Social networks continue to evolve and make changes, trying to keep up with a changing online world, competitive threats, and of course the demands of all those poor shareholders.  Everybody hates it when Facebook changes things of course, but it keeps things interesting I guess!

For example, one further level of relationship distance added by Facebook in recent years, is the ability to let people ‘follow’ your public updates only – if you do not wish to or for some reason cannot connect with them as friends.  You have a choice to make whether or not to enable the ‘followers’ option on your profile, so that people who are not your actual Friends can see stuff that you share directly in their newsfeeds.

This functionality was only added in 2011, when it was initially called ‘subscribing’ to people. In 2012 they adopted the standard social media term ‘follow’, as used on Twitter, Pinterest etc, which makes it very clear and easy to understand – the idea of subscription owes more to terminology around blogging and email and was definitely less relevant, as this is not how most people get regular updates from any service these days

So, this relatively new method of connecting with people on Facebook is now called “following” them -. you sign up to follow public updates shared by a person, when you become their follower. It’s similar to being a friend, but with a few significant differences.

facebook like thumb

Facebook has its own language…

First, you don’t need the other person’s approval or agreement to follow them on Facebook. If they have the Follow function enabled, anyone can subscribe to their public updates.

That’s very different from the traditional friend process, which is wholly mutual – if you want to connect with someone you send them a friend request, they receive an alert about that request and if they choose to accept it the two of you become friends.  List allocation notwithstanding it’s a fairly egalitarian thing – in that you then both see and share stuff that the other party is choosing to put out there.

With the follow process there are no invitations involved, and no approvals –  you simply click ‘follow’ and then that person’s status updates automatically start to show up in your newsfeed. The other person receives no alert and unless they check their list of followers would not even be aware that you’re following him or her.

The second difference is that, unlike being friends, following is a one-way street.  You see posts from the person you follow, but s/he doesn’t see posts from you. It’s like following a broadcast message, rather than joining a two-way conversation.  This is quite a departure from how Facebook has always worked in the past.

Not that you can’t join in and respond to the posts you follow.  Anything you see the other party has shared publicly, and as such you can comment and like it and share it in any way you want, and they can respond to your comments too if so minded.  But they won’t see stuff you share yourself, unless you become friends or they opt to follow you themselves.


Age Limits and Followers

In a controversial move in October 2013, Facebook extended the ability to enable the Follow option – as well as to post publicly – to teenage users.  Before that point, audiences were restricted to Friends of Friends as a maximum, and teenage account holders (at least those who had not lied about their date of birth at some point and were known by Facebook actually to be teenagers) could not be followed by complete strangers.  Facebook’s argument in favour of this move was that ‘teens are amongst the savviest users of social media’, and it was to stop restricting the publication reach of young teen movie makers, campaigning activists and so on.

Well, those cool young things are probably the ones who have long-deserted Facebook by now for trendier pastures new, and can surely only represent a very small proportion of users – for my money this is a retrograde step in terms of keeping our kids safe online, and I would advise very strongly against allowing any under age person for whom you have responsibility enable this option on Facebook.

As the mother of a teenager myself I prefer total oversight of whoever is seeing what she posts, rather than the idea of complete strangers following them for inexplicable reasons.  I try not to ‘embarrass’ her continually but do value the idea of being able to see when she adds a new friend and if need be question her privately about who that person is and how she knows them.  Of course there is a big difference between a 13 year old and a 16 year old, and between every child and the next one – I continue to look at online developments from a parent’s point of view first, and welcome your feedback about what further areas you’d like me to cover on this topic.

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, May 2nd, 2014 ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL


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