Everyone should write a blog on Facebook etiquette. It just makes sense that if we are going to use a social media tool as much as we do we should be thinking about how we use it. So right away, I want to say: I’m not writing this piece as only a corrective to some naughtiness I’ve noticed in others, but also as an exercise for myself.
I’m not writing out of any pet peeves about vague posts, TMI posting or vague posting, but just a simple frustration that so many people ignore basic concepts of civility and courtesy on Facebook. The nature of social media gives us a creative and powerful platform for misbehaving.
I’ll try to distill my thoughts into a few simple ideas, “best practices” as it were. These are ideas to which I personally aspire, even if I don’t always manage to hit the target. And though they would save me loads of frustration if more people followed them (and i did a better job myself), they would also help make some generally smart people look a lot wiser than they seem when posting. So here we go…
1. You’re Never Too Old to Do Some Homework
Since the dawn of the internet it has been a home to sometimes entertaining and often frustrating urban myths, fictional anecdotes and intentional misinformation. We are human, and so we are frail and prone to screwups. We all have our blind spots and we all have our prejudices, even if we are working hard to overcome those prejudices. Too often the false stories and alarmist anecdotes that circulate Facebook and other forms of social media strike at the heart of our seen and unseen prejudices, and finding fertile soil they take root and grow into annoying shares and posts.
So when something comes along that looks like a perfect stone on which to grind your political, religious or social axe, do some homework first. Check a story out before you post it or share it. Check the sources. Check the source on Facebook, and see if you can check other sources online or offline… did someone really say what is being said they said? When someone shares a quote from our President (Republican or Democrat) in which they admit to practicing Satanism to win elections and brainwash school children into becoming Duran Duran fans, ask yourself how silly you’ll look for posting it if they didn’t actually say it. If the photo or story was originally shared on Facebook by “I’m a Communist Donut on Steroids” or “Screw All People Who Don’t Think Like Me” you might want to rethink sharing the gem. I made those names up just now, but they probably exist and will troll me next week. Oh well.
Even if it’s a heart-warming story or feel-good anecdote about human goodness, check it out before posting. I have a theory that all the fake feel-good stories that circulate and make the rounds, just to be later debunked, are just adding more cynicism to the world. Then there’s the “God did this…” stories about atheist professors and beakers or chalk and the triumphant young Christian student… all not true. Falsehood and misinformation, even if intended to inspire, will only inoculate us to sincere and meaningful engagement with the true stories of human goodness and inspiration that come our way. A great resource for this homework is Snopes.com! We also have be to careful of parody news sites. Most of know by now that The Onion is all in jest, but I’ve recently seen people expressing genuine angst over stuff from Larknews.
2. Be Happy in 3rd Place
This really goes along with the first thought… we need to slow down and stop trying to be the first to post everything. This speed and haste is just making us sloppy and discouraging us from taking the time to do the meaningful homework. Besides, some jerky friend with more followers than you will just share your story or post it without giving you credit anyway, and they’ll look like the trendsetter. =) But the peer pressure to be first and fast is real as more and more internet sites prod us to be the “first of your friends” to like, share or recommend something. And who doesn’t like to be the first among their friends to get some laughs with the latest angry cat pic?
But really, let’s slow down. One of my favorite sayings from East Africa is “Haraka haraka, haina baraka.” It translates as “Hurry hurry, no blessing” and means, “Slow down, dude… hurrying only makes trouble for you.” We need to stop and think about what we’re posting and why. Is it a post I want to live with a year from now? Is it a true post, accurate and authentic as it’s represented? This is an important question when it comes to “re-sharing” many things that roll across our Facebook feeds. It might take time to find the answers.
If you take some time, reflect on something and refine the ideas you really want to communicate, you just might find that “third place” is actually a big win. When big news hits or controversial ideas start rolling around, and people immediately begin glutting our social avenues with partial, misinformed or inflammatory responses, you might find that a day later you have an eager audience for well-thought and well-worded reflections of your own.
3. It’s Called a “Meme”, Not a “Mean”
Yeah, I was trying to make a pun with that one, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway. And I’m pretty serious… the mean memes that just want hurt people, ridicule others and divide us into us/them pockets of angst-ridden combativeness really suck eggs IMHO. Many of the mean memes I see are pics that started funny, but someone altered or redirected them to grind a political, social or religious axe. Yuck.
Does anyone honestly believe that a mean-spirited political meme is going to score some actual influence or alter another person’s view? It’s a meme, dude. My advice is that we keep the memes light and humorous. Let’s not try to get real deep, hoping to explain global economic perspectives with a one-frame visual and less letters than a 140 character Tweet. I’m raising my hand as one guilty of tying. A good rule of thumb might be that if my meme is going to attack or mock someone, it should attack and mock me. I mean, there’s just not enough self-deprecating humor in the world, but it’s usually the funnest if not funniest because of it’s obvious rooting in the truth.
This is a matter of civility. A mean meme attacks, but doesn’t offer any chance for a rebuttal, defense or dialogue. Because of this one-sided nature a meme is typically going to be grossly unfair in it’s attack. I’ve been told that I’m maybe just a bit too “thin skinned” when I talk about this stuff and I need to “man up” and “thicken my skin.” Thanks, but I really don’t want to. Why would I thicken my skin and pitch in with one-sided attitudes of attack and point-scoring when dialogue and civil exchanges accomplish so much more? Let’s just chose our memes wisely and with a bit more whimsy. I promise that this will be my goal.
And this is no just about moving away from meanness in memes, but I would say all meanness in our postings. A noticed a friend of mine recently on Facebook had to say something like, “If you keep using comments to my posts to attack [a particular religion] with nasty statements and meanness, I’m going to delete your statements and unfriend you.” It is so heart warming that we have to police our religious conversations with such justified threats, isn’t it? No, it’s pretty sad. Meanness sucks. Meanness doesn’t score points or win big in any arena of competing ideas and ideologies… maybe one day we’ll have a “Facebook Penalty Box” where we can send our naughty friends for a few days of timeout, so we don’t have to unfriend them.
4. Use Your Powers for Good
Social media has given us all a voice. Like never before each person can broadcast their best or worst, even if our respective audiences differ. We can blog, vlog, update our status in a hundred forums, tweet, post, like and share! Indeed, my friends… we have super powers. We have new strengths of reaching out with our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and reflections. So let us remember the great medical axiom, primum non nocere, “First do no harm.”
We should use our powers for good. We must seek the good, own the good and advance the good. This is the higher calling of social media, beyond the drive to be first, be humorous and even be heard. Trolls know the lessons well. I can be crass, mean and vulgar, and draw a great crowd for my antics. I can be funny, at the expense of others, and be heralded and be made a superstar. Or I can add to the world what is needed most, a voice of peace, hope and good, even when trying to be funny, honesty and true.
Beyond what might be considered “basic etiquette” lies the green fields and golden hall of Social Media Valhalla, the expanse of glory that is being a voice which builds up, carries forward and makes goodness in a world in which no end of ill words and images can be found. Even super powers require effort. It’s no wonder that meanness and crassness come easier to social media than goodness and constructive effort. Choosing the brighter road requires strength and determination.
Trolls don’t change the world. Heroes daily raise the world from the morass of darkness. Embrace the calling in your social posting and feel the difference. Be honest, be questioning, be true to yourself and be open to others. Be a woman or a man of convictions and hopes. Let your posts show this difference. Those posts may not garner as many shares or as many likes, as when posts play to the base prejudices and fears of others, but they are more powerful for it, and the brighter posts mean more to the few than do the darker to the many.