There was a time, back when you needed to be roughly 18-22 with a college e-mail address to sign up, when people understood how to appropriately use Facebook. It wasn’t called “I have feelings-book,” “Therapy-book,” or even “Look at me-book.” It was Facebook. A place where you could semi-stalk anyone who you had a statistics class with.
Then came the pictures. Then came the status updates. Then came the parents. Then it all went to shit.
I write this out of a deep love and addiction to Facebook, one that causes me to endure the social-media-socially-challenged friends who flood my feed every day with way too much information about their life. But (Facebook) friends, it’s time for a etiquette book on what to post on Facebook and when. Don’t worry - I’m about to write (part of) it for you.
All of this is based on the assumption that the majority of your Facebook friends are not your actual, close friends. Fair, yes? There are many “friends” on there that when their birthday pops up, you think to yourself, “Is it weird if I wish this person a happy birthday out of the blue?” That is not an actual friend. This is not someone you reach out to with personal tragedy or to debate politics.
Even wishing someone a happy birthday once a year and sporadically liking something witty that they say is not an actual friend. You have actual friends phone numbers programmed in your cell. You e-mail with actual friends. You even see them in person every now and then. You know what’s going on in their lives beyond what “life event” updates you see, or photos with a ring on it. Those are actual friends. Those are the people who, if you have something deeply painful going on in your life, you reach out to for comfort. Not the Internet.
And that’s ok. That’s what social media is. But knowing this - it’s time to chill on how much you share of your life story - and the life stories of those around you - to the Internet. Things you share with the internet - whether funny, informative, heartwarming, whatever - should really fall under the “you might find this interesting” category.
For anything that doesn’t fall under the “you might find this interesting” category, a good rule of thumb is pretend you are posting “Pay attention to me because…” before your status update…because that’s what you’re saying. Then pretend you are sending an e-mail to the hundreds/thousands of people who read your status - or said it out loud in a room in front of them - and reassess what you are going to post. Would you really feel comfortable e-mailing the 500 people closest to you with, “Pay attention to me because I got dumped,” “Pay attention to me because I’ve had a death in my family,” or “Pay attention to me because of my un-researched political opinions?”
If you’re having trouble with that answer, let me help you. No: you should not feel comfortable with that.
To review: the internet amuses you, and you it. Friends, family and therapists comfort you.
Let’s apply this principle into practice, shall we?
Loss of a family member: This hits particularly close to home, as I recently learned of my grandfather’s death…on Facebook. The “Pay attention to me because…I lost a family member” post was up before it was reasonable to assume that all other efforts had been exercised to notify loved ones. I’m the oldest of 19 cousins on my dad’s side, and my dad is the oldest of 7 kids (Irish Catholic - obvs). So do that math - add in in laws, and that’s already 33 people that need to be notified before you even get around to more distant family, friends, colleagues, close acquaintances. To post a “Pay attention to me because…” so soon after a family member died is beyond selfish. Are the supportive comments and likes really worth it?
If they really are, to you, at least wait for the official obituary - which is when it’s appropriate for strangers and distant acquaintances to know your family tragedy.
Illness in your family: See above. While you might not be a private person, your posts about your family affect everyone else in the family. Perhaps a more private cousin does not want the world to know your aunt is terminally ill, and loathes the shallow Facebook comments it will evoke. Oh - and the sick relative: did they request a press release on their illness? No? Then stop.
Political debates: Post at your own risk. Just know that it better be really well researched, because the internet is about to call you out. Wherever will they find the fact checks? Oh right: THE INTERNET.
You got dumped: Change your relationship status, and that’s it. If at all possible, set it so that it doesn’t come up on a newsfeed. Unless you really want to look back on a lot of comments that look like :( :( OMG SO sorry :( :( and a few random (awkward) likes. Facebook is not the place to air your relationship woes. It’s the past to post pictures of you looking fabulous post break-up (natch) - that will say enough.
Your having an event: You get ONE post. And ONE reminder. And ONLY to people who live within reasonable driving distance to said event. If I live in LA, I’m not coming to your show in Boston. Yes, you.
That’s what you get. That’s it. Feel free to e-mail your friends as many times as you want about it.
You did something impressive and want everyone to know: If you must: one post. One. Not the same post over and over, or a variation of the post with the same link. One. Post. Then go do something else impressive, and you can post about it again.
Financial trouble: No one wants to hear it. They just don’t. Unless your financial trouble warrants a Kickstarter account to raise money, it’s unnecessary, and makes everyone uber uncomfortable.
Arguments and apologies: E-mail. Direct Message. Anything other than posting a comment.
Your emotions: This is what a diary is for. They are relatively inexpensive. If you look back weeks later, and something you wrote in said diary would be profoundly useful to your social network, you can post it then. Just…don’t post emotions when you’re feeling them. It’s a cry for attention…that goes out to strangers.
What am I missing? This Facebook etiquette book seems short for so many offenses…I’m sure there is more to come.