Finally Accepting Friends on Facebook

For the longest time, I refused to accept any friend requests on Facebook. I had Facebook solely because it was linked to Messenger, which I use fairly frequently to talk to friends. Recently, I’ve reversed my stance on this and have begun clearing up the backlog of friend requests; this post is a short explanation of my reasoning.

Why I got Facebook in the first place

I actually originally made a Facebook account to receive practice updates from my high school cross country team. My coach would only post practice locations on Facebook, so having an account was a de facto prerequisite for being on the team. However, shortly after I joined, we got a new coach whose preferred method of practice location dissemination was Twitter.1 As such, my actual Facebook account quickly fell into disuse.

Why I dislike Facebook

The main reason why I’ve had a longstanding blanket policy of ignoring all Facebook friend requests is that, at an ideological level, I kind of detest Facebook. There are many things wrong with Facebook (and, arguably, social media in general), such as its role in spreading misinformation online and its addictive nature.2 Perhaps the one that resonates most particularly with me is that its closed nature is the antithesis of what, in my view, the Internet ought to be.

Let me explain. There was a time when the Internet was supposed to be this beautiful thing: a sort of digital commons linking people from all over the world. The original “great idea” of the World Wide Web was the hyperlink: documents (or websites) would link to each other, creating an interconnected web where information and ideas could flow freely. Much of the old Internet culture came out of hacker culture, where openness was a chief virtue. This vision still lives on in some idealistic corners of the Web, but it has clearly lost the war.

The Internet is at its best in the form of small websites carefully crafted out of love, each bearing the unmistakable imprint of its creator. It is built upon open standards that specify how things interoperate—like HTML and CSS—in the hopes that it will forever be “free to the people,” to borrow from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.3 The Internet is at its worst when this is ignored: when companies set up moats around their digital properties, making their own walled gardens4 where they set the rules of engagement. Facebook wants to create its own private web of information above the open Web, the ultimate walled garden where it is not beholden to the idea of openness. One cannot, for instance, view much content on Facebook or Instagram without an account; they are functionally barricaded against the public.

To be clear, I’m also quite skeptical of, say, Google for everything it’s done to subvert Web standards. The most recent and egregious example of this is the Web Environment Integrity API, but other examples abound; AMP is a particularly infamous one. The problem with Google is the same as that with Facebook: both have gotten too large, to the point where they exercise undue influence on the Internet. Our “Web standards” are no longer open; they are whatever Google, the largest browser vendor by far, decides to implement. This is why I’ve cut Chrome and Google search out of my personal life.

Likewise, Facebook (and its subsidiary, Instagram) has gotten so important that digital life is difficult unless one assents to living in its walled garden. Facebook is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to digital privacy, another one of the cherished values of the hacker community. There are obvious scandals like the Cambridge Analytica affair, but I actually think chiefly of the mundane ways that Facebook breaks privacy on the Web. For instance, it attaches tracking junk to many links, and it wraps nearly all links out of its platform so that you go through Facebook’s own servers first. To exaggerate for emphasis, few things make my blood boil as much as seeing someone send a link without trimming the fbclid parameter. For the longest time, I refused to be drawn into Facebook any further than reasonably necessary to talk to friends on Messenger, which is why I decided not to accept any friend requests on the platform.

Okay, so what changed?

If you’ve made it past my idealistic rant, you may be wondering what happened to change my mind. The answer is sadly pragmatic: I still care deeply about the open Web, but now that I’ve graduated college, I feel that I need to put more effort into maintaining relationships, and this includes getting on social media.5 For a while I considered getting an Instagram account to connect with others; there have been multiple occasions when I’ve met someone and they’ve asked if we can connect on Instagram or Facebook. I don’t want to launch into a five-minute rant about how Facebook is destroying the world, so I just say that I’m not on the platform and offer my blog or email, which no one really takes. Network effects are hard to overcome, and I’ve decided that this isn’t really a hill to die on.

If you’re coming from ACF, you may have also heard about my infamous pinky promise with Megan and the consequences of that. I’d been thinking about joining Facebook and Instagram for a while, and the whole deal with Megan gave me an entertaining motivation to do it now.

So there you have it. About a month ago, I created an Instagram account, and shortly after publishing this, I’ll start accepting all the Facebook friend requests that I’ve accumulated over the past eight years. I’m writing this post partly so that I have a place to point people in order to stem the inevitable deluge of questions I’ll get about this decision, and partly to commemorate the passing of an era.6 Even though I no longer have contact with some people who sent me friend requests eight years ago, I’ll probably just accept them all; I don’t want to have to think too hard about which ones to accept at this point (unless it’s “clearly spam,” for some definition of clearly).

  1. You used to be able to view Twitter without an account, so thankfully I’ve never had to make one.↩︎

  2. I don’t think it’s unfair for me to say that Facebook has had a disastrous effect on global democracy. Google has also done some terrible things, but they’ve also done enough good things that I feel like they’ve been net positive (to be generous) over their existence.↩︎

  3. Yes, Carnegie was a terrible industrialist and all, but I have to pay my dues to my alma mater.↩︎

  4. I would be remiss if I did not mention the role of LLMs in accelerating this collapse of the Internet. Nowadays, social media companies have realized that they sit on a treasure trove of content when it comes to training LLMs, and they are racing to secure their digital assets prevent this from happening without their getting a cut.↩︎

  5. To be fair, I don’t think it’s the case that one must have an account on social media to connect with people today, but it’s quite useful. There are still plenty of people who do without; ironically, shortly after making this decision, I met someone who made the opposite decision, namely to leave Instagram. This is her blog post about that, if you’re curious.↩︎

  6. Probably the next logical step is for me to create an account on LinkedIn, which I’ve surprisingly managed to avoid thus far.↩︎