Don’t write that.

“Don’t talk about politics or religion on Facebook”

I’ve read a spate of articles lately offering rules for social media. Near the top of the lists are always admonitions to avoid political or contentious topics. We are told: “No one wants to see your political rant in their feed!” Occasionally this warning includes sports, or vacation pictures, or even pictures of grandkids.

Maybe this is true, which begs the question of exactly why social media exists. If your favorite subject irritates someone – even a lot of people – should you shut up? To avoid giving offense, should you confine your online expression to things that don’t matter to you?

Relax – you’re OK

To be clear, it’s fine if you want to “keep it light”. If you only like to post music videos and pictures of your pets, your kids, or your vacation that is perfectly OK. There’s no rule that says you have to “put it out there” or risk anything at all online. How heavy you want to be is entirely up to you.

A corollary is that when you see embarrassing pictures of some other person online, cut them some slack. Someone acting silly with a beer in their hand is not worth getting worked up over and it certainly isn’t worth a ding on their performance review.

…and so is that guy worked up about the environment

Some people are passionately interested in birdwatching. Some people are just interested in their grandkids. I grew up immersed in science and politics. My friends and my new friends know this. I’m pleased when others share my interests but if you don’t want to see my posts that’s fine.

What I have a difficult time accepting are online etiquette rules that insist on everyone being bland and inoffensive. Social media has begun to be a historical fulcrum of change. Entire governments have toppled on revolutions driven by Facebook or Twitter. US elections are influenced by people clicking “Share”. This is big news. It’s like living when the printing press was invented; information is democratized in a new way.

here are my social media etiquette rules:

  • Life is short, and if something really matters to you, it ought to be OK to say so. If you think the status quo is just great, fine – but if not, you have the right (and sometimes the responsibility) to speak up.
  • No one is forcing you to read my posts. A corollary is that no one is forcing me to read your posts either. Much resentment derives not from disagreement, but from perceived obligation. If you tell Facebook to show you fewer of my posts – or none at all – that is OK. As noted before, life is short, and I have other friends. I would appreciate an explanatory email, but that’s your choice.
  • Don’t troll. If you disagree with someone, you can say so in comments, giving a good reason and maybe a supporting link. That’s fine, but just one or two. When you’re on someone else’s thread, let them have the last word.
  • If it’s a chronic disagreement with another person, say what you want to say in your own space. You aren’t going to convert the other person to Jesus or socialism or Siracha sauce or whatever. But you might give the bystanders something to weigh in comparison.
  • It’s OK to delete another person’s comments on your feed. Social media is free, and you don’t owe them a platform.
  • Especially avoid arguing with friends or colleagues. There’s no way that story ends well. You have a whole internet full of jerks out there to make fun of – but please not the person in the cubicle next to yours.  I’ve occasionally told friends; “I’m not going to argue with you.” Perhaps not often enough.
  • Realize that what sounds uncontroversial to you might, to someone you know, even be offensive. So think twice before taking personal offense. Ask a question, maybe.

Social media can actually help you build meaning in your life, by engaging with society and history. It’s a chance to collaborate in imagining the future – a messy process.

Next post: how much personal information is too much?

Advertisements

Published by

georgewiman

Older technology guy with photography and history background