Vivian Coblentz draws from her years on social media to help you avoid common pitfalls that cause you more harm than good.
Despite Facebook being a platform for the façade of human connection, most of us use it. There are, however, common pitfalls in this two-dimensional, Paper Mario-esque world we need to avoid to prevent our posts from being noxious to our readers.
1. Thanks for the Birthday Wishes
On Facebook, everyone knows it’s your birthday because that tidbit appears on their home pages. If you are on Messenger, a little birthday cake icon adorns your name. Friends are also notified via email about your special day. With these three prompts engaged to spark thoughtfulness from friends in the artificial petry dish of cyber networking, you can quickly assess who is remotely interested in your life and who isn’t. Use that information to pare down your friend list and news feed.
How should you respond to the simulated well-wishes posted to your timeline? The answer is to click reply under each comment to react individually to each commentator. You know—as if you were actually having a conversation with a real person. The poster feels good that he could say something nice with little effort, you feel happy to be hollowly noticed, and your friend is marginally warmed by your personal reply. Do not post one blanket comment to cover the birthday wishes you received. You’ve seen these posts and are probably guilty of writing some yourself:
Just wanted to thank everyone for the birthday wishes. I had a wonderful day! My family showered me with gifts, cake, and dinner at the area’s finest restaurant where I was serenaded by displaced opera singers while being fanned and fed grapes. My life is so wonderful! Since you were so nice to remember me (considering the three Facebook prompts you received), I wanted to return the favor by making you vomit and wish you hadn’t acknowledged me!
Not only does a blanket response trigger the need to regurgitate in your audience, but it shames the people who didn’t recognize you.
2. Greeting Cards
It’s okay to post some e-card greetings on Facebook. For example, the very poignant greetings for July 4th, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day are perfect reminders to your audience to be proud of our American values and to honor those who have fought, bled, and died for our freedom. These are not typical celebrations for which you send Hallmark greetings. When it comes to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, and Christmas, you need to go retro. Only old-fashioned greeting cards sent via snail mail will do.
What is the value of a tangible greeting card? First, you took the time to browse through the entire selection until you found the perfect one for your recipient. Second, you put thought into your handwritten, personal message, which conveys heartfelt sincerity. (Don’t you dare just sign your name—that’s as meaningless as a trite Facebook greeting). Next, you invested postage, and you were thoughtful enough to deposit it in the mailbox in advance so it arrived on time.
Conversely, what does it say about you when you opt for a generic holiday greeting on Facebook instead of mailing a card? Too busy to care? Too self-involved to think of others? Not really interested in investing in relationships? Show people you care about that you value them—send real cards.
3. Fur Baby Tales
Anyone who owns a pet can attest to how much Fido or Fluffy feel like part of the family. You keep them clean, feed them, exercise them, play with and love them. Despite this, however, they are still animals. They are not human, and that means they are not babies, or fur babies, as they are trendily termed. We don’t want to see them decked out in the latest fashions from Petco, wearing doggles at the beach, or lounging in various positions on your bed or couch. By the way—ew. Dog butt where people sit and lay. Gross.
Pets, no matter how much you love them, do not merit equal status with humans and should not be portrayed as such on Facebook. You aren’t their mommy or daddy. You are a pet owner. Similarly, we don’t want to see frantic, daily pictures of animals needing rescued or canine Amber Alerts.
So, you have a pet. Good for you. No one else cares.
4. Every Movement and Facial Expression of Your New Baby
Most people are suckers for adorable little babies. Rubber cheeks, fat rolls, and silly faces are irresistible! Facebook friends enjoy watching your kids grow up in a virtual world where they can peek into your happy snapshots while you sweep the ugly parenting moments under the cyber rug to maintain the façade of perfection. New parents, however, don’t know when to stop. Little Jimmy discovered his toes today. Wow. None of our kids ever had that epic experience. Oh, and Josie said mommy today for the first time. Every rash, ailment, poop color, milestone, facial gesture, and aspect of normal child development is reported as if this baby was the first of its kind. The eyes of single friends glaze. Veteran parents know your child is typical rather than precocious but won’t bust your bubble. If you have a new baby, try to save your constant blubbering for the people who are actually interested—grandma and grandpa.
5. Dietary Lifestyle
Omnivores rarely subject their audience to diatribes on the benefits of eating both meat and plants any more than heterosexuals need to boldly and proudly articulate their sexual orientation. The same cannot be said for vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free advocates, and organic only food eaters. Most of us are smart enough to understand that pesticides on food are bad, and the secret to good health is linked to regular exercise and healthy eating habits. Yet, one person cramps with the consumption of gluten and thinks the whole world needs to give up carbs. If they have to be miserable eating food that tastes bad, why shouldn’t the rest of us have to suffer?
Vegans are well-known for invoking the face of the cute piglet to condemn you for killing yet another of God’s creatures—which, by the way, He created to provide us with food. In truth, the little piggy only makes the majority of us hungry for bacon.
If you want to be on the Paleo, Atkins, Jenny Craig, Cabbage Soup, Weight Watchers, Grapefruit, South Beach, Jared’s Subway Diet, or any of the diets in between, go for it. Just don’t grandstand on Facebook to force your dietary choices down our throats.
6. “Sending Prayers” and Other Trite Phrases
When a friend shares a difficult circumstance they are struggling with and you respond with, “sending prayers,” do you actually pray for that person? If so, bravo. Many of you don’t. You want to say something comforting without much effort, so “sending prayers” covers it. If you really cared about the person’s trial, you would pick up the phone and call them, send them an encouraging note, or meet them for coffee to talk.
Be authentic and sincere. Avoid cliché and banal sentiment.
7. All Your Vacations
According to the AAA, roughly 35 percent of families planned vacations for 2017. That means two-thirds of families did not. If you went on one family vacation, your Facebook friends will be happy for you and enjoy seeing your pictures. If you toured Europe, visited multiple exotic locations, or vacationed more than three times in one year, keep it to yourself. We all know at least one person with wanderlust whose household income far surpasses our own. If you are that one person, enjoy your vacations, but don’t flaunt your success in our faces.
Selfies to capture your family’s magical moments are palatable, but selfies of just you are not. They are narcissistic. Period. By the way, narcissism is a grossly over-used word in our culture, but I’m convinced it wasn’t until the advent of Facebook that people became so self-loving. The main reason people post selfies is pride. They are fishing for compliments. What a hottie! Looking good! Gorgeous! You look so young! The number of married women who post them are alarming. Are you not getting enough attention from your husband? Whether you are an insecure person who needs affirmation or just vain-glorious, selfies are repugnant. Stop.
9. Pictures of the Same Old Thing
Whether you live by the ocean, in the woods, by the lake, or in the city, stop posting pictures of the same view of the ocean, woods, lake, and city. It might look breathtaking to you, but it looks like every other picture you’ve ever posted.
If you’ve already posted pictures of your kids running track, playing soccer or basketball, cheering, or marching in the band, one is sufficient. The rest look the same. We know what activities your kids are involved in now, so no pictorial sequels, please.
10. Political Opinions
Unless all your friends on Facebook are from the same political party as you, stop posting political opinions and inflammatory comics. In the TV classic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Linus said this: There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin. Unless you want to alienate a substantial portion of your friend base, it’s best to use Facebook for social interaction rather than a platform for political punditry.
Everyone has strong opinions about politics, so if you want to engage in rants or dialogue about current events, join a Facebook group that shares your position and leave your friends out of it.
11. Amassing Friends Who Aren’t Friends
Why do you want hundreds, if not thousands, of friends on Facebook? Unless you are running a business and need the traffic, the average person does not generally have thousands of friends. The only people who have a friends list that extensive are the same narcissists who take selfies. If you are one of those people, just admit that you want to appear to be more popular than you really are. Just because someone smiles at you at the grocery store or crosses your path at a home party does not mean they want to receive a friend request from you. Friend lists should be carefully built to include only those people with whom you share a sincere connection. Be genuine. Likewise, if someone sends you a friend request that you barely know, decline the request.
Some people are innately rabid--they are angry on the inside and want to pick a fight to feed their fury and make them feel superior. The trolls of Facebook don't search out groups or pages that share common interests where they can converse with like-minded individuals. Instead, trolls post in groups that share the opposite values so they can attack others for sport.
It's one thing to avoid an echo chamber to expand one's limited viewpoints, but it's quite another to deliberately "follow" and "like" someone for the sake of dehumanizing and berating them on a regular basis.
If you troll people, you're a weak person who wouldn't have the nerve to confront someone in person to debate. Don't be a bully. Leave groups that make your heart overflow with rancor. It's not healthy for you or for your targets, and it's not the aim of social media.
13. Posting False Information
Don't use Facebook like a common gossip rag. When you read an article or juicy tidbit, do a little research before you repost it. You should know by now that social media is ripe with misinformation. It's why Facebook now employs fact-checkers. Nevermind that fact-checkers approve left-leaning propaganda and ban accounts of right-leaning users. The point is, before you hit the "share" button, you have a personal responsibility to confirm the veracity of the links and posts. Your friends value your input, and you don't want to unintentionally lead them astray or put them in an unsafe situation. Reading your posts shouldn't be comparable to perusing The National Enquirer at the grocery store check-out lane.
14. Don't Be Snarky
Facebook seems like a machination for hate these days. When COVID-19 struck, many parents quickly formed groups to represent the individual schools in their districts. Their intentions were honorable. Parents wanted to create a community network for the good of the students and their families.
Which buses aren't running today? Where are the grab-and-go meal pick-up locations? How can I get a Hot Spot?
It didn't take long for these helpful groups to devolve into petty cat fights over minor grievances.
One parent demanded an offensive bumper sticker be removed from a vehicle in the parent pick-up line at dismissal so her child wouldn't have to see it. Her unconstitutional demand was met with great opposition from other parents who value freedom of speech, even when they don't agree with it.
Parents who petitioned for masks to be voluntary rather than mandated were eviscerated by parents who felt safer with the mandate.
Parents used Facebook to vent their frustration, and instead of receiving a sympathetic ear or a word of encouragement, they were berated, scolded, and verbally assaulted.
No matter what groups you're in, learn to scroll on by. It's such an easy concept, but so few grasp it. Every post does not require your snarky input. See something you don't agree with? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, if when it's not the same as yours. Ignore it and just scroll.
A few annoying habits that deserve honorable mention include the following:
- Unless you are retired, the workplace you list in your profile should reflect your current status, not where you worked in the past. Swapping past for present employment means you are full of pride and want people to know how important you used to be, since you apparently aren’t now.
- Anniversary wishes are best stated directly to your spouse and not posted on Facebook. Extolling your husband’s or wife’s virtues in great length is nauseating to the rest of us. No cyber P.D.A.—just get a room.
- No more phantom Facebooking. Facebook is a community where you should actively engage, at least occasionally, if you want to maintain your account. Don’t keep gathering intel from everyone’s lives if you never plan to share anything about your own.
- No one wants to see a filter that makes you look like a cat, bunny, or dog, but Avatars are acceptable.
- It's okay that you like playing Facebook games, but don't keep posting your scores. No one cares.
Stop the Madness
Facebook is all about making your life appear better than it is to your viewers. What started off as a channel to keep people connected has morphed into an inventive means to make people gag. Avoid the traps that push away the people you wish to engage. Be an original. Let people know the real you.
Did I Miss Anything?
What annoying Facebook behaviors did I miss? If you have any pet peeves from social media I failed to address, please list them in the comment section!
Vivian Coblentz (author) on December 17, 2017:
Camille, thanks for your post. You are right, of course, that not much remains that seems worthy of posting. The very nature and design of Facebook is for mostly one-sided, self-centered conversation. When you are face-to-face with a friend, conversation is typically other-centered, where you are asking questions and being interested in their lives instead of the reverse. Social media in general is very isolating. It only gives you the illusion of connection when people are actually more disconnected than ever! With that said, I don't think social media is going to disappear. I guess individuals need to make a concerted, deliberate effort to build relationships with people outside of cyberspace. Call people on the phone and make plans to hang out in person rather than track them by their pithy Facebook posts. As for what is okay to post, I think people need to filter and self-edit their comments. Would anyone find this comic funny or inspirational? Might this comment offend my friends? Do I sound too self-inflated? Is this too trivial to mention? Could I regret this later? and so on. Good for you for having the resolve to abandon Facebook! People are just too worried they are going to miss something, but as you've discovered, there's nothing to miss!
Camille Harris from SF Bay Area on December 17, 2017:
YES! I say stop the madness completely and log the heck off. I've been off the site since '11 and have never looked back. I agree with everything you've posted here and hope people start to think more before they post, since, ya know, it's permanent (and probably annoying people).
Just playing the Devil's advocate here: What DO you think is OK to share on Facebook? This list doesn't leave room for much (hence my general attitude that Facebook is trash)...:)