, or keep them up to date with the latest news in your life. You had to look carefully at the photo on the friends request to make sure you knew who it was, because you didn't necessarily know their surnames. You're a bit surprised they went looking for you on Facebook in the first place. This category also includes people you'd rather not have on your Facebook page, but ignoring them would cause unpleasantness.

Old school friends. Well, can you really call them friends if you haven't seen them in 30 years, but still, they shared a part of your life. These are the people who dredge up terrifying photos of you at the Matric dance after party and paste them on your wall.  These are the people who remember the day the geography teacher's false teeth fell out during an assembly presentation. You would probably walk right past these old school buddies in the street without knowing who they were, but hey, history is history.

Who the &%(*$ is this? The Reverend Johnson from Minnesota, or Robbie Lancaster from Germiston wants to be a Facebook friend. You are sure they have mistaken you for someone else, as you not only don't recognise their names, or them, but also no one in their friends list. Or else they are simple Facebook desperadoes who will ask to be your friend because you have a body temperature of 37 degrees.

I am closing my Facebook page. How did this psycho find me after all these years? Or why? I am terrified by this photo that has popped up in my friends' request list, where it has languished for the last month. I am too scared to 'ignore' it in case he manages to find me somehow. And then of course, there are the old boyfriends. Some are fine, but there are others that make your hair stand on end. These days, when you end a relationship, remember to mention that Facebook is also a no-no. All of this makes one long for the days when mail was delivered by donkey three months after it was written.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, January 2011)

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