Ask anyone what they consider the top Facebook sins, and they'll easily rattle off any number of sadly all-too-common practices that annoy most of us (innumerable baby and pet photos, to quickly name two). Yet not all faux pas are created equal. And since there's no Facebook etiquette manual — no Emily Post of social media — sometimes it can be a little tricky to know if you're unwittingly committing etiquette snafus.
A Facebook study published in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships noted there are a host of unwritten, undiscussed rules governing Facebook use. The study, which used university-student focus groups, came up with a list of Facebook friendship rules. Following are the top five [source: Cross]:
- If someone posts on your page, you should respond.
- You shouldn't say anything disrespectful about a friend (at least not on Facebook!).
- Before you post anything on someone's page, think about how it might affect the person's relationships.
- If your friend deletes a post you've made, you shouldn't repost it.
- If a person is truly your friend, you must communicate with her outside of Facebook.
So now you know how to be a good Facebook friend. But what are some of the biggest errors you can make when it comes to Facebook etiquette, whether we're talking close friends or mere acquaintances? Let's start with the most annoying one.
Maybe you've never heard of the term before. But hopefully you haven't done it. Vaguebooking is the practice of intentionally crafting a mysterious post to elicit sympathy and/or attention. "Is life really worth it?" "Someone is sure going to be surprised tomorrow!"
What's the point in such a, well, vague post? Do you think you'll sound more intriguing and interesting to your friends? Even worse, when one of your Facebook friends asks for details do you respond with, "I don't really want to get into it" or "Inbox me"? If it's that private, why post it on your wall? When Real Simple magazine asked its readers about their biggest Facebook peeves, vaguebooking got the most votes (24 percent) [source: Appenbrink].
So many people hate reading these types of messages, there's actually a website (vaguebook.org) where you can enter these posts so the world can collectively laugh —or roll their eyes — at them. If you love to write these kinds of posts, please stop. Or be prepared to see your posts possibly appearing on vaguebook.org.
On the other extreme are people who give too many details about themselves. Oversharing can take many forms. For instance:
- The bodily-function overshares: "I just farted." "I laughed and peed my pants!"
- The sex overshares: "Ed's going to get lucky in the sack tonight!" "Try doing it nine months pregnant. Ugh."
- The sparring overshares: "So I see from your FB photos that you weren't really at your mom's last night." "Yes I was. I went out afterward." "Riiiiiight. JERK." "I'm not kidding." "Don't bother calling me tonight."
Perhaps worse are oversharing parents. Unless we're the grandparents, we don't want to read about all of the trials and tribulations of potty-training your son, or look at 1,000 photos of Baby's first month of life. And if you're Facebook friends with your kids — especially if they're in the easily embarrassed ages — they sure don't want to read how you got drunk with the girls last night. Or see the angry diatribe you posted yesterday about how you wanted to staple their lips shut after they sassed you. Neither do we.
Politics and religion are often subjects that are dicey to discuss, at least in America. People tend to have strong opinions on these topics, and arguments can get heated. That's why it's considered a breach of etiquette to post polarizing political or religious statements, like "The President is a moron!"
When you post something like this, two things will likely happen. First, you'll annoy many of your friends. Certainly the ones who disagree with you, but also people who might agree with you, but not the way you're putting the message out there. Second, you'll ignite a firestorm of nasty comments, as those who you've ticked off begin furiously posting angry rebuttals. Soon they'll turn to bashing each other, too. Is this really what you want?
If you're passionate about politics or religion and want to discuss certain topics, that's fine. As long as you post thoughtful, polite, well-reasoned comments and respond respectfully to those who disagree, even if they post a harsh reply. But think about it for a minute. Have you ever seen a thoughtful, respectful political or religious discussion on Facebook? Exactly.
We get it. Facebook is meant for posting. For sharing news. And you have the right to post whatever and whenever you'd like. If your "friends" don't like all of your posts, they don't have to read them. Or they can unfriend you. What's the big deal?
Here's the thing: The vast majority of people do not want to read the minutiae of your life. Especially if you're creating minute-by-minute posts, like these: "Hamburgers on the grill tonight!" "First bite — delish!" "Time to roast a few marshmallows while the coals die down." "Burp."
When you post too frequently, you're basically spamming your friends. You may think you're being cute, or funny, or simply sharing your passion for food or biking or your dog, but most people don't see it like that. So once again, think before updating your status. Is what you've written something you'd enjoy reading if someone else posted it? Have you posted something on this topic earlier today? If you simply can't help clicking "Post" no matter what your answers to the previous questions are, at least refrain from tagging friends. Tagging flags the post for their attention, of course, so if they already consider most of your posts spam, tagging them will only be more infuriating.
It may seem strange to send a "friend" request to someone you barely know, or don't know at all, but people do it all the time. Why? Perhaps they view it as networking. Undoubtedly, some people like to accumulate friends as, ostensibly, a sign of popularity. Or maybe they're actually trying to connect with a third person through the stranger.
No matter the reason, this is considered a big no-no in the realm of Facebook etiquette. A whopping 32 percent of respondents to the Real Simple poll called it the "most irksome Facebook request" [source: Appenbrink]. Since Facebook pages often contain much private information, sending such a request is sort of like walking up to a stranger on the street and asking personal questions about his job, love life and hobbies. If you do have a valid reason for wanting to befriend a stranger — she's an avid runner like you, lives nearby and you'd like to run with her — then add a note to your request explaining this.
Interestingly, although many people find this practice annoying and even unsavory, researchers from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) found 20 percent of Facebook users who received an unsolicited friend request from a stranger via bot-controlled fake accounts added the person. That percentage soared to 60 if the stranger had just one mutual friend in common [source: Bright]. But don't take that as an excuse to send friend requests to strangers.
By now, everyone knows — or should — that it's unwise to post embarrassing photos of yourself on Facebook. You never know who will see them, and that can result in all sorts of horrific scenarios: A potential boss sees a shot of you drunkenly dancing with a lampshade on your head and doesn't offer you the job; a boyfriend sees you making out with another guy and dumps you; your teen son and his friends spot pics of you modeling lingerie with your girlfriends, causing him to be mercilessly teased for weeks.
But maybe a bigger issue is posting unflattering photos of other people on Facebook. You might think the shot of your buddy shirtless on the beach is funny — hey, look at that beer gut! — but chances are he won't. What if you look great in a group shot, but a few of the other people don't look so hot? Don't post it. Or ask the others in the photo if they'd mind. And speaking of asking permission, that's a must if you want to slap a photo on your page of a person who isn't on Facebook. Ditto with kids.
This rather common etiquette breach is puzzling. Why would anyone want a private message splashed all over a public place like Facebook? For some, it's a lack of understanding in how the social media platform works. Remember that when you post something on someone's wall, potentially everyone can read it, depending on the person's privacy settings. So don't write, "Hey, Amanda still in the dark about her surprise party?" on the wall. Or, "Wanna golf at 2? I'll tell the wife I'm working late." And certainly not, "Let's get it on tonight, baby!"
Some people post private messages on the Facebook wall because they're too lazy to pick up the phone or use the Facebook message feature, which acts like email. And frankly, they don't care if someone reads their "private" note. Well guess what? We do! It's like being forced to listen to someone loudly yammering on their cell phone in an elevator. You don't want to hear their stupid conversation, but you're trapped. If you post private messages, we'll see them whether we want to or not. Or whether you want you want us to or not.
We've all heard stories of someone finding out big news — really big news — on Facebook. It might be an engagement, pregnancy, wedding, divorce, new job. This type of news can be very welcome to read if you're not that close to the person disclosing it. But if, say, you learn on Facebook that your sister is expecting her first child, you'll likely be pretty steamed.
How could she not have had the courtesy to tell you this news herself, whether in person or via phone? Even worse, you learned about it at the same time as the rest of her 250 other Facebook friends. This means she considers you the equivalent of the 15 high school classmates she's also friends with on Facebook — the ones she doesn't even particularly like. It's an even bigger slap in the face if you don't go on Facebook every day. In that case, you might not hear the news for days. And depending on the privacy settings you've put in place, you might never see that post.
The other etiquette no-no is, don't share news that is not yours to broadcast. If your sister is pregnant but has not shared that on Facebook, she may be none-too-pleased if you do the honors.
We know your love is special. We know he's the hottest, kindest, most special guy on the planet. And she's the prettiest, most amazing woman on Earth who TOTALLY ROCKED YOUR WORLD last weekend. But your public mutual affection for one another makes us want to barf. For real. We don't want to read about your incredible love. We don't want to see it in action via photos, either; that just makes us want to scrub our eyeballs. And it reminds us of all of the disgusting PDAs we had to witness in high school.
Nauseating, gushy love posts actually can commit several Facebook breaches in one. You can be guilty of oversharing (No. 9); posting too often (No. 7); displaying embarrassing photos (No. 5) — yes, that photo of you two making out is an embarrassment; and we'll bet some of those lovey-dovey notes were better off as private messages (No. 4). So cut it out!
Some may squabble over the exact definition of lurking, but in general it refers to someone who is on Facebook — he has an account — but who almost never posts anything on his timeline. And if he does, it's certainly nothing personal. A lurker also does not "like" anyone's posts or photos, nor does he comment on anyone else's. Yet despite this lack of activity, lurkers are generally all over Facebook.
Ever hear the term "creeping"? That's what they do. They "Facebook-creep" onto other people's pages, checking out photos, posts and whatever else they can get their hands on. Maybe they want to check out an ex-girlfriend, former bestie or one-time teacher. Maybe they want to see how many of the old high school jocks are now fat and bald. Think of it as the Peeping Toms of cyberspace.
Why is this so awful? It's true that people who are on Facebook posting away may also silently lurk on other people's pages at times. That's not cool, either. But at least everyone knows that person is an active participant in the Facebook community and could potentially be surreptitiously peeking at their page. Lurkers try to trick you into believing they're not really there, when they are [source: Badzin].
HowStuffWorks talks with transgender experts to find out ways to be more inclusive of gender when speaking and how to use gender-neutral pronouns.
Author's Note: 10 Worst Breaches of Facebook Etiquette
I'm on Facebook, but I'm not a frequent poster. So I'm pretty sure I haven't violated any of these etiquette points. But it would be interesting to know if any of my posts have really annoyed someone ...
More Great Links
- Appenbrink, Kristin. "Practice Good Facebook Etiquette." Real Simple. (May 18, 2015) http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/technology/communication-etiquette/facebook-etiquette
- Badzin, Nina. "Calling Out the Facebook Lurkers." Huffington Post. Aug. 27, 2012. (May 22, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nina-badzin/calling-out-facebook-lurk_b_1832230.html
- Bright, Peter. "One in five willing to make Facebook friends with complete strangers." ARS Technica. Nov. 3, 2011. (May 21, 2015) http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/11/one-in-five-willing-to-make-facebook-friends-with-complete-strangers/
- Cross, Allison. "Revealing the unwritten, and often complicated, rules of Facebook etiquette." National Post. May 1, 2012. (May 18, 2015) http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/revealing-the-unwritten-and-often-complicated-rules-of-facebook-etiquette
- Gallagher, Brenden. "20 Things on Facebook We Hate the Most." Complex. May 23, 2013. (May 18, 2015) http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/05/20-things-on-facebook-we-hate-the-most/motivational-statuses
- Harper, Elizabeth. "Facebook Etiquette: Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes." Techlicious. July 10, 2013. (May 18, 2015) http://www.techlicious.com/tip/facebook-etiquette-avoid-these-5-common-mistakes/
- Null, Christopher. "Facebook Etiquette: 10 Rules for Better Socializing." PCWorld. July 28, 2009. (May 18, 2015) http://www.pcworld.com/article/169120/facebook_etiquette.html
- Van, Alan. "The 36 Laws of Facebook Etiquette." New Media Rockstars. May 3, 2012. (May 18, 2015) http://newmediarockstars.com/2012/05/the-36-laws-of-facebook-etiquette/