Facebook Etiquette (especially for election season)

Nothing like an election week can demonstrate how quickly all the personalities unleashed on social media can run amuck. What I’ve seen lately is a desperate cry–a full-throttle wail–for help; we all need a standard of etiquette informing our behavior online.

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Can I tell you how many private pages I’m part of, full of educated adults, bonded through a common interest, have had a moderator shut down political posts because of people carelessly or stridently mishandling words?

During this election year, I know some people who would trade Facebook for the Pony Express, which means it could take months to hear from family or friends who don’t agree with them. People who never have before are blocking friends on Facebook for because of vicious verbal attacks in what used to be a place of amicable social exchange.

My rules for Facebook are not what I’d say everyone should adhere to. This is my own rule book. Not all of my rules of etiquette would be appropriate for others–for instance a friend who works in DC in politics and who makes her professional work commenting on such things. This is what is right for me; I am not someone seeking to guide others in political decisions or have a platform where sharing my viewpoint on heavy issues is a call on my life. My list below reflects who I am–it’s a reminder to myself to be true to myself and not to, in the heat of the moment, betray my better instincts or convictions.

(And yes some of these are things I’ve learned NOT to do the hard way–I’ve already done them and experienced the consequences…)


1.Don’t post about politics or controversial subjects often. I read a great many articles, but I hesitate posting them because, while I sometimes like to share things that make me think, though I may not necessarily agree with 100%, I’ve decided I sometimes just don’t want to spend time debating/discussing points others may pick out that were not the ones that caught my attention in the first place.

2.Don’t post articles on controversial subjects unless you trust the source. The reality of this lately means I don’t often share articles. For instance, I found a really persuasive one the other day. It included sources and links to back up its claims. When I followed them, those sources seemed watertight–very reputable people authoring the source material.  But when I intentionally searched for pushback on the source’s claims, they existed. Another highly reputable source denounced the data collection method as well as the interpretation of the data. In the end, I don’t have the expertise to tease out who is correct, so I cannot pass on that really persuasive article.

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3.If I’m sharing about politics (though rare) I want to share positives, not negatives. For instance, instead of why to hate particular candidates, I’d rather post why I’m for a different one. I think there is a place for denouncing the immoral, but I don’t want that to be all my voice is for. I’d rather use any voice I have to shine light on answers and hope and better options.

4.No name-calling. Idiot, moron, etc., are off the table when talking to or about others. No matter how much you cannot see how they possibly believe a certain viewpoint. I don’t want to allow myself to estimate my opinion or rightness so highly that it permits me to denigrate another person and crush their being under my harsh words. And yes, there are a few issues I feel strongly about, things that are black and white moral imperatives–and still, I don’t see, based on my faith, where I have the right to insult people during political or other debate. (And yes, I’ve seen the popular meme floating around turning WWJD on its head, mentioning what Jesus said and did at the Temple when he threw out the money-changers. Jesus exhibits righteous anger and does judge men’s hearts with harsh words that cut right to their character. But there are many things Jesus does that does not fall in into my job description as a Christian; for instance, I also cannot grant forgiveness and send a criminal to Heaven, as Jesus did on the cross. Likewise, judging peoples’ hearts is not my job; I’ve not found any scripture telling me so.) My faith tradition gives me lots of directives as to my role: honoring others, loving them, encouraging them, restoring them gently. I am working on those. Matthew 5:22 gives very strong words for someone insulting or calling someone made in God’s image a “fool.”

5. No name-calling even politicians, presidents, public figures. I repeat the above. Still not okay, even for people who won’t ever know I said it. I don’t want to be part of this kind of rhetoric. One can speak truth and express disagreement without name-calling.

6.Assume the best in others rather than assuming they have lesser intelligence and reasoning ability than you do. It’s often a lack of our understanding the other person that accounts for our hasty judgement of someone for their opinion. Yes, there are right and wrong answers to things, but when it comes to complex societal issues, declaring someone stupid for not knowing or believing what we do can often be a reflection more on our heart than their intelligence/education.

This quote from Harry Truman aptly sums up the conviction I was given years ago that allowed me to see people better rather than condemning them for differing opinions: “When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint… understand what he is trying to do… nine times out of ten he is trying to do right.” If we dealt with people by their intentions and honored that and thereby showed we actually listen and have a heart for them as a person, two things can happen. You will have more success in actual conversation; that person may actually hear you–and you may learn something from them.  My aim is to respect and treat others  according to the assumption of good intentions. No amount of discussion or debate will amount to anything if I “have not love” for the other person, and love always starts with respect for them as a person, regardless of their opinions and vote. (I Corinthians 13:2)

7.Never comment on a stranger’s wall post. About anything. Even if you can see it. You’re a stranger. Stop it. It’s creepy.

8.Never comment on a stranger’s wall post with an adversarial or provocative view on a controversial topic. Sometimes strangers’ posts show up on my wall merely because a friend of mine commented. I find it inappropriate for me to comment–it’s like walking into a conversation you’re eavesdropping on, butting in and telling them why you’re right and they’re wrong. But I’ve seen it happen to my friends because I commented on something, and my other friends were privy to it because of my comments–and some took the liberty to argue with someone they never met. (Maybe it’s a passive-aggressive way to reply to my comment and without really addressing me–I don’t know. But it’s really bad form and like a home invasion.)  It’s not merely rude, but it’s also the fastest way to make someone disregard your words, however good your points may be. So if you actually want to succeed in influencing someone’s opinion, don’t choose the suicide of this poor social behavior.

If you disregard the above, certainly don’t join forces with another commenter who is your friend and gang up on the poster. I’ve seen it. Two or more friends insult and degrade someone they do not know. Trolling behavior at its worst, but from people you know! It might even be a really good cause–to get someone to see the light on a political topic you feel the media has deceived them about–but if you try to change people’s minds by ganging up with insults to someone’ intelligence, well, you may convince readers of something– about your behavior–but likely not the issue up for discussion. Whether done with malice or with well-intentioned concern, I’ve never seen this achieve the presumed goal: someone giving a listening ear. It comes across as bullying or petulant when strangers attack personal beliefs someone wrote for friends.

9.If you REALLY feel compelled to reach out to a stranger whose post you saw, because you think you have information that would really benefit them, consider another way of reaching out other than commenting unbidden and publicly. I cannot think of a political instance in which I would do this, so I’ll use a more typical-me example: I may see that a friend commented on her friend’s post about nursing a baby or Lyme disease treatment–things I know a lot about and feel passionately about. But however tempted I may be to  give advice, I have to remind myself: though I may have valuable information, I am a stranger doing nothing less than crashing the party. It is not my place. (If I felt super strongly that my intervention could help someone’s well-being–there are better ways. Contact the friend that stranger knows and try to make a connection to get a chance to talk privately with the stranger whose post compelled you to speak.)

10.Don’t use sarcasm or condescension with your Facebook friends who state beliefs or views you do not share. (Sarcasm is ok for truly funny things that aren’t about heavy subjects such as beliefs, religion or politics. I use sarcasm a lot for mommy stories about child-rearing. Sarcasm is not insulting only when used among friends when you already know are on the same page and share viewpoints or you know each other’s hearts/intentions.)

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11. Criticism is NEVER for the public arena for your friends or their friends. I’ve seen friends castigated by a Great Aunt Mary who just had to rip them apart, telling them all the reasons why they’re a bad parent when the girl asked for advice from fellow moms about how to get help with kids sleep patterns or quitting the pacifier. I’ve cringed at things people say publicly that I wouldn’t even say privately with such a tone or air of superiority. Even when that person has asked a question, begging for others to give advice, it is still prudent to  reserve words for private messages to avoid awkwardness publicly, for them or me.So no matter how small or big, my rule is, no criticism in front of others! Good rule for life outside fb too.

12.Don’t post vulgar or distasteful images or words in order to prove that something/someone is vulgar or distasteful. If I wouldn’t post it under other circumstances, let me remind myself that I still shouldn’t to my audience of Facebook friends, family, acquaintances, former students, and neighbors,  because I’m ticked off about an occurrence. Yes, this comes directly out of this election. Whether we’re talking about leaders with a national following or leaders at a local church, seeing people who speak against using certain words or consuming certain types of images repost them–! This was really the low point in this election for me; seeing the lows people resorted to in order to defend or attack exposed vulgarity. Crass images are unnecessary if the goal was really to make a point about an issue. The effect on me was counter-productive.

I remind myself this counts for snide remarks on memes that are so spot-on nasty and cutting. Nope. Not posting those either. If it’s poor taste, it’s poor taste–no matter how perfectly delicious it seems for retaliation against an idea I don’t like, and I’m angry. Because I don’t want to be like that. Speak life. Not vulgarity.

13.Remember boundaries. There are just things you don’t say to people unless you have the level of relationship that warrants that much candidness. If ever in doubt, send a private message rather than posting.

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14.Remember you’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind with a Facebook post–especially a negative, insulting post. People look for, and will find, posts that reinforce their already-held beliefs, and they tend to stay there. For anything truly valuable or important, it is best discussed in a more personal way. Some things just aren’t right for the platform of Facebook, period. Politics may be proving to be one of those things for many, many people if they continue to mishandle words and people as is evidenced right now.

15.Remember respect. Funny, when I was a first-time teacher, I thought, “You know, that rule sums up everything. It’s the only classroom rule I need.” Ha ha! This list above demonstrates what I learned in teaching classrooms of students: while I may understand that respect does encompass everything, the specific behaviors and examples of how to respect people do often need to be taught. Not everyone understand what is respectful to OTHERS. They may have their own definition, but that is literally quite useless because the object of respect is the other person. Hence, we need some rules of etiquette to help us.



About Renee Lannan's blog

I live, write, teach and enjoy life from a place of hope and a belief in miracles from seeing first-hand the depths of redemption
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4 Responses to Facebook Etiquette (especially for election season)

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