Benjamin Franklin may have been right when he proclaimed death and taxes as the only certainties in the world. He, however, made that proclamation at a time when the concept of an Internet or digital age was more science fiction than reality. Today, a person could add Facebook to that list and few could fault him or her for it. With over 750 million members, Zuck’s masterpiece has a “population” bigger than most countries (that is, every single one except China and India).
Considering that Facebook is bigger than the U.S. and Indonesia combined, there is a need for some kind of online etiquette to ensure that it remains a pleasant, fun, and civilised cyber community. In addition to oft-mentioned gaffes like venting about work, using the Relationship Status to dump a partner, posting embarrassing pictures of someone, and harassing strangers with friend requests, the following are behaviours you should avoid so you don’t become a cyber pest:
1. Piggybacking on another person’s post
Say you want to ask your friend George to check out a video you made. You visit his wall and see that the most recent post is by Fred. He and George are discussing a pie-eating contest they plan on joining. You regard it as an opportunity to self-advertise and proceed to compose this comment: Good luck with the contest! Hey George, check out this video I made about my pet turtle. Pretty hilarious! LOL!
Hit the Enter or Return button and chances are neither George nor Fred would be amused. Ever come across spam comments about landing a millionaire boyfriend at some dating site? Annoying, right? Hijacking a conversation is in the same league of annoying.
Like in the real world, it’s rude to cut in on a Facebook conversation, especially with something that is irrelevant to the topic being discussed. If you want to direct a friend’s attention to another subject, don’t piggyback on someone else’s post. Create your own.
2. Flooding people with invites
If you believe that a quiz can tell you what kind of music genre you are, then by all means answer as many questions as necessary. Just be prudent with those invites because not everyone needs an online quiz to tell them that they’re glam rock, Bowie-style.
The same is true for apps and events. While it’s great that your crops are doing well, there are some who don’t feel a hankering to plant tomatoes over at Farmville. And yes, that party you’re planning will be huge, but huge enough to warrant a plane ride from another continent? If not, then restrict those invites to people who are actually in the area.
3. Sharing private information about people on their walls
You heard from your mate that Margie has been sacked. Of course, being the good friend that you are, you want to convey your sympathy. You log in to your account and check her wall, but you don’t find anything there about it. So what do you do? You decide not to be as uncaring as everybody else and post this heartfelt message: Just heard about what happened. Don’t worry, you’ll eventually find another job. Hang in there, xoxo.
Really, with a friend like you, who needs enemies?
When it comes to information that might be considered, even remotely, sensitive or confidential, take the safe route and privately message or call the person. Better yet, mind your own business and wait for him or her to confide in you. You wouldn’t want Margie to show you the same compassion by mentioning your unpaid credit card bills, would you?
4. Publicly criticising people via their walls
This is related to #3, but it reeks of such bad taste that it needs its own entry. If you want to call attention to something that displeases you about a friend, be discreet about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s constructive criticism, there’s no reason why you should publicly berate a person and yes, the Facebook wall counts as “public.” Depending on the person’s privacy settings, your post could be read not only by colleagues and other friends, but also by family members who might not be happy to learn that Margie drinks like a fish (and may have been fired because of it).
Posting a critical message on a Facebook wall is akin to standing up in a full auditorium and announcing into a microphone that the person beside you is the source of that dreadful smell filling the hall. Unnecessary and downright cruel. Again, with a friend like you…
5. Implicating someone in your online war
It should go without saying that waging a war on Facebook is juvenile. However, if you do find yourself exchanging heated remarks with someone, don’t drag others into the fight just because you’ve ran out of snide comebacks.
If Fred accuses you of being an imbecile who can’t spell, don’t be a brat and tell him that George hates the way he chews with his mouth open. It might be true, but it’s unlikely that George would appreciate you creating a rift between him and Fred. Remember, they still have a pie-eating contest to win.
6. Flirting with someone who’s “In a relationship,” “Engaged,” or “Married”
Comments like “you grew up hot” and “that tight shirt goes well with your six-pack” might seem harmless to you, but they’re bound to give someone else the wrong idea, and that someone could very well be the person’s romantic partner. Unless you’re absolutely sure that your comments won’t be misconstrued and cause problems, then it’s best to refrain from posting flirtatious remarks to those who’ve made it clear that they’re unavailable.
Besides being openly disrespectful of the people involved, you may also be putting the couple in the awkward position of having to explain your virtual leering to others—to their kids, for example, or to the members of their couples-only bowling team.
Note: While George, Margie, and Fred are fictional characters used here merely as examples, they could very well be actual people in your life. Use Facebook wisely and you might just keep them there.