25 April 2013

A Few Facebook Etiquette Pointers

Like a lot of people, I spend a fair amount of time on Facebook, admiring pictures of my friends' children, vacations, and craft projects. I also enjoy reading funny cartoons, satires, and articles that people post about current events. I write this blog and contribute to my office blog, and I curate Facebook pages for both. So it's fair to say that I spend a good portion of every day in front of a screen.

I could write volumes about what I've learned about people I know on Facebook. I have come face-to-face with their religious and political beliefs, most of which don't match my own and would never have come to light in routine polite conversation. But Facebook isn't about polite conversation (nor should it really be). It's an open forum, and people should have the right to post whatever they want.

Keeping that in mind, though, there really should be some basic civility rules. Facebook shouldn't cause spats in friendships that existed long before it did, and will probably outlast it by decades. I've been compiling a list of suggested Facebook etiquette rules in my head all week long; here are the ones I can remember.

Be careful about tagging people, especially in public posts. There's a man I adore who goes to my church. Every Sunday, he checks in publicly at church and tags everyone he sees in the pews. He thinks he's doing good by promoting the church. But this means that my church attendance pops up on a weekly basis in his news feed and all my friends' news feeds, and it is visible on my profile to anyone who finds it, even complete strangers. Do I want the whole world knowing where I am on a Sunday morning? Not really, thanks. Is there any way to prevent this from happening? No. Anyone can tag anyone. I can keep it from being memorialized on my page, but the only way to stop it altogether is either to unfriend him (which I do not wish to do, as I adore him in every other respect) or to have an awkward conversation with him. (Or, I could passive-aggressively write about it in my blog.)

Don't tag people in pictures without their permission. Being tagged in a public picture prevents similar problems. Best practice: don't ever tag anyone; let them look at the pictures and add their own tags if they wish. Pretty good practice: ask people for permission before you tag them. This way, they can decide whether they want to publish that particular depiction of their weight or their hair. Good enough practice for most people: tag away in pictures that have a limited audience. Warning: do not ever tag anyone under the age of 18 in anything, unless you are their parent or have their parent's explicit permission.

Don't use fake names. A lot of young people do this so they won't be searchable by colleges or employers. But you can make yourself unsearchable in your privacy settings anyway. Besides, if you're on Facebook at all, let's be serious, you can be found and identified by your pictures. If you are using a fake name AND a fake picture, maybe it's time to rethink why you're there at all. But, seriously, people who write on your wall or tag you in pictures don't know who is seeing their posts if all your friends have fake names. It's a little dishonest. I frequently get friend requests from people like Theodore Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln, with a little explanatory note saying, "It's me, insert actual name, under false cover." I have a policy of denying each and every one of those requests.

Don't make obnoxious comments. I used to have a friend who, every time I mentioned my fabulous husband in a post, would make a comment along the lines of, "Ha ha! I remember in college when you and he weren't even speaking!" Or, "Remember that ugly chick he dated when you were mad at him?" I'm not sure why she did this. The events of which she spoke were more than twenty-five years ago. But she's no longer my Facebook friend.

Think about who might read what you write. I am speaking specifically of profanity. I am friends with my mother and my three teenagers online. Don't write f-ing this and f-ing that on my wall. Please. And if you write that stuff on your own wall, consider making it non-public.

Don't pick fights. If you don't like what someone posted, just don't click "like." Try not to get into a knock-down, drag-out fight online, in front of everyone. Trust me. I have done this and still have to work hard to restrain myself from doing this. I am not going to change anyone's religious beliefs, political leanings, or admiration of Margaret Thatcher or the Boy Scouts by lecturing them on Facebook. All I am going to do is make myself look like a self-righteous know-it-all nag. I need to try to keep that aspect of my personality a little closer to my vest.

If you put people on a restricted list, be prepared to get unfriended when they figure it out. Someone I have known for more than thirty years had me on his restricted list for a long time. All I could see on his profile were periodic changes of his cover photo, which are public. There were no non-public postings, at least not visible to me. I was sad; what was the point of being Facebook friends if he could see my posts but I couldn't see his? I unfriended him. Now we're both sad. (Or at least that's what I tell myself.)

Don't write angry posts directed at one person, or write cryptic posts understandable by no one. My favorites are things like, "You make me really, really mad. You know who you are." Nope. I don't know whether I'm the person you're talking about. But I'll lie awake at night wondering if I am. What did I say? What did I do? But you're probably talking about your cat or something.

And finally, don't post on someone's wall something that's more appropriately a private message. This is a classic Grandma mistake - "Hi honey! I'll pick you up at three and we'll go get you some new underwear, okay?" But it can get much, much worse than that. Use your imagination. If it's a message for one person, send a personal message. If you want all their friends to see it too, post it on their wall.

That's all for now. I hope you're enjoying spring! (Or fall, if you're in the southern hemisphere, as I know some of my readers are.) The daffodils are just about finished here, but the trees are in full bloom, and the lilacs are going to burst any day. Time to get away from the computer screen!

05 April 2013

Why I Don't Feel Sorry For Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby, in case you don't know, is a large, popular, and successful family-owned craft-store chain. The corporation is owned by the Green family, conservative evangelical Christians. They conduct their business in accordance with their faith. For example, Hobby Lobby closes its 525 stores every Sunday so its employees can observe a Christian day of rest. It is also known to donate generously to conservative institutions and causes and, according to the New York Times, to use stickers to cover up Botticelli's naked Venus in the art books it sells. (I don't think the problem is that Venus is a pagan goddess; I think the problem is that Venus is naked. The human body in its natural state is sinful to behold.)

Such is Hobby Lobby's strong identification with conservative Christianity that it made headlines recently by suing the Obama administration for forcing it to comply with the federal health care law. That law requires employers to provide comprehensive health coverage for women, including contraception, pregnancy termination, and maternity care. The law requires the provision, when needed, of the so-called "morning-after pill," a drug given to women after unprotected sex or rape to prevent pregnancy. The "morning-after pill" is controversial because it hovers in that gray area somewhere between contraception and abortion: it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting and giving rise to a full-blown pregnancy.

Hobby Lobby is opposed to the use of the "morning-after pill" in all circumstances, on religious grounds. It believes that, because of its beliefs, it should not be forced to pay for insurance that covers such medication. (Purely religious organizations, like churches and synagogues, are exempt from the federal healthcare law. Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business, is not.)

The company sued the Obama administration and lost, and now it is threatening to close its doors rather than comply with the law. The story has generated a great deal of sympathy in the religious and secular press. What does a religious business do when the secular law requires it to do something against its beliefs?

Now, I am not disputing that the Green family and its corporation have every right in the world to oppose the use of contraception or any other medical or quasi-medical procedure. That right is absolutely protected under the Federal Constitution. I am also not going to argue the ethics of abortion, contraception, or anything related to those issues in this space. (I do have opinions about these things, but I'd need a lot more room to elaborate on them than I have here.)

What I am going to say is this: the price of running a successful business in a secular society is compliance with the secular laws. Hobby Lobby is not a purely religious organization. It is a for-profit business.  It makes an enormous amount of money selling craft supplies to American consumers. It does not - cannot, by law - turn shoppers away at the door on the basis of religious beliefs. It willingly takes money from sewing Christians, scrapbooking Jews, knitting Muslims, crocheting Buddhists, and flower-arranging atheists. To make its business successful, it also employs all those people (in fact, by law, it cannot deny employment to people on the basis of their religious beliefs or lack thereof).

And yet Hobby Lobby wants to have things both ways. It wants to have its money and enforce its beliefs too.

That's not how things work in America. In America, if you don't like the law for religious or other reasons, you are not allowed to simply ignore it or claim it shouldn't apply to you. There are as many different religious and ethical beliefs in this nation as there are people. Imagine the chaos if everyone claimed a religious exemption from the laws they oppose. What we do here, instead, is vote our conscience. Elect representatives who support the laws of which you approve and oppose those of which you don't. Use that money you make in your incredibly successful business to fund campaigns, raise public awareness of your cause, buy ads in newspapers. That, ladies and gentlemen, is entirely legal in this nation. The Supreme Court has said so.

If you are opposed to contraception and abortion, you are allowed to say so from the tops of the tallest buildings. You can demonstrate. You can pray. You can post away on Facebook and Twitter. You can run clinics that provide alternative care to women in crisis. You can educate young men about the consequences of sex, sexual aggression, and the law of consent. You can invest in education to lessen the need for such things. But you cannot disobey the law. The elected officials of this country have ratified a law that says that women employees are entitled to comprehensive health care coverage. Throw the bums out if you don't like it. But until you do, you must obey the law.

Running a church is not usually a profitable business. Trust me - I'm a preacher's kid, and I was raised on a preacher's wages. We had what we needed, and we lived by our principles, but we were not wealthy by any means.

Accumulating great wealth in our society is a tradeoff, and if you wish to do so, you need to play by the rules. That's the fabric of our society. It is the fiber of our being. It's the glue that holds us together, and what I've been needling you about. You can't put a varnish - oh, never mind. You cannot be a slave to two masters. And that is why I don't feel sorry for Hobby Lobby.

[Just after I published this post, I became aware of this ruling by a federal district court concerning the availability of morning-after pills to young women. Just thought I'd include the link in case you are interested in the subject. Who's not? It's a complex and fascinating issue. - jba]