What exactly is undesirable behavior on Facebook? It's a tougher question than it seems because smart people can really disagree. Take, for example, a blog post by the incomparable Tim Urban, whose work I adore and who usually seems to me full of all kinds of wisdom. But not this time.
Urban argues forcefully that people who constantly post about the good things that happen to them (e.g. "Guess who got into Med School!!!!) or about how happy they are and how much they love their partner, or the mundane things they're up to that day ("Off to the gym, then class reading,") basically are narcissists who should just shut up.
Sorry, Tim, but you're completely wrong. I use Facebook daily, but only for a few minutes at a time. I'd like to use it more, and I would if there were more of the kinds of information that Urban finds distasteful, and less of...well everything else that clutters up Facebook.
Let me just start by saying that if you're my Facebook friend and you get accepted to medical school, please post about it so that I can keep up on your doings and congratulate you. My stepson and his kids live 3,000 miles away so I'm hugely appreciative that every time one of them gains an academic honor or helps a team win a sporting event he posts it on Facebook so my husband and I can stay in the loop. And, yes, I even want to see those mundane daily life posts. One of my favorite social media posts ever was this, from a very accomplished chef and food writer I know: "Popcorn for dinner. It happens. You?"
To me, all of this goes to the heart of what makes Facebook valuable, or potentially valuable if you can get past the animal videos and political outrage and inspirational quotes overlaid on photos of sunsets--actually finding out what the people you know are doing and what's happening in their lives.
So, with all due respect to Urban, here's my own list of behaviors that could make me unfriend you on Facebook. See how many of them you agree or disagree with. (And feel free to reach out on Twitter or by email and let me know.)
1. Relentless posting.
Some people post to Facebook 10 or 20 times a day or more. (I'm talking status updates and shares, not responses to other people's posts.) If your family member is in the emergency room and you're posting all those updates to let people know what's going on, that's one thing. If you're sitting around bored and just sharing everything you come across that's slightly amusing or upsetting, it's time to apply a filter.
I know I just said I want to know what's happening with my Facebook friends, and I do. But I have one Facebook friend who's barely an acquaintance in real life, who's having some chronic medical issues and feels the need to post about every bit of discharge and to recount, word for word, every frustrating conversation she has with a doctor or nurse. I feel bad for her and I suspect she's lonely and doesn't have a friend or loved one to share her troubles with. Still, at some point you need to tone it down, and perhaps change the subject.
3. Cryptic posts.
This is one place where Urban and I agree. Please stop posting updates that express an emotional event but provide no specifics whatsoever. A former friend of mine used to regularly post things like this: "Sometimes when you find out what people really are like you just feel like giving up."
This seemed to be a very effective tactic for her because her vague lament would invariably garner some equally vague expressions of support. "So sorry you're going through this!" "Hang in there, we care about you!" Reading through the threads, it was quite clear that the people responding had no more idea of what she was talking about than I did.
Posts like these are emotionally manipulative and unfair and you can wear out your welcome fast. Either be (at least somewhat) specific or keep it to yourself.
4. Automatic posts.
Anything you post to Facebook should be posted by you. That sounds obvious, but it can be difficult to do because so many apps in are eager to post to Facebook on your behalf and they try hard to wheedle your permission to do so. If you blog, your blogging software will want to auto-post to Facebook. If you play any kind of game that anyone else on Facebook plays, that game will relentlessly nag you for permission to post your accomplishment to Facebook every time you complete a level. If you listen to music, your music playing app will want to tell your Facebook friends what's on your playlist .
This makes perfect sense from the apps' point of view because whenever they get permission to post something on your timeline, you've provided them with free advertising and what appears to be your personal endorsement. Liking the Facebook page of a business or individual has the same effect, because now that person or company's every promotional post will appear in your news feed. In both cases, you're allowing people other than yourself to post whatever they like where all your friends will see it. Think very carefully before you give anyone that kind of power.
5. Engagement bait.
What is engagement bait? A post whose main purpose seems to be to encourage your Facebook friends to share it, like it, comment on it, or tag it. For example: A long and generic ode to the wonderfulness of sisters that ends: "If you love your sister, share this on your timeline." Or one that ends, "Are you paying attention? If so, type 'Yes' in the comments." And on and on.
I'm not the only one who hates posts like these. Facebook does too, which is why it's taking action to downgrade these posts so that fewer people see them. That's another good reason not to waste your time on them.
6. News items that you haven't checked out.
We now know that Russians, posing as Americans, disseminated a monstrous amount of fake information over social media during the 2016 election season and ever since. Much of their interference seems designed to do one thing only: Make Americans in differing political camps dislike an distrust each other.
The Russians are extremely good at this, and Facebook is a powerful tool that has helped them accomplish their goals. In one instance, they organized pro-immigration and an anti-immigration rallies in the same place on the same day so that the two groups could shout at each other, and hundreds of Americans showed up and did exactly that, until the encounter turned confrontational.
It can be hard to tell who's behind an event or a news item, but it's worth taking a few minutes to try and find out. Before you post or share anything, especially if it's a call to action or a news item that makes you angry, do a Google or other search and check into the organization that reported the news or organized the event. What do other news sources say about the organization or the story? If more of us took more time to fact-check before we post or share news items, it would make it much harder for Russian operatives to launch disinformation campaigns.