Social networking or electronic harassment?

Social networking or electronic harassment?

If you're older than a certain age, let's say, ahem, 40 or so, and you're online, chances are you've been harassed — or rather invited, depending on your point of view — by friends to join Facebook,, LinkedIn, Twitter or some other social-network site.

Bill Evertson, a cabinetmaker and artist from East Hampton, Conn., who is in his 50s, joined a few arts-related networks and last month joined Facebook, but now he's not sure he really wants to be on Facebook.

As his box has filled with requests from people who want to "friend" him, Evertson said, "I'm not sure I want to be friends with all these people. I'm not sure who some of them are."

At the urgings of her colleagues, Diane Alverio, owner of Diane Alverio & Co., a Hartford, Conn., public relations and marketing firm, created a Facebook page and got on LinkedIn, but now finds she can't keep up with the invitations to join other networks or with the people who want to friend her through Facebook.

"You know you get 30 e-mails a day," she said. "You are trying to respond to them in between clients and other business matters." Inevitably, the invitations and friend requests drop to the bottom of the list.

"Then, two weeks later, I think: Oh, my gosh, I never responded. Do they think I'm rude? Do they think I'm being aloof? ... Or will they understand?"

With the thunderous arrival of mid-lifers on Facebook and other social networks, so, too, have come the questions from grown-ups trying to fit online networking into already crowded lives.

What's the etiquette? Which networks are worth joining? Should I be doing this for social reasons or career reasons? Are there ground rules on friending or defriending on Facebook?

And, finally, for some, overwhelmed by hectic schedules and already amply connected with full e-mail boxes and a cell phone: Must I do this?

Erika Kirsten Beck, a social-media specialist based in Los Angeles, said she recommends her clients join Facebook for friends and family connections and LinkedIn for business connections, and "the two do not meet."

While there are many different social networks, Beck says it makes sense to join Facebook because it is the largest — more than 175 million members — and it's probably where your friends and family are.

Also, Facebook has many features that help you customize the level of privacy you prefer. A few years ago, Facebook was the domain of the college-aged. Now the average user's age is 26, with nearly a quarter of users older than 35, according to Inside Facebook, an independent blog that tracks Facebook. The fastest-growing demographic has been among women older than 55.

For posting your resume and connecting with colleagues, LinkedIn is the most efficient and best-suited site, Beck said. "It's a good professional Rolodex," said Beck. "It covers who you are working for, what you're doing ... "

Beck suggests that you have a standard reply ready for colleagues or your boss if they happen to friend you on Facebook that says something like, "Thank you so much for the 'friend request,' but I'm maintaining all of my business contacts on LinkedIn. I'd love to connect with you there." Send a link to LinkedIn along with it.

Beck said you can expect that the first few weeks on Facebook, you're going to receive several friend requests as the news of your arrival spreads among friends. "The first two weeks, it's like you are on crack," said Beck. "You're meeting everybody, finding everybody."

While some people may feel overwhelmed by all these offers of friendship, Beck says, you are in charge of determining what level of involvement you would like.

If you really don't want to spend much time on Facebook, it's OK to simply ignore friend requests — some liken it to an unanswered phone — or reply with an e-mail stating that you're just becoming familiar with Facebook and aren't yet very involved with it.

What about if you want to defriend someone or trim your network of friends? Facebook doesn't send out a notification when you defriend, so it may well be that your friend will never know. Armen Berjikly, the founder of a social network called the Experience Project, said, "I'm sure I've been defriended and don't even know it."

In any case, he said, "I think it's becoming more and more accepted to have periods of time when you clean up your network. I know my co-workers have done it."

Of course, many mid-lifers and senior citizens have quickly become acclimated to social networks and enjoy them for personal and professional reasons.

David Panagore, who is in his 40s and is the new director of development services in Hartford, resisted Facebook until about six months ago. As a newcomer to Hartford, Panagore said Facebook has allowed him to reconnect with his friends across the country while he adjusts to life in Hartford.

"It's a little like Linus and his blanket," said Panagore. "I get to carry around my life history with me."

Alverio said it may be that she will eventually put more time into her online social network, but for now, she said, "My networking still relies on real-life social events."

Along with her cell phone, texting and e-mail.

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