When importing contact lists into social networks is a bad idea

Posted on 24 April 2011

Connecting with people has never been easier with Facebook and Tumblr. But beware the implications.

By Lee Jian Xuan


PRIVATE blogs are a dime a dozen these days. After the anti-establishment streak that informs most of our secondary school web-capades, those of us who still troll cyberspace tend to settle down, older and wiser and open a weblog for penning down more private thoughts, with the odd bad fictional piece thrown in. In any case, we guard these fiercely, restricting access only to a select few.

A week back, an old friend stumbled upon my private Tumblr, which puzzled me: I’d never once publicized or given the URL away. A brief chat with her soon revealed the answer.

Apparently, anybody can load their entire Gmail/AOL/Yahoo/MSN contact list into this and voila, discover all the Tumblrs created by their contacts who unsuspectingly did so with those e-mails. Friends, parents, rebellious cousins, office kaypohs, your karung guni man who just set up his website last month: ANYBODY you ever had contact with online is suddenly privy to your innermost thoughts and belated teenage angst.

Which to me highlights a glaring flaw with Tumblr (along with many other social networks) – users were never made aware of this feature as it was implemented in a later phase of the site’s development. This option only appears at the bottom of the ‘Goodies’ page.

Well, SQUEEZE ME, because this feature should sure as hell take centerstage. If people I don’t even talk to (these constitute 90% of my contact list) are sniffing around my Tumblr posts, I deserve to know. Some of the stuff I write about there is more private than my email inbox, which mostly consists of Singtel trying to sell me crap I don’t need.

And they need to put it up HIGH, like,


And what is it with this add-friends-from-your-contact-list nonsense anyway?

I understand that we’re living in an age where we check into 5792005 social networks on a regular basis and this is an attempt to streamline the arduous process of manually adding contacts on YouTwitFace, but we need some gatekeeping power.

I only add people whom I’ve met with before and whom I’m generally interested in getting to know. And I do so after reading their profiles and deciding if I’m comfortable sharing my profile with them.

Because a) we don’t add the same people to each network, b) we don’t communicate the same messages on each network and c) each network serves a fundamentally different purpose. If I said half the things I said on Twitter on Facebook, my ass would be standing on trial now for defamation/libel/sedition.

Similarly, you wouldn’t post Tumblr reblogs onto FB either. It’d make zero sense to most people and elicit asinine comments from well-meaning but clueless relatives like: ‘Wah boy so original ah!’

I don’t know about you guys, but having dabbled around with social media so much in the past few years, I’ve learnt that if anything, friend requests should be sincere. Yes, the fact that such a function can be performed with the click of a button (or even worse, on a large scale with these silly import/export options) inevitably cheapens it somewhat.

But for me, I only add people whom I’ve met with before and whom I’m generally interested in getting to know. And I do so after reading their profiles and deciding if I’m comfortable sharing my profile with them.

And I genuinely hope it’s the same the other way around when people add me. I hope that the user on the other side of the screen at least took the time to run my name through a search, click on my profile, check out my interests, even read what I’ve written.

Instead of ‘importing’ me like I’m some kind of nameless cipher alongside his army sergeants, neighbors, project mates, clubbing kahkees, fuck buddies and whathaveyou.

We’re already living in an era where social contact has been grossly de-personalized. Let’s not make it any worse than it has to be.

Jian Xuan is a second-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, Nanyang Technological University.

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  • Something to consider

    This is probably why I wouldn’t want to use Facebook, after using it for so long. It takes out the discretion and choice out of me.