This was originally published in Columbia Metropolitan magazine, but here it is again. I've also given a couple of talks based on this, with jokes. And I'll do it again. Get in touch if you're interested. Without further ado...
These are not your grandmother's social graces.
Or maybe they are, because there are an awful lot of grandmothers on Facebook. If your grandmother’s one of them, you might want to take a page from her book, her Facebook that is, and recognize that traditional rules apply just as much online as they do to real life communication.
Here are ten of your grandmother’s rules that you can follow as easily on the internet as you can in real life.
- RSVP. You know those Facebook invites you get, maybe as often as five times a day? Pay attention. Sure, some people go overboard. (Your friend who sells makeup out of her home? Really doesn’t need to invite you to a “party” once a week.) But you can still respond and let them know if you’ll be there or not. All you have to do is click. It’s so much easier than the handwritten responses of the past, so just do it. And while Facebook does offer a “maybe” option, resist! That’s the same as telling your friend you “might” be able to make it to her dinner party. She wants a definite answer, if only so she knows how many canapés to make.
- Don’t talk about your party, or anyone else’s, unless everyone is invited. Not everyone lives in a mansion. Guest lists have to be limited, but you should do your best not to rub it in anyone’s face. Remember when your parents told you not to talk about your eighth birthday party at school, since you weren’t having the whole class? They were correct then, and the same rule applies now. You can go to a private party without sharing pictures on social media. You really can. Seeing the evidence of being left out can be just as hurtful in middle age as it is in middle school.
- Remember that nothing is private. You swore your friend to secrecy when you gossiped, but your words somehow got back to the object of your derision. You thought you sent a private message on the internet? Oops. Your privacy settings weren’t set private enough. Oops. Your snarky email got forwarded. S#%t. Your friend is a jerk and showed your private message to someone else. Before you put something online, imagine everyone seeing it, including your boss, all of your friends, and, yes, your grandmother.
- Don’t break someone else’s news. Think before you type. Would you want someone else breaking the news of your engagement before you had a chance to tell your brother? Would you call everyone in town immediately after hearing about someone’s accidental death*, or would you wait for their whole family to be notified? Breaking someone else’s news before you know if they’re ready can be at best pretty annoying, and at worst, like in the case of a death, extremely painful. Would you rather learn about your cousin’s death on Twitter, or from a family member, by phone or in person? Make sure you have permission before posting about someone else.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Everyone has one, a friend who complains, bitterly and often, about everything on social media. Forget crying over spilled milk. That can wait until after the moment’s been posted to Facebook, tweeted, and posted to Instagram, with an appropriate filter, of course, one that’ll make the photo look truly tragic. Unless you’re really, really funny about it, resist the urge to complain online. No one wants to be around a whiner, or follow them on social media.
- Don’t monopolize the conversation. People follow you on social media because they’re interested in you. Friends ask you out for coffee or call to chat for the same reason. But there should be a give and take. Don’t just post then sit back and wait for all the comments, likes, retweets, and love. Look at what other people are doing, and let them know you’re thinking of them. Most people really do like seeing all those “Happy birthdays” on their Facebook wall on the big day. Join the fun!
- Don’t ignore people. If someone leaves a comment for you, or tags you in a picture, let them know you can “hear” them. When someone tweets at you, not responding is like looking right through them when they say hello as they pass you on the sidewalk. Keep the “social” in social media.
- Everyone wants to have sex and money, but no one should talk about them publicly. Just as true online as it is in person. Maybe more true, since anyone can see it. I mean, unless you want to come over for a glass of wine, and we can talk about whatever you want.
- Remember that you have the power to walk away. If you don’t like baby pictures, or food snaps, or cute cat videos, quit complaining about it. Quit following the offender on Twitter or Instagram, or use the “unfollow” button on Facebook. You don’t have to unfriend someone to unfollow them, so you won’t hurt their feelings, and you can always peek if you need a cute baby fix. A lot of us like seeing all those pictures of the first day of school, a cat in a shark suit, and oatmeal with lots of toppings. But no one’s making you look.
- Do unto others. Before you post anything, ask yourself who it might hurt. If it would hurt someone, would you say it in real life? Sometimes you might, and that’s okay. Gay marriage has been very controversial on social media lately. And some people had such a strong emotional response, they needed to share their thoughts, and that’s okay. (Disagree? Remember #9 and unfollow.) When you do express controversial thoughts on social media, make sure you’re expressing your ideas, and not targeting an individual. Take care of others’ feelings like you do your own.
What is it your grandmother says? “There’s nothing new under the sun.” And she’s right. The rules you’ve followed your whole life (we hope) work just as well on the internet. So go out there and post. And please click like on that picture of my son riding his bike!
* This totally happened to me. Don't do it. Please.