Facebook Faux Pas: Are You Social Media Savvy?

By Sara Vigneri

When my daughters were born, I signed them up for gmail accounts figuring their names would be nabbed by someone else once they were old enough to sign up for themselves. I never would have predicted that when my daughter was old enough to use her email account it would seem as quaint as using a telephone. Forget email, it’s all about social networks.

People under 30 tend to use services like Twitter and Tumblr, whereas older folks gravitate toward Instagram and Facebook – in fact, two thirds of web-using adults say they are on Facebook. And while most of these services offer varying degrees of privacy settings, the reality is that every time you log on to communicate using a social network you are entering a global conversation where everyone gets a chance to see what you’ve said. For many of us, that increases the odds of committing a social faux pas on a global level.

These pervasive social networking faux pas have led many to ditch the services altogether. For example, the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of Facebook users have taken a break from using the site. Why? While 21 percent said they were simply too busy, nine percent stated that they needed a break from the excessive gossip or drama from their friends.

Why are we so quick to misbehave on a public platform like Twitter or Facebook? According to research from Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, Facebook alters our sense of self. Think about your Facebook profile – did you post a glamorous picture of yourself and use clever phrases to describe your hobbies and interests? We tend to present an enhanced image of ourselves on social networks and then seek approval from our friends in the form of ‘likes’ to boosts our self-esteem. The problem with inflated sense of self is that it lowers our inhibitions making us much more likely to dehumanize other users online and post things we would never say in person.

One of the most important things you can do when you are online is realize that everything you say is public and it’s most likely un-erasable. Sure there are privacy settings and delete buttons, but all of your actions online create a ‘digital footprint’ and sometimes it’s not so obvious what prints you left behind. So to keep yourself on the straight and narrow it is best to adopt the mantra: What goes online, stays online…forever.

If you are worried that you might be a social networking nightmare, ask yourself these questions:

Q: Do you post pictures and tweets every moment of your day?

Example: Posting pictures on Instagram of your eggs benedict with the caption “num num,” followed by the tweet “heading to work now, feeling super energized!”

Offense: This trend of taking pictures of food has long overstayed its welcome. Unless you are a food critic or work for Martha Stewart, this type of post gets filed under TMI: Too Much Information. While Twitter and Instagram make it easy to give detailed play-by-plays of every moment of our lives, showing restraint will earn the appreciation of your followers.

Q: Do you post vague references to something serious, avoiding details to ensure maximum alarm from your followers?

Example: Posting on Facebook: “So scared about this doctor’s appointment today. Life can be so fragile!”

Offense: Posting about life and death topics on a public forum is of questionable taste. On the other hand, people need support in times of trouble and their social network is often the best support group around. But if you are worried that you might have cancer and are seeking comfort from your social network, then post that. However, writing a vague allusion like this is a subversive way to get your followers to worry and ask a million questions: ‘Why are you going to the doctor? Are you okay? What’s going on?!?’ Even more frustrating is deciding not to answer the follow-up questions thereby lathering the entire group into a panic. If you need support in tough times, ask your network for comfort, but don’t work them up into a frenzy of worry and concern.

Q: Have you publicly expressed your love to your significant other?

Example: Posting on Facebook “To the hottest husband in the world, Happy anniversary honey, I love you more than words can say!”

Offense: File this under SN-PDA: Social Networking Public Display of Affection. It also can be categorized under TMI. Assuming you are cohabitating with this person, why not just walk downstairs and tell it to them in person? Would you announce this during a dinner party with friends? Then don’t post it on Facebook. Same goes for endless posts on how amazing your kids are. Limit your boasts to the big accomplishments.

Q: Have you posted something in spite?

Example: Tweeting “Boss yells at me for taking long lunch but she gets manicures and massages during the day. Hypocritical?”

Advice: This is a ridiculously obvious no-no, but yet people think they can vent anonymously on Facebook or Twitter. Snarky, cryptic tweets are just the type that go viral and it’s pretty easy – thanks to our documented lives on the internet – to figure out who you are talking about.

I think the rules of social networking are the same as in kindergarten: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

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