BLACK & WHITE: Miss manners for Facebook

Opinion by

The embarrassing number of hours I’ve spent trolling Facebook profiles have convinced me we need a Facebook etiquette handbook. You know, the sort of pamphlet that would’ve circulated in the 19th century: an almanac of do’s and dont’s for ladies and gentlemen who wish to participate in civil society.

It all started when a Facebook friend updated her status to inform me – and anyone else who had the privilege of seeing her updates – that she had recovered from a urinary tract infection. Her status received a number of comments cheering her recovery. And, indeed, what’s not to celebrate about regaining your ability to pee with pleasure?

But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave behind all vestiges of Victorian propriety. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type of person who balks when any of my close friends share too much information about their bodily functions. But I know very little about this individual. We once had a meaningful conversation that was lovely enough to justify Facebook friendship. Now, alongside some snippets about her career and ambitions that I had gathered, I have this odd piece of information about her medical history that’s demanding way too much attention and threatening to thrust aside everything else I know about her.

In truth, oversharing likely won’t hurt anyone, despite the awkwardness it can lead to. However, there are other things people do on Facebook that can cause problems. For example, posting sexual innuendos on a friend’s wall, which someone did to a friend of mine. From what I understand, it was done as an attempt to display wit, not cause discomfort. While my friend herself didn’t care, she was concerned about the family members who could see her Facebook wall as well.

I don’t mean to be the Facebook police here, but we need to be careful. This isn’t a chat room where we can swap playful innuendos without risk of being overheard. Facebook is a public forum.

And I’m not that adept at the Facebook do’s and dont’s myself. I learned a hard lesson about presenting your political views on Facebook when I decided to post an article about Roman Polanski, along with my cursory views on the subject in the accompanying status update.

I learned that Facebook is a great forum for sharing news, but it is not an appropriate place to have a thorough discussion about controversial topics. My pithy statement about Polanski’s wrongdoings, presented without an appropriate amount of substantiation, sparked a flame war in my comments section that still makes me cringe. Things ended well, but since then I’ve wondered: what are the rules about posting on controversial subjects on Facebook?

These concerns could be mediated if we limited our Facebook profiles to close friends, not acquaintances. But, in reality, many of us use Facebook as a networking site – I have several “friends” that are actually acquaintances from high school who I don’t talk to anymore. So maybe, in a way, that’s my fault. But, still, I’m not suggesting we need strict guidelines – or to censor certain status updates or whatnot – but I think a guide might help us avoid uncomfortable situations in the future.

Facebook etiquette also means that I probably need to stop creeping on people’s pages like a modern-day peeping Tom. I’ll work on that.