The New Inflation Threat: Fake Friends
I will now invoke my blanket caveat when writing about social media, to the effect that all these concerns are incredibly petty and insignificant in a world filled with Haitian earthquakes and Polish plane crashes. Fake online friends? I know: who gives a ****?
Well, I do actually, because I think it's interesting from an anthropological perspective. In short: people are weird and that's interesting. From a marketing perspective, I will add that it also threatens to dilute the value of social networks: if someone's profile is filled up with hundreds of people they don't really know, how engaged can they really be with the goings-on of that network?
Of course, it's a free online world out there, and every individual is free to accept or reject friend requests from people they don't know. However this puts them in a bit of a dilemma -- or at least, it put me in a dilemma, because I was raised to be painfully polite -- but again, these are trivial concerns. So you hurt the feelings of someone you don't know online: so what?
Nonetheless, the phenomenon of fake friends is now pervasive enough that a new generation of social networks (and social network apps) is promising to limit your contacts to only your real friends. One of these, Rally Up, is a location-based social network with iPhone and iPad apps, which allows you to choose from four settings for each friend -- "real," "feed," "lurk," and "mute" -- thus controlling the amount of information about you available to them (and about them delivered to you). Rally up has also foresworn Twitter feeds, in order to keep your friend-related content stream more "pure."
Meanwhile Microsoft is rolling out the Kin, a touchscreen phone with a built-in feature -- Loop -- that allows you to aggregate your "real" friends from across various social networks, moving their profiles and updates to the top of your profile on each network, thus creating a sort of meta-network of "real" friends.