Something happened on Facebook this week that made me contemplate how people act on social media sites and why. It’s been said that people are likely to say things to you via the Internet that they would never have the guts to say to your face. It’s a syndrome that’s often discussed relative to anonymity and the Web.
I think people are more likely to say things on Facebook that they would never have the guts to say to your face too, so it’s more complicated than hiding behind anonymity. Because hopefully you do actually know these people. Sort of.
So, I clearly have a close relationship with Facebook since, you know, I wrote a story about it. I spend too much time on it, and I do really love it. I love seeing vacation pictures from my cousin, and I love checking out cool blog posts recommended by my friends. If a big news event happens, I usually find out about it on Facebook first. I love running into a friend or old work colleague around town and being able to ask, “How is your new job going?” instead of, “What’s new with you?” because I know all about their new job thanks to 136 characters in a status update, even if I haven’t seen them for a year.
But there’s an uglier side of Facebook that rears its head every now and then. My example: a Friend (capital F, as in Facebook Friend) of mine posted a video that recently went viral. She was one of six Friends (out of about 200) who posted the same video this week.
The rest of my Friends got 1 or 2 comments on the video link, plus a few likes here and then. But this one Friend had more than 30 comments on this same video. And they weren’t nice comments to read.
The video itself isn’t particularly important. It was clearly meant to be inspirational, but it had political and religious overtones that exposed deep rifts in our country. Unfortunately, when my Friend’s friends commented on the video, they essentially started a political and religious argument (let’s not pretend that politics and religion in this country are not intertwined) that got heated and somewhat ugly.
Why? Why would the same video create such a strong reaction on one person’s Wall, yet virtually nothing on someone else’s Wall?
Truth is, I think some problems like this one could be solved by some simple rules of etiquette. And so I present: The Five Rules of Facebook Etiquette.
Rule #1: Thou Shall Not Hijack Other People’s Threads
This rule can be summed up in a simple sentence: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Now, back to my example. Do I really believe that my other five Friends are only friends with people who agree with the video’s political/religious tone?
So what was different?
I suspect it was simply that my other Friends’ friends simply did what most people would do when presented with something they dislike.
They ignore it.
We do it all the time in person. Change the subject in a conversation. Avoid meeting someone’s eyes. Suddenly remember an urgent appointment. Whatever.
The Facebook equivalent? Just don’t say anything.
Now I’m all in favor of a little healthy discourse. But if you are going to be rude or condescending or outright mean, don’t do it on someone else’s post. It’s the online equivalent of showing up to a party and pissing on the doorstep.
Don’t like someone’s opinion? Fine. Use your own Wall. Because if you are a jerk on your own Wall, your own Friends can tune you out, or hide you or de-Friend you.
Being rude, condescending or mean on someone else’s post just makes you look like a jerk. And if you are trying to make a point, you aren’t convincing anybody of anything other than you are a jerk.