Minding your Manners on Facebook

I admit it, I was “unfriended.”


Like many on Facebook today, I chose to rebut a political innuendo made by a “friend” (aka, woman I barely knew who “friended” me two years ago), and she wasn’t very happy about it.

The experience left me asking, what are the rules of engagement on Facebook and other social media, particularly with a contentious presidential election looming? In addition to polling my remaining “friends,” I asked Amy Dickinson, author of the syndicated advice column “Ask Amy,” for her thoughts.

Consider it a positive forum for sharing

“With social media, it’s like we’ve been given a fire hose to water the garden,” Dickinson explains. “You’ve got to quickly learn the best way to control and direct the flow of communication.”

Facebook and similar sites give us a very public opportunity to share and affirm. It’s a great way to connect with schoolmates, childhood friends, social acquaintances, even people you want to know better. “But it’s kind of like a town hall meeting,” she explains. “No one wants to hear how angry you are or be privy to your personal gripes.”

In a lot of ways, what you post on Facebook can be more telling about your character than any accomplishment or photo you share. So keep it clean, keep it kind and keep it in check.

Responding to a negative comment

There are a few opinions on what to do:

  • Think Switzerland. As a columnist, Dickinson gets lots of feedback from her readers, and not all of it friendly. Rather than get wrapped up in dialogue (when often a negative responder isn’t open to reasonable conversation), Dickinson now simply clicks the “Like” button. “It’s a way to acknowledge I read it without ever endorsing it.” However, some people may interpret a “like” as a positive endorsement.
  • Step back. One friend suggested it’s best to refrain from answering a negative response and let others in the comment thread weigh in, as they’ll usually police the conversation themselves.
  • Engage in dialogue, but keep it respectful. Another Facebook user thinks we should all be open to opposing points of view, but often sees more vitriol than respect, with people taking critiques entirely too personal or using personal attacks to voice their point.
  • Stick to the facts. If you want to engage in debate, make sure you know what you’re talking about and keep emotion and personal commentary out of it.

Regardless of how you respond, remember that with any electronic communication, your reader is lacking the facial and vocal cues to truly interpret your tone, and it can often be misconstrued. So if it’s not clear, spell it out, even if you have to add a smiley face at the end.

How to handle repeat offenders

Through your Facebook settings, you have ultimate control over what you see, what is posted and whom you “friend.” But Dickinson suggests you still need to think about how your actions are interpreted.

  • “Unfriending” someone is a pretty dramatic gesture that should be reserved for those whose comments are offending to all, not when someone respectfully disagrees in a comment thread.
  • If you’re simply annoyed by the one friend who continues to post food photos or unrelenting self-aggrandizement that is ultimately harmless in nature, block her posts. She’ll never know and you don’t risk hurting her feelings.
  • Think about what you’re posting and with whom you want to have a conversation, and vice versa. Dickinson has seen many people create different circles of friends and carefully edit the friends with whom they want to converse.

If you’re new to Facebook, Dickinson recommends checking out the many free tutorials available on YouTube to fully understand your options (or simply ask your teenager who has probably already blocked you from seeing his posts).