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Friend = Foe In Today’s Social Media Age

Everyone (or almost everyone) is busy participating in some form of Social Media these days. How many of us have Facebook, Titter, MySpace accounts and have sent (or received) friend requests from coworkers? Probably plenty! I understand that lawyers now warn against bosses who “friend” subordinates, as it is known to intensify workplace grievances as well as legal claims such as wrongful termination, discrimination, and harassment….or at least effect employee morale, with accusations such as favoritism if the supervisor friends only a handful of subordinates. If you’re asking yourself how this could happen? Just think about it. A boss sooner or later will discover something, some personal attribute that the employee will have the opportunity to claim that any adverse employment decision was based on this personal information that the manager knew (religious affiliation, age, ethnicity, political affiliation, health problems, etc.) because it appears on social networking sites. This personal information is not supposed to influence employment decisions but oftentimes becomes readily available for viewing on social networking sites amongst “friends”.

Heaven help the supervisor (or co-worker!) who learns that their employee referenced being under the influence at work, or they make discriminatory remarks about co-workers, management, or their place of employment on social networking sites. That individual may very well find themselves obligated to investigate such behavior and report it to higher authorities at work. They are, after all responsible for complying with company policy, as well as state and federal laws – and there’s record that you knew – or should have known – as they are your “friend”!

I recently read that Office Team conducted a survey, and 48% of executives are uncomfortable being friended by those they manage. On the flip side, 47% don’t want to be friended by their bosses either. That means that over half of us out there on Facebook, Twitter, or here on GovLoop have “friends” either directly above or below us in the workplace “reporting” chain of command.

So I ask you, how are you going to respond to your next friend request from a co-worker?

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It will be interesting to see how people adjust to the blurring of lines. It was nice for awhile where all my colleagues just friended me on LinkedIn which to me is a rolodex and I’m fine being connected there. I see GovLoop as more in that vain as well – connecting and sharing around government so less of an issue about seeing your hobbies/nephews/football interests/etc.

The FB issue is kind of different and I wonder how we will backlash. Or will that just spawn greater use of privacy settings. Or spin-off new social networks

Andrew Krzmarzick

Excellent stuff, Tricia…I was having a conversation about this topic with Emma Antunes (creator of NASA’s Spacebook). She had to be careful about the language that they used to make connections among NASA personnel when building their internal social network due to these legal ramifications.

To answer your question directly for myself, so far I have accepted all requests for friending across networks…I feel as if I am the same person whether I am on GovLoop or LinkedIn or Facebook…just share a different, more personal dimension of myself in a place like Facebook.

Lisa Haralampus

We are all our own media-image experts. I have “friends with full privileges” and “friends without” because I do think about the implications of my posts on my social network community, who include many current and former co-workers. In part, I like that it helps my work references stay current with my activities and interests – should they ever be called upon as references. And its not just the co-workers, but the co-workers’ spouses that raise an interesting question. You can get “TMI” from them on your employees and colleagues as well.

Michael Samuel

Good question Tricia, but I have a question for you. Do you consider all co-workers to be friends?

If you are not my friend and we don’t share common interests then request denied. Just being my co-worker doesn’t make you my friend and that includes the social media world.

That being said, it certainly depends on the social media platform. Sites like LinkedIn and Govloop, I am more liberal at accepting requests because I use them more as professional tools.

Facebook on the other hand, I am much stricter at accepting requests because I use it as a personal tool.

Overall, common sense must prevail when posting to social media sites. In other words, I would never post anything to any social media site that I would care if the world found out.


Thanks for the responses everyone!

Michael – to answer your question, no, I don’t consider all co-workers to be friends. It is this “denying” a friend request is one of a few reasons I personally have for not creating a Facebook account. I see plenty of co-workers “friending” fellow co-workers who are not truly friends, but workplace acquaintances. People (in my experiences) oftentimes have thin skin, and their feelings are easily hurt when you don’t attend outside events/parties, purchase items their children are selling for a fund raising activity, etc…..and when their feelings are hurt, they share what the manager did (or didn’t) do.

I have frequently been invited to events for employees where I work. One such example is to attend a baby shower for subordinate’s daughter whom I have never met. The interesting thing is, our contact has always been at a professional level (no personal, outside of work discussions).
I have heard the many gossip sessions and discussions about how a manager makes “all kinds of money” and they didn’t buy anything from their son or daughters candy catalog. I see friend requests in much the same way. If someone searches you out on a social media site, and you deny the request….ouch! People will begin to talk about me (and I’m doubtful it will be positive). It’s a no-win situation…accept, and you’re an approachable, kind, member of management. Deny, and you’re that cruel, heartless, unfeeling, out-of-touch manager. Stickier in my opinion if you are in the field of Human Resources. I can hear them now – “What an ogre that HR manager is, she wouldn’t accept my friend request”.

Gerry La Londe-Berg

I found this a sufficient discussion to delete my Facebook account. I may reopen a different account for just my Family. It’ll be easier at work to simply said I closed the whole account in order to “simplify my life”.

Barbara Blaskowsky

Here’s where Facebook’s Friend Suggestion tool kind of stinks… you end up connecting with a bunch of people you only have a tentative association with. If I wanted to find you on Facebook, I would have actively searched for you by name!

I ignore FB Friend requests from co-workers that I don’t socialize with outside of work. I will, however, accept a LinkedIn connection request. Facebook = personal; LinkedIn = work.

You could accept the Friend request and then block that person from seeing your status, photos, etc… For those with a ‘thin skin’ then this might be a good way to placate them.

Michael Samuel


You aren’t the first person I have heard mention that the reason they have not joined FB was because they don’t want to have to deny “friends”. While I respect that decision, I don’t quite understand it.

It is a shame people are not on Facebook for that reason because one should not deprive themselves of potential pleasure for fear of what others might say.

In my opinion many problems can be resolved with clear communication. If I were to deny someone who is a co-worker, I would explain to them why. The same way I would explain to a co-worker why I am not attending their event.

Yes, people oftentimes have thin skin, but if you are not dealing with children they should eventually understand.

This is not a problem specific to Social media. People who are known to gossip will always gossip regardless of your involvement in social media.

Remember, social media does not replace good people management. If you were successful in dealing with people before social media, you should be successful in dealing with people using social media.

I agree with all of Barbara’s comments.

Karen Anne Malkin

This could become more of an issue as this Administration continues to encourage use of social media to communicate with Agency customers and outreach to new potential customers. Where does your role as a public servant end and as a private citizen begin? Perhaps the answer is to have 2 Facebook accounts – one for the public and one for personal close friends? I understand that some government officials already do this. On the flip side, by having one account and sharing personal information, you would be helping people get to know you as a full person and would advance the networking opportunities and deepen the customer relationships. On the other hand, you could risk a negative bias if the customers or potential customers or your boss or coworkers do not approve of your hobby or personal interest.

My hunch is we need to see the much anticipated White House directive on open government and see what role is expected of government officials and what protections will be in place to ensure no workplace discrimination. Interesting times!

Lizette Molina

This is how I’ve resolved this issue. I have 2 Facebook pages. One is clearly titled as my work page and the other is the one I keep for non-work related friends. My work page is the one I use to communicate regarding work related topics and to stay in touch with people who used to work in my agency. Whenever a family member or personal friend sends me a friend request to my work page, I find a way to steer them to my personal page. And so far, I haven’t had any coworkers “friend request” me on my personal page. But if they ever did, I would steer them back to the work page.

Regardless of whether it’s work or personal, almost everyone in my office knows I’m an early adopter of these tools and would be able to see some things on my personal page if they searched for me. And my boss knows I have a personal page. So I pay close attention to what shows up on my personal page and delete anything that could be considered offensive – particularly politically inflammatory remarks or remarks that lean in any political direction. Any of my personal friends that love to publish/share political remarks know and understand that I delete those posts from my page as soon as I see them; and my true friends are not offended when I have to delete any of their posts from ever appearing on my page because of their frequent political commentary.

Also, regardless of whether it’s seen as heartless or cold, I don’t ever accept friend-requests from people I don’t actually know (like friends of friends) or people who I’ve left behind in my personal life for a specific reason that would still keep me from being their friend today.

And now I have a govloop page for work, so I’ll probably drop my facebook work page in the near future anyway.

Well, gotta get back to work. Everyone have a great afternoon.


Karen & Lizette –
I suppose it could work – dual accounts. On the flip side, more email accounts and passwords (to create and remember), and additional profiles to upkeep and manage.

Gregory Wilson

Great article. I think there is a place for every ‘friend’ in the social web and because people use these tools in different ways it will be different for everybody. While I wouldn’t want to be friends with supervisors on Facebook, I would have no problem following them on twitter, because it is already open to the public on my account and I don’t post things that would be considered unprofessional on it. I just use it as a tool to network with people I want to learn from and grow with professionally. People just have to seriously think about how they and their ‘friends’ interact in these social forums and act accordingly. As for supervisors, if they friend their employees they have to remember that they are not marking their relationship as ‘boss’, but friend and people can have a life outside of work. But the employee has to remember that this line is blurred and they have to remember what their online network of relationships really equal in the real world.

Joey Seich

I found this article to be very interesting. Being part of the Facebook/Twitter generation, I’ve struggled with how my personal account fits into the workplace. I’ve got a lot of friends who have taken to creating duel accounts (work vs. personal) and many others who have tried to mask their names by getting rid of their last name and instead opting to go with their middle name.

Personally, I’m fairly open with my account. I do have privacy settings set so that not just anyone can easily view my facebook page, but my view on it is…if someone (be it a friend or co-worker) really wants to see what’s on my page…they’ll find a way to do it. It doesn’t matter what kind of privacy settings you have or don’t have. Being familiar with web/security, I advise my friends that if you don’t want the world to see this or that picture/comment…don’t put it on your facebook page.