The other day, someone I know posted this blog post on her Facebook page, exhorting her Facebook friends to keep in mind seven basic rules of Facebook etiquette. The post’s title, “7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Facebook,” initially grabbed me, because, hey, I hate seeing updates on So-and-So’s progress in Farmville as much as the next person. In fact, I’ve spent a not insignificant chunk of time over the years building a mental list of some of the most obnoxious behaviors on Facebook, including, but not limited to, “liking” every “Happy Birthday” post on one’s wall; inviting one’s Facebook friends to join one’s inane online game of choice; whining about one’s job incessantly; starting any post with the word “Dear,” and then writing a hackneyed “open letter” addressed to, for example, the weather; writing status updates in the third person; posting “chain statuses,” especially ones that contain inaccuracies, misquotes, and/or urban legends; and, my personal least-favorite, spreading the news of a death before family members have had a chance to receive the news via non-Facebook means (this happened to me, by the way: this is how I found out my grandfather passed away. Not kidding, unfortunately).
Let’s face it: there are a lot of ways to be inconsiderate, boring, and/or irritating on Facebook. So I went into this post, from the blog wait but why, anticipating that I’d be totally on board with whatever behaviors this blogger (who I’ll refer to as WBW, since I don’t know his real name) was calling out. The post started off strong, ridiculing a horrifically self-aggrandizing status update that WBW had run across. I’ll reproduce the status update below; hopefully we can all agree that it is, in a word, ghastly.
2012 was a biggg year for me. I left my amazing job at NBC to move back to Chicago. I started dating my angel, Jaime Holland. I started yoga (thanks Jake Fisher & Jonah Perlstein!). I wrote an album with Matthew Johannson. Wrote another album I’m proud of. I got to hang with Owen Wilson, and worked with Will Ferrell on an amazing project. Had a conversation about Barack Obama with David Gregory. Danced. Joined a kickball team. Won a couple awards. Helped my sister plan her summer trip. Swam a lot. Golfed a little. Cried more than you would think. Read The World According to Garp. Saw Apocolypse Now. Went to Miami for the NBA Finals. Drank the best orange juice I’ve ever had with Davey Welch. Tweeted. Went to amazing weddings in Upstate New York. Drank a ridiculous amount of milk. Learned how to make sand art. Saw a great light show. Saw the Angels and Lakers. Fell in love with Jawbone Up. Cooked with Jaime. Gardened with Jaime. Watched Homeland with Jaime. Wrestled with Jaime. Laughed for hours with Jaime. Fell in love with Jaime’s family. Worked on a play. Played World of Warcraft. Did some improv. Played a ton of the guitar. Really just had a wild, amazing year. What a world.
So, yeah, this is bad. It’s really bad, and on so many levels. The humble bragging. The non-humble bragging. The name dropping. The misspellings. The inanities and mundanities. The repeated use of the word “amazing.” The casual references to guitar playing. I mean, there’s a lot to hate here. So I was on board with WBW for calling this out, because surely, everyone in the world except the author of this terrible status update should be able to agree that this type of unabashed self-promotion-disguised-as-gratitude should be illegal and potentially carry a prison sentence.
But then, WBW lost me when he started listing his seven rules that we all should adhere to on Facebook.
WBW’s basic message is that one should not post anything on Facebook that “primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.” Okay. This seems like a reasonable framework to start from. After all, who wants to wade through a bunch of self-involved, uninteresting Facebook statuses on one’s Newsfeed? Not I. But when WBW went on to elaborate all of the behaviors he finds unacceptable on Facebook, I balked. In most cases, the rules he sets out are based on some general principle that I might agree with (for instance: don’t brag), but the rules as he states them are far too broad to be workable or even desirable. Indeed, the guidelines WBW lays out are so sweeping as to ban most behavior on Facebook.
First, WBW says that one shouldn’t boast on Facebook. Fair enough: no one likes an online braggart. But WBW defines bragging as the sharing of any positive news about one’s life. He writes that if something exciting happens in your life, “the only people it’s okay to brag to in life are your close friends, significant other, and family members—and that’s what email, texting, phone calls, and live talking are for. Your moment of self-satisfaction is profoundly annoying to people you’re not that close with, and they make up the vast majority of people who will be subjected to the status.” So if you get married, don’t mention it. You just got into med school? Keep it to yourself. First-born child? Shush. Don’t annoy others with your joy. Maybe WBW finds other people’s happy news “profoundly annoying,” but I’d venture a guess that most people on social media don’t feel that way; otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be on social media. I enjoy seeing wedding pictures, even if I haven’t spoken to the bride or groom since high school. I also don’t mind when someone shares excited or happy news about school or a job. It’s a natural human reaction to want to shout it from the rooftops when something exciting or wonderful happens. Why quash that?
I also disagree with the basic premise that the sharing of all positive news is necessarily bragging. Anyone who’s read a truly braggy, self-promoting Facebook status can tell the difference between that (“I got to hang out with Owen Wilson”) and a genuinely heartfelt sharing of personal news (“Yay, I finally got accepted to law school”). It’s all about intent. Sharing happy news because you’re excited about said news is a different beast than “image crafting,” “attention craving,” or “jealousy inducing” posts, but WBW seems to lump these together. Any sharing of positive news must have an ulterior motive, in his eyes; and even if it doesn’t, it still shouldn’t be allowed because it might make someone else feel bad. He thus outlaws all statuses referring to vacations, social events, and loved ones, because these might induce feelings of envy in the reader. Also: no photos. Don’t ever post photos. So, according to WBW’s first rule alone, most Facebook statuses would be deemed “annoying” and therefore unacceptable. (Anyone else getting kind of a Taliban-y vibe from this?)
But WBW’s not done. One must also never post about what one is actually doing that day (Rule 3); write on anyone else’s wall (Rule 4); tag anyone else in a status or photo (Rule 4); express gratitude (Rule 5); express an opinion on a current event (Rule 6); or quote a great thinker or anyone else (Rule 7). The only one of WBW’s seven rules that I unequivocally agree with is Rule 2, which bans “cliffhanger” statuses, also known as “vaguebooking,” where one posts a cryptic status that invites curiosity from readers but then plays coy and refuses to provide further detail. That’s super annoying and needs to stop. But the rest of these rules go too far; they suck the fun and life out of Facebook.
All of this begs the question: what would be okay to post on Facebook, according to WBW? I am wracking my brain trying to craft a hypothetical status that would not run afoul of any of these rules, and it’s tough. WBW says in the beginning that jokes that uplift the reader are acceptable; so unless you treat Facebook as a Twitter feed exclusively for fun jokes, you’re going to break one of WBW’s rules at some point.
These rules are bunk and should be rejected for two reasons. First, if you outlaw the expression of all human emotion on Facebook, you deprive Facebook of its purpose. People use the service to interact with people they know, care about, and/or are interested in. If the only allowable use of Facebook is to share jokes, then you might as well shut down your account and switch to Twitter, which is a much more streamlined vehicle for writing and reading jokes. Second, WBW has basic Facebook etiquette backwards. If you’re irritated by someone’s postings on Facebook, the burden is on you, the reader, to filter that person’s posts out. We all have different sensitivities and proclivities. As someone posting on Facebook, I cannot tailor my status updates or photos to suit the individual needs of all several hundred people who might be seeing them; I might as well not post at all. The only workable system is for users of Facebook to decide what they want to see and what they want to be hidden; this is easily accomplished through Facebook’s Newsfeed controls. If someone always posts annoying statuses, hide him. Or even unfriend him, if it’s that bad. But you must not demand that everyone in your social media universe conforms to your individual and highly specific sensitivities.
With that, go forth and post on Facebook!*
*(For actual guidance on what’s obnoxious, please refer to my first paragraph, above.)