Thursday, 22 April 2010

Is there such a thing as Facebook etiquette?

Although I’ve been a Facebook user ever since I received my first ‘please join Facebook and add me as your friend’ invitation, I can relate completely to those who choose not to join the social network. Admittedly I also admire their resilience especially as the social network now boasts over 400 million users and counting, and that 90% of their friends and family are already avid users. It takes some courage to keep saying no to invitations even though your curiosity is trying to get the better of you. I mean let’s face it who doesn’t love to look at people’s photos, see how they’re doing in life, scrutinise the background behind their children’s pictures – frown at the site of the fabric they choose for their curtains or at the amount of weight they’ve put on since we last saw them. Worse still that their wedding cake was a little tacky and their groom looked a little ‘mature’ and just a bit portly. We love it and probably do it more often than we’d care to admit. It takes a brave person to resist that kind of temptation and I am happy to put my hand up and say I am not that person. Nonetheless I have been recently contemplating leaving my Facebook account with its 134 friends (who I constantly have to cull to keep at a manageable number) and various notes which I’ve written, photo albums mostly featuring my children, yes I admit I’m one of those doting unbearable parents who thinks everyone wants to see pictures of their children aged 1-16. I have seriously thought about giving it all up so that I can exercise my freedom of speech once again which I am convinced is killed off by the yet unwritten but well known Facebook etiquette.

Let me explain: as you trawl through your ‘friends’ and their updated statuses boasting about their new homes, holidays, their undying love for their husbands and children, the latest party they went to, food they ate and their various achievements be-it professional or otherwise, you are more than a little inclined to comment. Now if like me you tend not to suffer fools in real life, you would ordinarily want to impart these same principles in cyberspace. For instance if someone, friend or acquaintance walked up to me and said how lucky they were to have been on the most fantastic holiday with their spouse who they had undying love for, my instant reaction would be to say ‘That’s nice for you’ and walk off. It’s not that I don’t love a good holiday story, in fact travelling is still my passion even though I don’t get to indulge as much as I’d like to, it’s all about the way you tell the story. Rather than telling you about a new country and its beauty, and recommend that you visit it (recommendations from Facebook friends are my personal favourite), what Facebook User no. 57,860 is doing is showing off. And let’s face it nobody likes a show off do they? Likewise I don’t want to hear stories about your issues – if you have money problems, your boyfriend has dumped you or you’ve recently discovered that your husband is having a cyber affair then please keep it to yourself – anything that you wouldn’t disclose to anyone other than close friends in real life should remain off your Facebook status in my humble opinion.

There are also those who do battle with their ‘friends’ on their status, declaring things like - ‘I’m stronger than all the Haters’ or my personal favourite - ‘those who thought they could break me, sorry to disappoint you’. Well, aside from rolling my eyes, I’m inclined to suggest these ‘hard nuts’ try not to take the saying ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ too literally. Why on earth would you give someone who you dislike or who dislikes you access to your personal information, thoughts, photos etc? Surely it would be much simpler to delete the ‘haters’ than to tell them in a vague and not even mildly threatening way that you are ready to ‘take them on’. Is this some form of passive aggression?

The difficulty I have with these types of status is the response they elicit – people seem to be constantly stroking each other’s ego. Is that really what ‘friends’ are for? The response to ‘My son has just been named the most gifted and talented child in his school’ meets with ‘oh wow, what a genius you gave birth to’ when really what you want to/should say is ‘Get a real hobby you pushy mum!’. Likewise the ‘I just got back from a fabulous holiday in Bali’ meets with ‘Lucky you, I wish I was there’ when really what you want to/should say is more like ‘I bet you missed your Facebook friends to gloat to didn’t you?’. Although I’m not bold enough to say some of these things, I can’t help but wish someone would be crazy enough to post a similarly brutally frank response. Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that I don’t talk about my ‘social exploits’ – partying till late is a huge achievement for the boring old woman I’ve become so yes I will update my Facebook when I manage to stay awake at a party until the wee hours of the morning. Likewise if I enjoy something I will definitely recommend it to friends but I guess its all about moderation. If you can look at your status updates over a period of time and see only evidence of your ‘achievements’ and your life deemed fabulous by none other than yourself, then perhaps you are one of the users I’m talking about. If on the other hand you manage to balance the showing off with things that interest people other than you then you probably class as a well-rounded Facebook user and the type of person I’d happily befriend. Unfortunately more and more people seem to fall in the other category and make me lament staying on Facebook, I mean aren’t we politically correct enough in real life without having to endure so-called friends and their odd narcissistic ways in the name of Facebook etiquette?

This brings me on to the definition of ‘friends’ in the social networking world. Now I put my hand up and admit that indeed some of the people listed on my Facebook aren’t my friends in the Oxford dictionary sense of the word; they may be siblings/partners/friends of friends but I’m happy to keep them on my friends list as long as I find them engaging. I draw the line however at parents of friends, period, no matter how fun and ‘whacky’ they are, yes call me ageist but I’d rather not learn from my mother or aunt that ‘Aunty so and so’ thought my photos taken at a random party were a little risqué for a woman my age. The in-laws and ex boyfriends are also a tricky category; as a general rule I would say ‘avoid’ but if they’re harmless enough and don’t judge you or report back to your spouse when a friend of the opposite sex ‘pokes’ you or in the case of the exes start reminiscing about your defunct relationship, on your wall no less, then I guess they can stay. I also tend not befriend friends of friends who I have little in common with and find not even remotely interesting because what’s the point…no really, what is the point of that ‘friendship’?

My director recently scoffed when I declared in the office for all to hear that I didn’t think having colleagues on your Facebook was a good idea. She then teased saying she’d have to see about that, to which I responded ‘You’d have to find me first’ because of course as some of you more discernable Facebook users know, it is entirely possible to make your name unsearchable and your profile visible only to your friends. I am a firm believer in separating work life from personal life and within that personal life I think there should also be a certain level of privacy and privileged disclosure. I can count on one hand, okay perhaps two who my closest friends that I would happily divulge certain pieces of information about my life to. There are others who I think we can interact with on a ‘networking’ level because we share common interests. In between are the majority who we used to know, used to go to school with and have found thanks to a Facebook friend name search and although we’ve become re-acquainted, almost wish we hadn’t. I’ve been known to cull friends on a periodic basis because often the initial excitement of being in touch with a long lost ‘friend’ has worn off and I realise that it’s best if we spend another decade out of touch with each other. That way we can act surprised and feign delight when we bump into each other at the school reunion. On my culling list are also the spectators who quite happily observe others’ activities, scrutinise their photos, read their postings and contribute little or nothing themselves. I appreciate it may be because they have nothing to say or simply that they’re guarded, in my fiercely honest opinion though, whether it’s the former or the latter, they too need to be deleted.

I’m hoping that in a few months, perhaps a year’s time if I’m still one of the half a billion users, my Facebook will include real friends and interesting acquaintances who I can be brutally honest with when their showing off gets too much or when I get tired of seeing the 3976th picture of their newborn child. I suspect that day will see me having much fewer than the 134 friends currently residing in my Facebook space which may not be such a bad thing.


JB said...

You're complaining about 134! I just made 200 today and frankly I'm a little horrified that i got to that number. It kinda snuck up on me and I'm wondering how in the world i will reduce it to a comfy "below 100" real friends and acquaintances . Love your blog. It's like you took the words right out of my mouth!!! LOL!
FB has many pluses for me. For one, it's helped me reconnect with long lost friends i never ever knew i'd see again. I love that even with the distance i am able to peer into their lives (not snoop), catch up with them and what they are up to and even share whats going on in my life. I have to admit i am one of those guilty moms who thinks everyone wants to see the latest picture of my adorable offspring. Oftentimes i hesitate before i post any pictures because.. i think - who wants to see my pictures. But then i know i have family and some friends who genuinely enjoy my albums. But, i know some who are just plain snooping or making comparisons. And they're the ones i'd love to get rid of!
Wish i had the will power to leave FB. I actually silently pray they do charge a fee because although i know i could afford the fee, it'd be a perfect excuse to get off the network. Why pay $$ when i can email my 'friends' that REALLY matter for FREE!!
When you figure out how to delete the snoopers without feeling wholly guilty, please share the secret because Lord knows i NEED it. 200!! tut! tut! tut!

Anonymous said...

I CANNOT STAND "the spectators who quite happily observe others’ activities, scrutinise their photos, read their postings and contribute little or nothing themselves." Maybe that's where i should begin ... tried it once and got emails kinda putting me in the corner and trying to 'guilt trip' me for deleting them. Figured if someone was bold enough to ask why they were deleted... i'd re-fiend them. For now!