The Five Unspoken Rules of Facebook

I should be on payroll with Facebook. No really; I have spent way too much time defending and explaining the ins and outs of communication and maintaining relationship on this giant of social media. I never expected to be in this position, I can assure you. I can say with all honesty that I learned these rules through rough-and-tumble experience - a hard lesson, it was.

Relationship via social utilities can be sticky business. As with any form of communication between humans, things can be misconstrued, feelings can be hurt and respect and trust can be lost. I've even heard it described, not altogether inaccurately, as a minefield; one misstep and ka-blooey! And it happens to everyone once, and hopefully it only takes once to learn that there are definitely unspoken rules of engagement on Facebook (or any online social media, for that matter).

1.  Remember your public wall is public.

Public is public, which means everyone and anyone can see. There are 'privacy settings' decisions to be made, for sure, but for the newbie, everything is right out there for G-d and everyone. To that end, you will not want to post any status that is too, well, private. Or political. Or biased toward one religion or another. Or pointed to slam one person or group, unless, of course you want to start a flame war. The back and forth of unmoderated or heated debate on someone's status is really not necessary or edifying to anyone. I promise.

Yes, you have the right of free speech, it is true. But do you really want to use your Facebook wall to hammer others? Or reveal things that should just be for your close friends? Which brings me to the next rule...

2.  Utilize private groups and keep them private.

Create your own group and put your bestest buds in there. Keep it small and intimate - you'll thank me later, really. This is the place to rally the troops to your cause, vent your latest rant or just whine. And I would highly suggest you make these private groups 'secret', so you don't hurt anyone's feelings when they realize you didn't invite them. And once you have a private group, don't go talkin' about what was said in there. Keep it private! Just trust me on this one.

3.  Friend and de-friend with caution.

Facebook is simply another form of communication, just like email, texting or talking on the phone. Attached to each name is a living, breathing person with feelings and emotions. Even though it is fun to add to your 'friends list', be a little cautious about who you accept. Friending is a whole lot easier than un-friending, as it were, where the the risk for hurting feelings is great. Remember, if you don't like someone's posts, you can always 'unsubscribe' and not see them in your news feed - it's all good, you don't see their posts and you didn't have to un-friend them. If you absolutely must cut down your numbers to make your life easier or whatever, be aware of who may be personally offended by your de-friending them. You may want to shoot them a quick private message prior to giving them the ax explaining why you are deleting them.

4.  Remember who your audience is.

Again, there are real people attached to those typewritten names; it may be difficult to remember that when you are dealing with the flat-ness of online communication, I understand. But, if you cannot say what you are about to type to their face, person to person, then you perhaps shouldn't post it on a public wall, yours or theirs. Manners matter and common courtesy is expected and right. Miscommunication happens frequently, especially when trying to convey various vocal tones such as sarcasm. Also, if you know you have some of the younger facebookers in your friends list, be courteous and don't use course language (or block them from that particular post). Do you have your bestie's grandmother as a friend? Let me tell you, she probably doesn't need to know the gritty details of your date last night. And unless you want to start WWIII, I'd keep your political comments neutral unless all your friends, and friends of friends, are of the same political color. Always remember to keep your audience in mind as a common courtesy and a sure-fire way to avoid hurt feelings or damaged reputations.

5.  Lighten up.

It's an online social utility - a means to keep in touch with long-distance family or friends that you don't see all that often. It's a place to organize close friends and to kick around ideas. It's a place to be exposed, in a good way, to what people all over the country, even the world, are doing. That is all. It's NOT a replacement for a living, breathing community, nor is it the panacea of social experience. Keep things light and people will enjoy your posts. Pithy sayings, fun videos and inspiring quotes are always welcome in a world where most people are looking to Facebook as a way to relax and catch up with their friends. Yes, it can be a place for reaching out to your fellow man to help, as is everywhere we interact with others, but for the most part it's just a social utility. To make it stretch beyond that is silly. If you have more to say, write a blog.

Oh, and one more thing; don't expect too much of your friends on Facebook. Sometimes they won't post on your wall, or like your stuff - it's OK. It's all just for fun, right? You can still be friends with the ones that don't get on often, or the ones that just like to 'lurk' - they are not trying to ignore you, they just don't put a high priority to interacting on Facebook. Give everyone a little space and enjoy your time on Facebook for what it is - friendship and entertainment.

Which brings me to the subject of the term 'friend'. There are many flavors of friendship, and Facebook and other online groups have given the term yet another flavor. Don't get hung up on the term 'friend', it's just a word. You can have close friends on Facebook and you can have acquaintances. You can even have people as 'friends' whom you have never met face to face. It's alright, really. I'm sure Facebook chose that term to make it sound more inviting and friendly (no pun intended). Just because you have the guy who sits in the cube next to you at the office as a friend on Facebook doesn't mean that he is a close friend, or even a friend by your personal definition.  Remember, this is just the term Facebook chose - if it makes you feel better, maybe you could call them persons instead of friends. Just a thought.

Now, I know there is a grass-roots movement of sorts, a counter-culture I guess you could call it, of folks that adamantly refuse to be on Facebook, or have tried it, got overwhelmed and deactivated. Some people just don't have time or they would rather talk to people on the phone or face to face - that's all good, too. If Facebook is not for you, it's not for you. But I would like to caution those who are anti-social media; please don't judge those of us that enjoy it. Truly, if you have not spent a good bit of time on it yourself, you have no place to talk or make judgments...or to even offer advice regarding it. Facebook in and of itself is not good or evil, it just is. It is the people inhabiting your friends list that gives it a specific flavor and experience. It is the people that make it what it is, and that is the bottom line...just like every other form of communication.


Ari C'rona said…
Excellent post, my friend! I've sure been burned as well as inadvertently offending some... I agree - hard lessons.
Anonymous said…
Extremely well said!!!!

From one of the many AQ lurkers and Facebook "persons" :)
Mama Cache said…
This is going to be prominently bookmarked in my browser, ready to be shared -- and share it, I will.

All five points have me nodding in agreement. Well written. Much needed.
Barb said…
Excellent post! I think the message bears repeating--good manners and respect toward others is appropriate whether in person or on Facebook or any other social media.