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6 Behaviors to Avoid On Facebook

I heard someone say when I was in Italy awhile back that there are rules to driving in Rome, it’s just that those rules aren’t the published ones.  You have to be there for awhile to get a feel for the real rules.

Social media is kind of like that.  There aren’t really published rules.  Or if they are, they are the terms of use and not really the rules of how to engage well.  But there are rules for how to engage in social media, unwritten rules that ought to govern our conduct to make social media work.  In my experience, social media reflects real life but it multiplies exponentially the sense in which some people feel like the whole world is theirs to take up space in and to explain to others, while working to limit the degree to which other people can feel like that.  Social media then becomes a mechanism by which what Robin James has called multiracial white supremacist patriarchy (MrWaSP) perpetuates itself.  That’s not going to stop unless we actively resist it.

I think there are people out there who troll by virtue of their character.  But other people just seem oblivious.  This post is for those people.  I like the idea that we should think about people’s Facebook walls as their virtual home (ok, I say social media, but chiefly I mean Facebook – I spend time on Twitter, but I’m much less active there).  You are a guest, you should act like a guest.  If you don’t know someone IRL, you should be more reserved and not assume you are welcome until further encouraged.  But this rule, like the others, should be contextualized–some people will always be made to feel less welcome and you should think about that as you moderate your own wall.  Also, the host-guest metaphor might be insufficient because I think some people who behave poorly on Facebook would treat me like this in my house, too.  In any case…

Here are 6 things to avoid doing on social media to make it a better place.

  1. Going on people’s walls and settling in.  Unless you are really friends with someone IRL taking up a lot of space on their comment threads is not a thing you should be doing.  It’s like manspreading on the internet.  If what they posted provokes strong thoughts, take it to your own wall with a reference to the thread that inspired you.
  2. Commenting on people’s walls without some sense of who they are.  Take some time to get to know them.  Read what they post.  Don’t just show up one day and tell them that they should really recognize that you are right about x when they’ve been posting about how x is right for the last six months.  If your response to that is well, we just became friends, I don’t know what they’ve been posting for the last six months, then maybe you shouldn’t be posting on their wall yet.
  3. Telling people not to overreact when they ask you not to treat them the way you are treating them on Facebook.  It’s their house!  You don’t get to be rude and then get mad at them for not liking it.  Their wall isn’t for you.  Also, that’s called gaslighting.  Also, they have no responsibility to engage with you, don’t demand it. Corollary: if someone accuses you of gaslighting because you are denying that they should have any reason to feel like you are being rude on their wall, do not, under any circumstances, accuse them of gaslighting on the basis of accusing you of gaslighting.  That is unacceptable and really, it should get you blocked.
  4. Explaining the joke.  One thing that happens to me is that I say something ironically or make a joking reference and people explain the irony or the joke to me.  OMG.  Give people some credit.  I find it really interesting how some people are granted the space for the irony and humor and others are not.  Pay attention to who you let be ironic.
  5. Explaining anything.  Consider this the anti-Ezra Klein rule.  I think there should be less explaining on social media when that means explaining to people what the thing they said really means. The number of people who explain things to me that I already know because I post something that in one way or another touches upon their expertise or even something they read once is, well, high.  Assume people have not exhibited the entirety of their knowledge on Facebook but have more knowledge in reserve.  Other people’s walls are not the occasion for you to show the world how much you know.  Let me say that again.  Other people’s walls are not the occasion for you to show the world how much you know.  Even if you know those people IRL.  Especially if you do not know those people IRL.  Heck maybe especially if you know them!  If it is something you really want to show the world you know, take it back to your own wall.
  6. My Facebook wall has a certain light and airy feeling that can be serious without being overwrought.  Not everyone treats it that way, but I do and most of the people I interact with most on Facebook do as well.  One of my frustrations with social media can be how people seem to misread what the situation calls for.  I often feel refused the space to be light and airy, and envious of those who are allowed it.  I’m sure that who is permitted the lightness and who is permitted to set the tone whatever it may be has all kinds of things to do with social positioning.  I think people should work on better reading the space they are in and adapting to it.  This requires what Aristotle called ethical perception, phronêsis, judging what is required of a situation.  It takes lots of practice, it requires ethical imagination — seeing the world from another’s perspective and considering how they might feel and respond to your action — but it is well worth cultivating.

One more thing, attribution is a funny thing on social media.  People are sharing things.  My general position on this is to share without attributing unless I’m borrowing the pull quote or the thing I am sharing was written by a friend on Facebook.  But there are judgments to be made here.  Sharing on Facebook accumulates cred for you.  If you are regularly sharing from a graduate student or someone with less cred than you have without attributing, you might start thinking of attributing to them.

Social media lays open the world in a way that our in-person social engagements might better conceal.  People accrue cred in all sorts of ways that reproduce the social world as we know it.  Just as in our in-person interactions, we should strive to make those more marginalized included and involved, we should work on social media to make those whose social positions already make the world difficult to navigate feel like the world is less difficult.

If you read all this and you say no, I have no desire to avoid these behaviors and we are friends, go ahead and unfriend me. If you read all this and you think, I’m fine, I never do any of that. Well, let’s be honest, most of us could probably work on these things. You’re probably not fine.

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