Facebook is an easy way to stay in touch with the old high school gang, share funny photos from your family vacation and wish your wide circle of friends a happy birthday without springing for a stamp. But there’s a downside, too: When you’re sitting behind a computer screen, it’s easy to mishandle conversations on social media and forget that you’re talking to a huge audience.
“People are a lot bolder on Facebook than they are in real life,” says Wendy Mencel, director of the Canadian School of Protocol and Etiquette. “There is a disconnect between what they’re writing and how they’re coming across, and they forget that their words can offend people. Social media opens us up to more scrutiny, and we have to be conscious of what message we’re projecting to the world.”
Follow our expert tips to avert your own Facebook faux pas and improve your social media encounters.
Never use it as a soapbox
Social media may not be the best forum for controversial subjects, says Toronto etiquette expert Louise Fox.
“Political subjects are touchy, and things tend to look black or white on social media when there are no facial or vocal cues to assist people in interpreting your message.” If you are keen to share your religious or political views, tread lightly or you could find yourself “unfriended.”
That’s how Cathy*, a 50-year-old Halifax university instructor, plans to deal with a high school classmate who recently sent her a friend request. “He posts political rants two or three times a day, and it has rapidly become clear that I don’t share his views,” she says. “When I posted a link to a news story, he weighed in with a 500-word reply on my page. It was like he knocked on my door, and five minutes after I let him in, he was lecturing me.” These are the rules you should follow when complaining on social media.