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How to handle unwanted friend requests

Sometimes, a little apologetic explanation will soothe the sting of rejection.
Sometimes, a little apologetic explanation will soothe the sting of rejection.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One of the ways to get around accepting a Facebook friend request is ignoring it
  • There's a lengthy yet effective process for limiting what info friends have access to
  • Another possible way to politely avoid someone is to reject them and give an explanation
  • Whichever tactic you use, now might be the time to clean up your Facebook profile

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at netiquette@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- We've been netiquette'ing for more than a year and a half now, and when we ask friends/acquaintances/the gaping maw of the Internet for their burning questions and column suggestions, one anxiety pops up again and again and again. Here it is, in Mad Libs form:

"My [aunt/boss/elderly neighbor] sent me a friend request on Facebook, and I don't want to accept because [she still thinks of me as a squeaky clean 11-year-old/I don't want him to see pictures of me in a bathing suit/he is freaking OLD]. But I know he or she will notice if I don't accept because [she only has 13 other friends/he said something about it at work/he is weirdly obsessed with me]. What do I dooo?"

-- Every Young Person Ever

Well, EYPE, today is your lucky day. You've got several options, and we're going to present them all to you right here, rapid fire, so you can stop freaking asking us about it already.

With that, we give you: The Ultimate Guide to the Unwanted Friend Request:

Option 1: Ignore

Freud was totally on to something with that whole repression thing. Treat this friend request like all the other vaguely uncomfortable social issues hovering around your shoulders like miniature dementors (the implied ask-out from that weird girl at work! That college student's persistent requests for an informational interview! The voice mails of murmured Fiona Apple lyrics you keep leaving on your ex-girlfriend's phone when you've been hitting the sauce!) and sweep the whole thing under the rug.

Facebook even makes this the default now -- instead of totally rejecting a request, you simply hit "Not now," relegating it to the realm of "hidden requests." Hey, maybe your clueless would-be amigo will just think you never log into the ol' Book of Face.

Option 2: Accept -- with caution

If you don't feel comfortable relegating your contact to Friend Request Limbo, you can instead send him or her to the halfway house of your limited profile. Then you tell Facebook to, for example, not let certain people read the stupid things your friends post on your wall. Mark Zuckerberg, of course, made this way more difficult than it needs to be.

OK, deep breath: If you don't already have a Limited Profile list, click on "more" next to "Lists" in the left-hand column and then click "Create a list." Name it "Limited Profile," "Professional contacts," "Creepers," whatever. Now surf on over to "privacy settings" under the arrow that's always on the upper right.

Now [another gasp] click on Privacy settings, "edit settings" next to "How you connect," and, next to the last option ("Who can see Wall posts by others on your profile?"), click "custom" and then provide the list name under the option "Hide from." Now accept your frenemy's friendship, hover your mouse over "Friends" and select your stealth list from the drop-down menu. This just takes care of others' wall posts -- you have to go through a whole 'nother rigmarole to block your photo albums, for example.

Well, now that we're exhausted and in need of more caffeine from writing that all out, I think we can all acknowledge that Facebook privacy settings suck and this is probably the least time-efficient solution. But hey, if your boss really will freak out if you don't hit Accept, it may be worth the trouble.

Option 3: Reject, and speak up

Sometimes, a little apologetic explanation will soothe the sting of rejection. Give the person you just turned down a legit-sounding excuse the next time you see them in person (or get them on the phone).

"As a rule, I'm not really Facebook friends with people I know professionally, but let me add you on LinkedIn" is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, for example. Just do the explaining in an oh-by-the-way tone (NOT in a Facebook message or e-mail -- too awkward) and the person will mirror your niceness. We hope.

Option 4: Clean up, already

Cue the Mom Voice: If you're really not happy with the sloppy disaster of a profile you're presenting, it might be time to clean up your image.

Remember, recruiters and employers have an almost uncanny ability to find pictures and updates that you thought were private. (Mind-blowing actual exchange in Facebook's official Q&A: I set my photo album to Friends, but others are seeing, liking and commenting on my photos. The FB team responds with the digital equivalent of a dismissive wave of the hand.) And snap after snap of you passed out next to a toilet (or updates gleefully recounting your vomitacious episodes) are just, well, trashy.

Rule of thumb: Don't put anything on Facebook that you wouldn't want your aunt/boss/creepy neighbor seeing, even if you give them the big Reject.

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