Etiquette in the age of the Internet



Not. Cool.

Are you kidding me?!

Just a few thoughts that run through my mind when cruising my news feed. I’m not talking about politics (though I’m sure those words have been uttered then, too). I am referring to comments on non-controversial issues: life events.

Back when the internet was not the hub of social communication and activity, people used snail mail. They sent cards to people to announce big events. They relied on phone trees to share sad events with family. Nowadays, Facebook is the cornerstone of the new baby and engagement announcement, the condolence book for loss and illness. I see nothing wrong with it. But people need to reserve their comments and reactions for the appropriate time and place.

In the last year I’ve seen my friends’ family members break the big announcement to my friends’ extreme disappointment before they had made it public, I’ve been disgusted as people’s very private illnesses were publicized by “friends,” and I have seen other’s faces rubbed in their mistakes. These things really irk me, and I wonder if people have forgotten common courtesy. Indeed, it makes me wonder: have I, too, been guilty of these inconsiderate behaviors?

Imagine you are pregnant with your first child and have yet to tell those closest to you. Then you tell one of your in-laws. Before you know it, they have become so overwhelmed by joy that they share it with their 500 Facebook friends, including your immediate family who may not have yet known. Effectively, this person has just sent out an announcement card for your big news, without involving you in the least. Everyone is either sharing in their joy or silently miffed they had been left out of the prized group of people who were the first to know. And that is where the problem begins. Hurt feelings, anger, animosity. Not exactly the feelings you hoped to have in the time of your “happy” news.

Fortunately etiquette for sharing big news online can be really simple. Here are some ideas.

General Rule #1: If it ain’t your news, don’t spread it unless you’ve got their permission.

General Rule #2: If the person with news has yet to put the news on their FB page, don’t do it for them by posting your condolence or excitement on your page. Reserve your reactions until (or if) they break their news. Without this self-restraint, effectively you’ve just taken the control or joy out of their unique situation. You’ve just taken the luster out of the goodness, or the privacy out of the badness.

Bad behavior: Rumors of bad behavior do not necessarily tell the whole story. Going online and rubbing a person’s face in it or posting it on your page is a surefire way to make their life worse and possibly impede their healing or learning process. Until you get the background information, keep quiet. Or better yet, remember your word has little to no relevance or importance and perhaps no comment is necessary at all. (Various super-close family members are not included in this remark. Nevertheless, it is still not business to publicize to the world without consent).

Death: Expressing your condolences or sharing your mourning is an important act of processing such unfortunate ocurrences. Announcing it without the family’s permission is a careless act of insensitivity. Remember to think of their pain above yours at all times. No one wants to punctuate sorrow with anger in times like these.

Illness: Many people feel their battle with an illness is not something to be shared. Perhaps they don’t want to be treated differently. Perhaps they don’t want to the be poster-child for every “Support XX disease research” badge you paste on your page. While one may want support, they may not want entire communities to be aware of what they are fighting. Rule of thumb: if they haven’t gone public with it online, respect those boundaries. Illnesses are complicated life events; the sick person’s wishes must be honored.

Baby: News of a pregnancy or news of a birth are exciting tidings indeed. What is NOT exciting is to be so overwhelmed by your joy that you forget about the new parents’ happiness. Posting the news on your page, or posting a congratulatory comment on the parents’ pages, is a great thing to do. While it seems customary to post congratulations on the new parents’ pages before they’ve made the “official” announcement, making it public or sharing the first baby picture on your page could be an over-reach in my opinion. Potentially, you have just taken away their only opportunity to break this fresh news to the world online with the first baby picture (especially if it is their first baby). Best advice: ask yourself if you’d be unhappy if so-and-so did this with your first baby. If the answer is yes or maybe, perhaps it’s best to hold back on your posting impulses.

Engagement: See above. For both these scenarios, I would recommend you A) check the page of the person with the announcement to see if the big news is posted officially yet, and B) keep quiet or issue your congratulations respectively when it is made public. Remember when you got engaged? Now imagine someone else sharing that with the world. Not very thoughtful indeed. Keep a lid on the enthusiasm until it is the right time.

We need to remember that the internet is not a separate sphere from the “real” world. It is merely an extension of it. Hurting a person’s feelings is as real there as it would be in person. While it is easy to sometimes forget, our words and actions matter, whether they are in text on a computer screen or verbalized from our lips. But with a little forethought – or hesitation before we click the “post” or “share” button – we can avoid some of the worst transgressions and maintain happy relationships with those for whom we care most.

Liking things

My friend Pete sent me a great video link this morning. So funny! (So true!) It’s short and sweet – a little swearing is in there FYI, so if that bugs you I wouldn’t watch.

Happy Monday everybody!!!


Feeling a little heated–the debate, I mean

It doesn't really relate, but isn't this the best picture, ever?! Source:

Phew! Politics. Goodness! Is it ever NOT a heated debate about something? Not really. This morning, when I groggily popped onto Facebook, I found my friend had posted a link to an article detailing the latest update on the activities of the US House of Representatives. Anymore, politics are a hot topic for an online debate which can get downright ugly, and often these exchanges become pointless in the end.

(Imagine something like this: “I will yell to prove my point.”…. “NO YOU WON’T! I will yell even louder to prove my point and not concede or find common ground!”…. “Well, I’ll just be extreme to prove my point and do it so loudly you are drowned out!”.. . and so on. You get the idea….)

Because I don’t want to get into a debate here which would detract from the point, I am not going to tell you what the posted article was about. But I will tell you how the responses to my friend’s post went (totally paraphrasing here), with my little “I couldn’t resist! I had to weigh in!” reply at the end including my strategy to diffuse the argument into something effective and constructive. (Note: everything is written in first person, so follow the indents and colors.)


  • THIS SUCKS! WHAT A BUNCH OF BALONEY! The “issue at hand” is important for America! Why is it being attacked? It is so much more than the Congress’s simplified notion of being related to the “bigger issue!” GRRR!
    • I have no sympathy for you because I’m on the other side of the “bigger issue” and I blame the “issue at hand” for much of it.
  • Well, what about problems A, B, and C mister? You ever thought of that? The “issue at hand” is essential for dealing with those things.
    • Oh yeah, I’ve thought of A, B, AND C, but those are taken care of elsewhere. The “issue at hand,” however, is involved with the “bigger issue” so the “issue at hand” is on my naughty list.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #1:] Well, don’t you think “elsewhere” also contributes to the “bigger issue?” It’s not only their fault!
    • I seem to be on the defensive. Now I will use an extreme example to support my argument and detract from the validity of your point, while also illustrating my contempt for the “bigger issue”.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #2:] I don’t think you know anything at all. You sound stupid. Here are the reason facts A, B, and C are so important, and why they make the “issue at hand” so necessary and not evil. The “issue at hand” is separate from the “bigger issue”.
    • Why do you try to confuse the topic? The “issue at hand” is definitely what I’m mad at. The “issue at hand” is to blame 100% for the fact that A, B, and C exist in the first place. If the “issue at hand” didn’t exist and a few other extreme measures did, we wouldn’t have these “bigger issue.”
  • [Continued counter-argument from friend #2:] I am really mad at you now and am going to tell you that you are full of crap. And I’m going to reitirate the need for the “issue at hand” in order to deal with the very real problem of A, B, and C. So there!

At this point the owner of this Facebook page is completely out of the conversation. This has become an all-out Facebook debate-style war. What would happen if the argument was diffused with a little recognition of the complexity of the issue? I decided to test the theory (I swear there may be a formula to this!) while providing a counter-argument as well.

  • [This is me now:]  …. Step 1: I need to inform you of some facts to legitimize the necessity of “the issue at hand” to deal with A, B, and C. Step 2: (This could also come first in many cases:) I recognize your position and the complexity of the “bigger issue”. I am going to use statements that do not begin with “I” or “you” or personal opinions so the energy of the previous confrontations are removed. Now I will gently reassert the importance of recognizing the value in the “issue at hand.”
    • Reply to previous comment from friend #2 with a “my way or the highway, all-or-nothing” agenda. I’m going to come from nowhere to bring up another really “controversial issue” to make my original point more clear.
    • Reply to the new comment comment with a much more chilled out perspective (this is 10 hours later, which proves that “getting some air” might help), citing personal second-hand experience with the “bigger issue” that has shaped my perspective.
  • I choose to ignore your rather simplified–and outrageous–statement about the “controversial issue” in your first reply, because it would cause another angry debate. Instead I am focused on the calmness of your reply and the submission of a personal connection to both of the “issues.” Step 3: I see a common ground here. In a neutral voice, I relate the conceptual basis and underlying facts of human behavior to the “bigger issue” to explain why your extreme solutions won’t work for everyone. Humans are to blame, not the “issue at hand.” Step 4: I restate something about your argument that I can agree on to enforce that you are being heard. I acknowledge your passion for the issue. Step 5: Without using “should’s,” I express my optimism and hope for a way you could communicate your passion that could positively affect others on the “bigger issue” as well as problems A, B, and C. Perhaps you could advocate for the facts at the heart of both the “bigger issue” and the “issue at hand.” Step 6: Express gratitude for the civility in our discourse, which includes listening to my perspective.
    • I feel the change in tone. I am grateful for the constructive idea. I regret being so aggressive with my wordage at the start. Acknowledge my passion. But… what about this aspect of the “bigger issue?” Doesn’t that support my all-or-nothing assertion?
  • Acknowledge the logic of that perspective but cite the inability for any of us to control the actions of others. Praise your own self-control in relation to the “bigger issue” and named problems A/B/C, but discuss that not everyone may have the same extent of control. Acknowledge that there is not one solution, but that the best thing you or any of us can do (in this case specifically) is model the behavior we wish to see in others–or the behavior we see in others that we admire–to try to encourage our viewpoint.
    • Personal account for what informs my perspective and explains my anger. Acknowledge the points offered–“I have something to think about,” I say. I can see the validity in what you say. Expression of gratitude for the exchange.
  • My expression of gratitude as well. (happy face included)

While the guy and I did not come to an agreement on the “bigger issue,” or the “issue at hand,” we both managed to have a civil conversation and we left with perspectives we hadn’t considered before. It reminded me that at the center of many of these arguments is someone who has been hurt, and who may have formed incredibly strong feelings about the issue because of it.

Reading this without the specifics of the argument, maybe it seems very confusing or reactive. And much of the discussion was. The way facts are emotionally communicated seems to produce this super-charged outcome. If people try to find common ground, or be willing to hear the logic of the other’s argument (to suspend their emotional appeal for the moment), we might make headway on many issues. There will always be disagreement. But perhaps our ability to consider the motivations behind our opponents’ viewpoints will yield a better resolution to these controversies than what we’ve seen in the past.

Unfortunately, I know I will always have a chance to test my theory on communication. The good news is that I live in a country where I can communicate my opinions freely and expect them to be heard by someone. What a gift!

🙂 Have a great day!