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Social network misuse can drive friends crazy

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Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

For every advance in communications technology, the unspoken rules of behavior for using it tends to lag behind. But the rules do catch up eventually.

Hopefully, by now you've learned to turn off your cell phone in the movie theater, and don't hit "Reply All" on the office e-mail for every little inside joke.

Social networking Web sites like Facebook are gradually developing their own set of unspoken rules, too. With more than 300 million users worldwide, Facebook represents a revolution in interpersonal communication, and is becoming more ubiquitous all the time.

"I think it'll self-regulate," says Dr. Rob Bellamy, a professor of communications at Duquesne University. "It's like a lot of blogs and other semi-public media -- or how e-mail was in the early days. Twenty years ago, people would inadvertently use all capital letters in an e-mail. It took awhile before that came to mean you're screaming."

Upon signing up for Facebook, one begins to receive observations, statements, Web links and photos from friends, family and casual acquaintances around the world, in real time. If a friend in Taiwan heard a song he liked -- or a friend in New Orleans drank a beer he liked -- you can read about it immediately.

"It provides a new form of communication in which we stay 'hyper connected' to all of our contacts," says Nick O'Neill, who writes, an unofficial site about Facebook. "Access to our friends and family are at the tip of our fingers."

There's no code of conduct. Like any communications technology, it can be abused. But like any forum for social interaction, there's plenty you can do to make yourself a less irritating -- and more interesting -- presence on Facebook.

"I don't think abuse is the real problem," says O'Neill. "Instead it's how people misuse it, since they don't understand proper etiquette."

Julie Marshall Harris, 39, a communications consultant and teacher from Bethel Park, has two pet peeves:

"The first is the person who details the most mundane things all day long," she says. "While I care about what my friends have going on in life, I really don't need the blow-by-blow (account) of every day.

"The second are those folks who basically complain all of the time. Again, I care, but everything can't be a crisis every day."

For some, the rules are simple -- keep it interesting.

"There is no reason for your status update to indicate your boredom," says Richard Gartner, 31, a yoga instructor from East Liberty and avid Facebook user. "If you are bored, you should probably go do something interesting."

To Gartner, a Facebook "status update" should indicate that something of note has actually happened.

"It's fine by me if you are fixated on something, but a status update suggests that something has changed," he says. "Seven updates regarding same book/concert/wait-for-the-bus is six too much."

Facebook wasn't the first social networking site to gain popularity, and it probably won't be the last. Myspace is still going strong, and dozens of smaller sites cater to certain niches, like MyChurch (religion) and LinkedIn (business). Facebook, however, is the biggest -- and its sheer size and popularity have changed the way many people communicate.

And that can be a good thing -- or not.

"Obviously, there's a failure to realize, for a lot of people, what exactly is private, and what is public," says Bellamy. "And that can get a lot of people in trouble."

If there's one simple, overriding rule, it's "Choose your friends wisely."

"I generally feel that each Facebook friend should correlate to a real-world friend, or at least an actual friend from my past," says Melanie Drake, 33, of the North Hills, a computer programmer and Facebook user since 2007. "I do admit to confirming friend requests from high-school acquaintances just because I have a sick obsession with my past, specifically my high-school years.

"I once accidentally confirmed a friend request of a man I did not know. He was a member of some questionable groups involving lingerie. I quickly 'de-friended' him."

Any club that has 300 million members is going to have its bad apples -- the key is not letting them ruin it for you.

"I think a lot of folks use social media the way it's supposed to be used," says Bellamy. It's a way of having a connection -- even if it's just one way -- to a larger social environment. Because a lot of people feel disconnected."

Additional Information:

How not to be hated on Facebook

These tips come from

Stop taking quizzes. Nobody cares what literary time period you are.

If you sync your Twitter account to Facebook so that you fill others' news feeds with a constant stream of mundane updates and references to people with little @ symbols before their names, be prepared for people to de-friend you. Maybe even in real life.

Don't friend someone you don't actually know.

If you must friend someone you don't know, include a message explaining why you are doing so. For example, 'Hi, I'm your cousin's roommate!' would suffice.

Actually, no. Why would your cousin's roommate want to be your friend• That's still weird.

Don't invite people to events if they don't live in your city. I'm glad you still live in our old college town, but guess what• I don't. Even if I did, I still wouldn't waste my Friday night listening to you play music at that vegan coffee shop I frequented when I was 19 because I couldn't get into bars.

I'm sorry your grandfather died of emphysema, but I will not join your 'cause.'

Make sure all your photos are rotated in the proper direction. How will people know how fun your Fourth of July barbecue was if every picture looks like you fell over?

If you create a group called 'Lost my cell phone; need your numbers!,' I will join, but I won't give you my number.

Cryptic status updates about your mental state -- 'Rachel is trying so hard,' 'Rachel wishes things were different,' 'Rachel is starting her life over' -- don't make you sound intriguing, just lonely and pathetic.

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