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Confession – I have friends on Facebook I have never met in person. Until recently, I thought everyone had such companions – until I got a message from Facebook. They said I’d been making inappropriate friend requests. Can you believe that? I was banned from requesting new friends for seven days.

Now I have to tell you this didn’t sit well with me. I had that flushed all over shame sensation that I associate with certain teachers in primary school. I’m a librarian, for crying out loud. A middle aged, church going, lefty-leaning librarian. Who would not want to be friends with me?

Okay, so I had been home with a virus. And, I had just read this great book on social networking. And I did think hmm… I wonder what my old friends from WMRLC are doing? Oh, and while I’m at it, I’ll just try connecting with some of my new Coburg church community and…some of their friends. In retrospect, think that’s where I came unstuck. It was the friends of friends. I don’t think anyone has told them about the ignore button.

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I received polite messages. Like:

‘Who are you? I don’t make friends with anyone I wouldn’t recognise walking down the street.’

To which I replied: ‘No worries. Please ignore my request.’

One lady was so put out, she lectured me in haughty you-naughty-little-girl tones.

‘That is not what Facebook is for,’ she said.

To which I replied: ‘Sorry, I go to St Aug’s. We have about fifteen friends in common. I thought it might be nice to connect.’

‘You could be anyone,’ she said. ‘People lie on their profiles.’

To which I replied: ‘Sorry, to bother you. Truly. Please feel free to ignore my request.

I don’t think she did. I think she reported me.

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Then I was banned from friending anyone for seven days.

That’s when I read the Facebook rules.

Have you ever read them? You’re not supposed to friend anyone you don’t know. Really? Half my Facebook list are people I didn’t know but, strangely, over time, I’ve come to know them pretty well. Some send me writing quotes. Others talk about their kids, their wife’s cancer, hospital visits. Still others post book reviews or memes or pictures of their latest craft projects. I mean, what, in the modern world constitutes knowing? If not these serendipitous online friendships?

After my ban had been lifted. I had another go at requesting. I’d caught up with a whole load of people from our old eastern suburbs church at a wedding. It was so nice, I thought I’d do some friending. Mostly I wrote to people I had met. In many instances we had about thirty-five friends in common. I mean, the mother of the bride, the father of the bride, people whose young adult kids I know. I thought, I was safe. I thought, I was playing by the rules.

But, no, banned again. This time for fourteen days. Fourteen days! Can you believe that? As if I were a child of six.

I sent some carefully worded feedback to Facebook.

Then I made up a set of guidelines for people who are not used to receiving friend requests.

1) If you get a friend request from someone you don’t think you have met it is okay to press ignore. No further correspondence needs to be entered into.

2) If you think, hmm…I wonder where I know that person from – check their friendship list. A friend of multiple friends is probably someone with whom you share common interests.

3) If you accept a friend and have cause to regret that decision you can delete them. Liking someone on Facebook is not a lifelong commitment.

That’s it. Three rules. Not that difficult.

As a special bonus I also add a couple of tips for those running the gauntlet of the Facebook police.

1) If you are home with a virus, or bored, or curious about an old friendship group make requests in small, spaced-out doses. From discussions with others, it seems pressing Add friend too quickly and too many times sets Facebook’s alarm bells ringing.

2) If you are sending a friend request to someone you don’t know, like the friend of a friend, perhaps add a message.

Something cheerful and head-bangingly specific like:

Hi! My name is Elizabeth Jane Corbett. I am not a creep, a paedophile or a stalker. And I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I notice we have quite a few friends in common. In fact, if you take a look at our shared friends list, you will notice we share common interests. Added to which, if you if look through my photos, you will notice that I am in fact a real person. If you decide not to be my friend, that’s fine, just press ignore and I won’t bother you again. Only, please, please, please don’t report me to Facebook.

If that doesn’t work, I have nothing to suggest. Except, you are better off without those friends.

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