Digital Etiquette: When, Where and How to Post Online

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Facebook privacy settings are notoriously hard to navigate. And even if you’d got a good grasp of who can see what online, there’s no guarantee that your friends are as social media savvy as you might hope. Randi Zuckerberg found that out the hard way this week, when a private Facebook photo was shared by a “friend” on Twitter. This got me thinking about digital etiquette and our expectations of privacy, both from the sites we use and the friends we make online.

Digital etiquette raises many questions. For example, if I post something on your Facebook wall, is it OK to tweet it or call another friend to share? I say, keep it on medium where you found it. Eg. you text me, I text back, not tweet. But have I lost any expectations of privacy once I share that information with you? Yes, as my “friend” you should know better than to share my private information or news. But this raises even more questions about what constitutes a friend in today’s increasingly online world.

Countless times I’ve seen people post on a newly engaged friend’s Facebook wall before that friend has announced his or her engagement online. This means that the people posting their congratulations must have heard from somewhere else, likely text message or word of mouth. So why blab online and ruin the surprise? I always wait to post on someone’s wall until they have announced their news themselves. But not everyone can be counted on for good judgement.

This leads to the separation of “real” friends, people you call or text and have likely hung out with in real life, and “online” friends, who you probably connect with in a more passing way, on Twitter but not offline perhaps. Chances are, news like an engagement, new baby, or private family photo (like Zuckerberg’s) are intended for “real” friends first. How you share information is up to you, but if you use social media, be sure you have a firm grasp on your privacy settings, and be careful who you let into the inner circle.

It sounds like Ranndi may want to take a closer look at who her friends are. For me, a great test was when we got engaged: we told friends and close family by phone or in person several days before posting online and sharing with a wider group. No one spilled the beans online ahead of time, allowing us to share the exciting news the way we wanted to.

In many cases, digital etiquette starts with you: choose your circles carefully, and use privacy features to match. And if you’re on the receiving end of some personal info, take a minute to think about how you’d like it shared (or not) if it was about you. When it doubt, stick to responding in the same manner with which the info was first shared. So, if you got a private message, don’t start sharing it to a wider social (media) circle just yet.

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