Contacts Quantity and Quality… are they really ‘friends’?

Note: I received a fair amount of feedback regarding previous Social Networks posts. All very valid, and by the way, of good quality too. From now on, I will try to include a few references on related, specific or touchy subjects, trying not to overwhelm the posts with such mentions.

Who are your acquaintances? Do you know them? Can you tell me what contact # 48 does for a living? Did you accept her simply because of her picture? Is ‘she’ really a ‘he’? What are his intentions? How often does she interact with you?

You know where I’m going.

Francesc Gómez Morales exemplifies through a comic strip in The Small Book of Social Networks, pp. 28, what we really should be asking ourselves before accepting a contact request. We’d better think twice, or ask an existing acquaintance if it is safe to accept Angelina Elektra’s invite, for example.  Not only for our own security, but also to protect those that are in our circles already. In brief: if you don’t know them, don’t include them. You don’t open the door every time somebody knocks, do you?

More than being worried about the people you are including in your acquaintances and that could damage you, what worries me is the people you are including and accepting that somehow will be linked to the rest of us through your profile. After all, I belong in your circles and you and I are already ‘friends’, right?

More worrisome than you shaping my network (Rule # 1, Christakis and Fowler, Connected, pp. 17) what scares me is Rule 4: OUR FRIENDS’ FRIENDS’ FRIENDS AFFECT US (Christakis and Fowler, Connected, pp. 22, ).

What that means if is that we are already associated, and the more proximity there is between us, the more likely you can affect me directly. Remember that the entire world population is reachable within six degrees of separation; so the closer we are, the more affected we are by each other’s actions; or lack thereof.

Here’s a challenge: on your most populated Social Network pick two of your contacts at random. If they are really somebody you know there is a high probability the two of them know each other.  Do this three times and note if there is a pattern.

Let’s go further: pick another three at random. Discard family members and pick others in their place instead. Do you know three things about each of the three, such as where you two met, what they do for a living, and who introduced them to you?

Even yonder now: are you sure the pictures in their profiles belong to them?

What if they are gathering as much as possible of your personal information for criminal purposes? How can you stop that now?

Our general feeling is that those acquaintances that do not interact with us much, or that do not do it with anybody else, are people that have forgotten they have an account or that they only use the Social Networks sporadically, and therefore are weak users. However, sometimes those weak links are the ones that represent the biggest threats precisely because of the seemingly passivity associated with them (Mark S. Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties, American Journey of Sociology, May, 1973, Stanford University, ).

The good news is that it is relatively easy to block or delete such contacts. If you had the time to accept them in our circles, certainly you have time to block or delete them.

Remember that quality will always be more powerful than quantity. A quality relationship equals a lot of mediocre ones. Therefore, a high number of contacts in your profile does not mean much; a close circle of quality acquaintances is way more valuable than an inflated but empty directory.

Remember also that to start filtering and separating the bad apples, you can create circles or groups within the systems. Doing this is even fun sometimes.

Also, tools such as personal or private messages to some of those people you cannot remember with certainty who they are, can also help you realize who’s a friend and who is not.

Who are your friends now?


About Héctor M. Curiel

Hector M Curiel Writer
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