Notes on Google+

I don’t want strangers following me!


One of the frequent questions that I answer about Google+ relates to the fact that it is not possible to control who follows your profile. It is possible to block people who follow you, but that would only make it impossible for them to interact with you when they are signed in to their Google accounts. It is important to remember that – unlike Facebook – reciprocity is not expected in Google+, which explains why you may be followed by people you may not wish to follow back, and why it is not something to worry about in most cases.

You can’t control who follows you

If you have a Google+ profile, then the chances are that you have been followed or added by someone you don’t know. You may be thinking why is this person following me? Sometimes you may not feel comfortable about being followed by strangers. In the very worst case, it would be a form of cyber-stalking, but in many cases, it is just a slight feeling of unease and uncertainty. Naturally, cyber-stalking, harassment, and bullying are not allowed, but it is possible and more probable that someone liked what you have posted publicly, and decided that he or she did not want to miss your public posts, therefore added you to his or her circles. If you still feel uncomfortable about certain people following you, then you can block them. However, unless there is a reason that makes you uncomfortable because of their behaviour or actions, it is probably not worth worrying too much about them and it is probably not necessary to block them, though you may wish to be careful about what you share publicly, as public posts are indeed public, thus potentially visible to anyone with internet access, including those you have blocked. I will return to this point a little later, but before doing so, I would like to explore the nature of following others and being followed by others on Google+.

Google+ Help — Blocking someone:

Dynamics of following and being followed

While it may seem natural to assess Google+ in terms of Facebook, this is not a good idea, because these are two completely different products. The fundamental terms of relationships people have on these different platforms are completely different in my view. It may be argued that Facebook’s brilliance and at the same time its severe limitation have been its successful transposition of the notions of friendship on to the internet in a massive scale. While people have different notions of what constitutes friendship, there are certain attributes which are widely shared, such as equality and reciprocity. Friendship is usually a relationship between equals: friends are friends, even though there may be, for example, disparity in income, or social standing, or age. As friendships are relationships of equals, there is reciprocity, therefore requests to confirm friendship, as both parties need to see each other as a friend, a partner in that friendship. Facebook’s phenomenal success is due partly to its ability to tap into the friendships that we all have, but at the same time, it does not cater well for other forms of social interactions and relationships that we have in our lives. Colleagues or bosses at work, or clients, or suppliers, and other such contacts and connections we have in our daily lives, are not always friends. There may be people and things that you follow or like, out of admiration, interest, or need, but again they are not necessarily your friends.

To repeat, Google+ is different from Facebook. The relationships on Google+ are often unidirectional, and they do not need to be based on reciprocity, because they are not always based on friendship: you choose to follow other people, and other people choose to follow you, without expectation that the other party follows back. Naturally, you might follow each other, because you’re friends in the real world, or have come to know each other well online, or you discover you share the same interests. To put it another way, friendship can and does exist in Google+, but Google+ is not predicated on friendship to the degree it is on Facebook, and friendship is one form of varied relationships that you form on Google+. You choose to follow Google+ profiles and pages for variety of reasons: some may be your friends in your real life, some may be your work colleagues, some may be your social groups that belong to, some may be companies that you deal with, and some may be well-known commentators and critics whose views you appreciate, to name a few examples. There are many different reasons to follow others on Google+. Accordingly, you place different people, different interests, and different types of relationships, in different circles on your Google+ profile. It also means that other people whom you do not know will follow you.

Google+ Help — About circles:

Controlling what you share with whom

Google+ does not have a mechanism to prevent someone from following you, but you can choose what things to share with whom. As mentioned at the beginning, public posts are public, so they are visible to all, including strangers following you, and that is very important to remember. It also vitally important to remember that people whom you have blocked can see your public posts, when they are signed out of their Google accounts. So make sure that when you post publicly, that you’re happy to do so.

You may wish to share certain things with certain people but not with the wider public, and it is in these instances that the circles in Google+ are extremely useful. You choose with whom you share the post by sharing it to certain circles: this way, you can prevent your posts from being visible to those strangers following you, because the post would only be visible to those in the selected circles whom you follow. It is perhaps worth stressing at this moment that even if you have someone in your circle, and share a post to that circle, it only makes the post potentially visible to that person. If that person also follows you, then your post is quite likely to appear in his or her stream. However, if that person does not follow you, then the likelihood of that person seeing your post is small, unless you mention or send a push notification to that person, though doing so is probably best avoided, unless urgent, since it represents a very hard push and may appear as spam to the recipient. There are a few more controls that you can exert over your posts. You can choose to disable comments, if you do not wish others to comment on a post, but more importantly in terms of the control you exert over your posts, you can choose to lock your posts, thus making it impossible for others to reshare them. This is useful, if you wish to ensure that a post is visible only to your target audience and no other. If you do not lock your post, and it is reshared by someone in the circle to which you have shared the post originally, then you will lose control over that post, as it becomes visible to a wider circle of people, even to all and sundry, and reshared again (and again).

Google+ Help — Share on Google+:

Don’t be afraid to engage

If Google+ can accommodate multiple and varied types of relationships, then it resembles the real world more closely than Facebook. However this also means that there is more complexity on Google+. Given there are so many things you can do on Google+, the prospect may be daunting, but it should not prevent you from trying it out: start by posting things on your stream (but don’t spam!), following people, joining communities, and engaging with others by +1ing or commenting. Some of the people with you engage are strangers, and perhaps people you would not meet in the world. So there will inevitably be ups and downs, and there will be times you feel that Google+ is not the right thing for you, but then that is a bit like how we live in the real world. And if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to use it, and that is different from the real world.