A Guide to Facebook Protocol/Etiquette

It took forever but, after a bunch of deactivating and subsequent re-activating, I’ve finally come to terms with the sad fact that my Facebook profile is here to stay. I joined the network sometime in late 2004, back when it was colleges-only (fact: I was third person in my entire university to join). Since then, my relationship with Facebook has been on-and-off. Mostly on, though. Deactivating tended to happen pretty regularly during midterms and finals and times of extreme social stress, but the longest I’ve lasted sans Facebook is three weeks. As much as I wish I were one of those don’t-need-to-be-connected-at-all-times types, it just isn’t me. And so, I’ve accepted that Facebook is a part of modern life, and I’ll probably stick it out ‘till Zuckerberg starts asking for my blood type.

Still, the Facebook experience is far from perfect. The reasons I’d like to bail aren’t that it’s a time suck—I’ve actually made strides in the “less stalking” department thanks to the Facebook app on my iPhone—or that I have concerns about privacy. It’s mostly because the network adds another complicated dimension to what are already complicated enough social dynamics. But while there are commonly accepted guidelines for what to do IRL social situations, no such thing exists for Facebook. Here are my suggestions for protocol in responding to common Facebook occurrences.

What’s the proper way to respond to the hundreds of birthday wishes I get from elementary school buddies, former coworkers, friends of friends, and other acquaintances?
Year after year, birthday after birthday, your wall gets clogged up with generic—but well-intentioned—wishes. Most of the merriment is thanks to the handy little birthday notifier on the top right of the newsfeed homepage. And you want to know how to appropriately respond to the chorus of “Happy Birthday!!!”; “Have a great day, Rawiya!”; “Happy born day…Enjoy it!” without being a jerk, and without spending hours responding to every single one.

I suggest posting a “Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes” status message. It’s polite, it’s appreciative, and it’s gracious. Your well-wishers won’t (or shouldn’t) feel ignored, and you’ve saved yourself a bunch of time and awkward Facebook post composition. In an ideal world, you’d respond with a perfectly crafted message for each friend. But, also in an ideal world, more of your friends would remember your birthday without help from Facebook.

How should I use the  “Like” button?
“Like” is one of the greatest features added to Facebook over the past couple of years. You often like a status/picture/link a friend has posted, but not enough to comment on it. Or sometimes you just don’t have anything to add to the conversation. Or you want to acknowledge something without subjecting yourself to zillions of “such-and-such also commented on so-and-so’s status” notifications. “Like” is perfect for all of those things. But abuse of the button is rampant.

For improved “Like” usage, I suggest the following:

  • Don’t “Like” your own posts or comments; that’s like giving yourself a high-five.
  • Don’t “Like” negative things; until a “Sympathy” button is created, express your compassion in comment form.
  • Don’t “Like” something just to have the last word; allow threads to come to their natural “Like”-less conclusion.

How should I respond to friend requests from promoters?
Promoters are often thought of as a pesky, event-inviting, inbox-clogging breed. And rightfully so. But, if you’re friended by the right promoter, it can turn into a win-win situation. Some of these dudes and ladies hawk quality events and parties that you actually might be interested in attending. I suggest doing some poking around to determine whether they’re worth your Facebook friendship. But don’t feel bad for ignoring their friend requests; they won’t notice anyway.

How literal are event RSVPs?
It’s been a long time since I stopped holding my breath for mailed invitations, but even invites via text and phone call are becoming a rare species. The Facebook event invite is the standard one nowadays. As you know, it gives invitees the option of RSVPing “Yes”, “No”, or “Maybe”. But how etched in stone are these RSVPs? I suggest being as accurate as possible: your RSVP is as good as your word. If you live in another city/state/country and aren’t planning on making the trek, for goodness’ sake, RSVP “No”. Along those lines, if you’re planning an event, don’t invite people who live in another city/state/country.

What do I do when I really, really want to comment on something a stranger has posted on my friend’s wall?
Don’t do it. It’s weird/creepy/inappropriate to hijack a stranger’s conversation on your friend’s wall. It’s tantamount to eavesdropping and butting into a conversation in a public place. No matter how compelling the comment/picture/link is, abstain. If absolutely necessary, holler at your friend in private. (Engaging in a conversation with a stranger on something your friend has posted is kosher, though.)

What’s the best way to avoid people on Facebook chat?
Facebook chat is great…in theory. It grants you access to hundreds of friends and acquaintances you may not want all up in your GChat mix. But its limited options—”online” or “offline” only—can put a real damper on your stealth mode. Which means it’s doubly difficult to avoid people you’re not interested in chatting with but who always seem to notice when your little green light goes on. Just as abstinence is the surest way to avoid getting pregnant, so is staying offline the best way to avoid getting caught out by people you don’t want to talk to. But since that isn’t going to happen, I suggest straight up ignoring people; it sounds mean, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Facebook chat is known for being bogus and unreliable anyway, so “invisible” becomes an option, your friends will likely attribute your non-responsiveness to a technical problem. TC mark

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  • unctuousethnic

    Nice piece. For avoiding people on chat, you can create a friend list of people you don't want to chat with (something like “ignore” or “else” or “effing twats”). Then you simply click “go offline” to the right of the list name, and voila! Chat awkwardness vanquished.

    • Joe

      I think it alerts someone when you add them to a list, though, so you might want to name it something more vague…

      • unctuousethnic

        I've never received any alert like that from anyone else.

      • kb

        no, it doesnt.

      • Izzy

        It doesn't, but it shows on your profile what your friend lists are, so definitely go with vague names.

    • http://twitter.com/rawiya rawiya

      whoa! sweet, thanks!

  • KG

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    K.g. is now friends with Kim Massengale and 5 other people.

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  • Ytfyt
  • http://www.facebook.com/TomSmizzle Tom Smith

    great article, but I have to disagree on “Don’t “Like” something just to have the last word; allow threads to come to their natural “Like”-less conclusion.”
    Whenever I am having a jokey conversation with someone and clearly we have peaked and no more comments are necessary, I tend to throw in a “Like” just to say “This was funny, well done. I have nothing to add.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1396435749 Gabe Vines

    i like this post because i almost never reply to facebook IMs

  • Mlwrose

    lame

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