Woman sparks heated debate over Facebook friend request

Facebook users often fall victim to scams. Source: Getty Images

Social media can be a difficult tool to navigate, especially when you get a friend request from someone you don’t know all that well. Do you accept to remain polite, or do you refuse and risk the person (not matter how loosely you’re acquainted) thinking that you’re a straight-up jerk? 

This kind of decision is part and parcel with the social media experience now, but one woman found a friend request particularly uncomfortable, and labelled it as harassment, though not everyone would agree. 

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an award-winning Pakistani filmmaker, shared a story on Twitter that had many people on the fence. 

“There are zero boundaries in [Pakistan]! Obaid-Chinoy wrote. “Last night my sister went to AKU [Aga Khan University Hospital] emergency & the doctor who tended to her tried 2 add her on [Facebook]. I don’t quite understand how doctor tending 2 emergency patients thinks it’s ok to take a female patient info & add her on FB! Unethical. Unfortunately the doctor messed with the wrong women in the wrong family and I will definitely report him! Harassment has 2 stop!” [sic]

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Obaid-Chinoy has won numerous awards for her documentaries Saving Face and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. Both films focus on sensitive topics about the treatment of females living in Pakistan, including acid attacks and honour killings.

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The comments, which were made on October 23, have led to the doctor being suspended by the hospital, and it has emerged that he had already been the subject of several complains from other staff members.

Obaid-Chinoy made an official statement about the incident, acknowledging that some of the words she used in anger had disappointed people and helped to move discussion “away from the real issue at hand”. 

“In this case, a doctor on call that night in an emergency ward and a stranger to us, with whom no conversation other than medical was had, was trusted with medical access to a very private examination in the ward. 

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“Following this examination, he chose to seek out the patient on social media leaving comments on photographs [and] trying to add her as a Facebook friend.

“This naturally brought out a deep sense of how vulnerable one really is … Women are afraid to voice issues of harassment and unethical behaviour because they may be ignored or because we drown out their voices. 

“You may disagree with the manner in which I called out the doctor’s behaviour, debate the boundaries of social media with the medical profession and my form and tone of expression but ultimately, what happened was a breach of trust and a severe lack of a professional code of conduct that led to a woman feeling violated and harassed. And on that, I will not stay silent.” 

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Several responses to Obaid-Chinoy’s statement on Twitter squarely pointed the finger at her sister rather than the doctor. 

“When you have made your posts on [Facebook] as public it mean that any one can comment, don’t blame the doc, ask your sis to have some sense,” a user wrote. 

A Facebook friend request from someone you’ve met in passing or an old colleague or acquaintance from school is easy enough to dismiss, even if you feel a little uneasy over how you’ll be viewed in the aftermath. But receiving several comments and a friend request from someone who has access to intimate personal details about your life is another thing entirely, and it’s not hard to see why someone would feel uncomfortable about being caught in such a situation. 

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Whether it’s someone pretending to know you, or someone stealing the personal information of a friend you know well, it seems like there’s some inventive new scam every week on social media. Obaid-Chinoy’s situation is a timely reminder to ensure that you’re comfortable with the privacy settings on your social media so that you can protect yourself both from unsavoury individuals and those who are actually trying to scam you or steal your information.

Facebook also has a guideline to its privacy basics that will help you tailor your account to a level of privacy with which you are comfortable. You can view the guide here

Have you ever had a friend request from someone you didn’t know?