There’s no denying that Facebook can be a powerful place to connect and catch up with family and friends. Browsing through photos and enjoying a laugh and zany status updates are both a part of the fun. That said, it’s easy to get carried away in the Facebook moment and forget that we’re sharing something with our 800 closest friends, and perhaps even their friends or the public (gasp!), depending on our privacy settings. If you’ve ever found yourself unsure of the protocol on Facebook, refer to my tips below.
What is the etiquette when someone announces a death (or something else emotional, such as a serious illness) on Facebook? When it comes to Facebook, always remember to think before you click. Avoid "liking" unhappy news (death or otherwise); it may easily be misinterpreted as an inappropriate response even if your intention was to show support. The best course of action to take is to reach out to the person by telephone or condolence card. When someone shares the news of a serious illness by Facebook, responding with a kind post of encouragement would also be a nice gesture. Anything more personal requires a private message or a personal connection.
What is a proper response when someone leaves a negative comment on your page? Certainly, you don't want to "bite" back with negativity of your own. Arguments or nasty remarks have no place on Facebook, although that doesn't mean it doesn't happen (it just shouldn't happen by you!). While you might respond with, "I'm sorry that you feel this way, however, this is not the venue for further discussion on this topic," you also don't have to respond at all to someone who is out of control. Simply delete the comment and seriously consider removing him or her as a "friend."
Is it rude if you don't respond to a negative comment? While you don’t have to respond to every comment shared (especially if there are multiples on the same topic), a general "Thank you for your great feedback" often will suffice. Negative comments should be considered more carefully, depending on the person and the circumstances. If the comment has some merit, you may want to own the offense and thank him or her for the feedback. Watch the "tone" of your response since it's difficult to read a person's feelings without hearing his or her voice. If the friend is ranting and is completely out of line, it may be time to remove the offender from your friends list or adjust your privacy settings to prevent him or her from interacting with you on your page. You don't want to ignore someone who may feel slighted, but you also don't have a responsibility to justify bad behavior.
Don't air your marital spats. Disagreements between couples should take place privately—not on each other’s Facebook page. While technology makes communication fast and easy, common courtesy still prevails, especially when discussing family matters. Not to mention that once your spat is over, everyone else will have formed a definite opinion of both you and your mate…one that may be hard to lose!
What about posting photos? It goes without saying that anything risqué or inappropriate should not be on your Facebook page. Keep in mind that your employer and colleagues may also be able to see these pictures (depending on your privacy settings), and if you would be embarrassed to have them passed around at the monthly board meeting, you should skip posting them on your Facebook page. Posting photos of other's and tagging them without their permission is another "don't." If you post a picture and get a call from a friend saying, "Please take that down, I look awful," it's your civil responsibility to oblige. Lastly, never post pictures of other people's children without the parents and kids (if they are teens) permission.
Is commenting about politics off limits? Whether you wish to delve into a political debate all depends on your goal. While you may enjoy a healthy discussion, I’ve seen far too many of these types of Facebook discussions turn into nasty verbal debates. Do you enjoy stirring things up among your friends or making your in-laws see red with anger over your opposing point of view? If so, post away. You can certainly list your party affiliation under your "About" section or join party groups. But, remember who your audience is and then decide how much of your political views you wish to share on the internet.
Should I correct someone's error? Before you call someone out on their spelling or point out a grammatical error, think about how you would feel if someone corrected you publicly on Facebook. If it is something you feel strongly your friend needs to know, message him privately without everyone else's watchful eyes on your correction.
What is your thought on "friending" exes and people you have just met? Certainly friending someone you have just met and want to get to know better is fine. Make sure you re-familiarize him or her with how you know each other and mention a few connections you have in common. Mentioning mutual friends tends to make the other person more comfortable giving you access to his or her personal life. Don’t continue to attempt to "friend" someone who is ignoring you. There is probably a reason you haven't heard back. As far as friending an ex, it's a judgment call and there are several obvious factors to consider. Among them, ask yourself; what is your intention, why are you interested in being a Facebook friend, is your spouse comfortable with the request and what is the purpose? There are many more questions than these, but these few regarding friending an ex is a good start. Having kids together, for example, is an valid reason you'd want to be friends on Facebook so that you can see what is being posted about your children.
These few questions are just the tip of the Facebook iceberg but will get you started on your road to Facebook civility. Feel free to ask your questions or share your tips on the Hitched Facebook page.
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.dianegottsman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.