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!

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