Social: It's A Matter Of Manners

Randi Zuckerberg's overshared photo shows that good manners still matter, even on social media.

Debra Donston-Miller

December 27, 2012

5 Min Read
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By this point in time, it's probably happened to you: A personal photo you appear in has been more widely shared on social media than you would like. Or maybe you've even done the over-sharing, embarrassing someone in the process.

Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his family are not immune: A picture that his sister, Randi, posted on her personal Facebook profile was seen by a marketing director and shared to the director's thousands of Twitter followers. Randi was not amused, and took the marketing director to task --publicly, on Twitter.

Is all this proof that Facebook's privacy controls are so convoluted that even Mark Zuckerberg can't explain them to his own family? Do social media mores trump any existing rules of decorum?

As I understand it, the marketing director is a Facebook friend of a friend of Randi Zuckerberg's. The director, Callie Schweitzer, was thus made privy to the photo, which showed Randi, Mark and others gathered in a kitchen, gawking at something on a smartphone. Schweitzer shared the photo with her Twitter followers. Randi, also on Twitter, called the act "way uncool."

[ Will you post your year in review on Facebook? Read about the feature here: Your Year In Review, According To Facebook. ]

In the midst of the photo brouhaha, many have taken the opportunity to ding Facebook's privacy settings, saying that even Mark Zuckerberg's own sister couldn't figure out how to set up her profile so that photos she was tagged in couldn't be shared. Randi came out and said that it wasn't an issue of privacy settings; it was an issue of "human decency."

Schweitzer apologized profusely. But I have to agree with Randi. All the privacy settings in the world won't protect you from thoughtless people -- not completely, anyway. Conversely, all the privacy settings in the world won't prevent people from inadvertently hurting or embarrassing themselves or others -- not completely, anyway.

So what will work? It's simple, really: manners. The very rules that your parents and teachers (hopefully) taught you are the ones that ensure you don't put yourself or others in a bad position even when you play by social media's privacy rules -- especially when it comes to social business. (Malicious intent is a whole different matter, of course.)

Think about how much nicer Facebook and Twitter would be if users simply followed these timeless rules:

Mind your own business. The picture that Schweitzer shared was not her business. It was clearly a personal photo. Just because you can share something doesn't mean you should.

Don't chew with your mouth open -- or expose others doing the same. This goes along with the whole photo-sharing thing. Suppose you're good friends with someone in real life, and the two of you often tag each other in photos and share them with your wider circle of friends. Then suppose you took an unflattering photo of that friend -- chewing with her mouth open, perhaps. Sure, you could share it -- but don't. Just don't. It's not nice, and it will embarrass your friend among her personal and, more than likely, some professional contacts. She could ask you to remove it, thanks to new Facebook settings, but she shouldn't have to go to the trouble.

Say please and thank you. Social media and texting has brought many people's language skills down several notches. Yes, it takes six extra taps to say please, and nine (including the space) to say thank you. But an imperative sentence sounds much less demanding when it starts or ends with a "please," and everyone appreciates a "thank you."

Reciprocate invitations (among other things). We've all been taught that it's good manners to reciprocate dinner invitations and the like. It's also good form to reciprocate on social media channels. Indeed, social media is built in large part on reciprocation. Do you have a Facebook friend who regularly likes your content? Do the same for him or her. Do you retweet contacts' posts, especially when they have gone out of their way to promote your updates? If you don't give what you get, you may find your social media clout diminishing.

Introduce yourself. I'm tired of people asking to connect with me on LinkedIn without giving me a good reason or even explaining what our connection might be. Sure, it's a lot easier to simply use the templated "I'd like to add you … " text, but if you're really serious about connecting, make your case.

Don't discuss religion or politics. Considering the diverse mix of friends and followers most of us have on social networks, I think it's best to refrain from making political or religious stands on social media. That's just me. If you do decide to go there, make statements carefully and not in the heat of the moment, and be tolerant of others' views.

Don't go where you aren't wanted. Yes, you may soon be able to pay $1 to send a message to someone outside your circle of friends on Facebook. And you can pay $7 to have your post promoted in users' newsfeeds. But again, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

What other rules of etiquette do you wish more people would follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and internal social networks? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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