Ask a Human: How to Behave on Facebook

Introducing Ask a Human, FWD’s weekly advice column by Katie Heaney. This week: When is Facebook stalking creepy? How long before you respond to a Facebook message? When should you unfriend your ex?

This hasn’t happened (yet), but it’s something I worry about allllll the time. If I’m on a date with someone I’m Facebook friends with, and he brings up something about a trip he went on or something and I already know about it because I’ve…seen the pictures…is it okay to be like, “oh yeah, I saw that!” or is it better to pretend I know nothing?

Oh, I’ve taken both of these routes so many times. Well, not on “dates,” really. What are those? Haha. Um, no, but with friends or acquaintances or classmates, I have definitely pretended, at times, to not know about places they’ve been or particular outfits they wore out the past weekend, even though I’ve seen the proof (What? I have a really specific talent for remembering people’s clothing.). I actually think lying about Facebook stalking makes you feel creepier than Facebook stalking itself does. It turns an activity that everyone does into something shameful deep inside you. And later, when your secret is eating you alive from within, and you feel the need to yell out “OKAY FINE I ADMIT IT, I DID KNOW THAT YOU WENT TO SEA WORLD LAST WEEKENED AND I KNEW THAT TOUCHING THE SEALS WAS TRANSFORMATIVE BECAUSE I COULD SEE THE LOOK IN YOUR EYES IN YOUR PICTURES,” you will become something so much worse than you would’ve been if you had just admitted that you, just like the rest of us, are a big voyeuristic creep. Remind yourself that nobody uploads pictures to Facebook with the hope that nobody will ever see them. Anyone who gets upset that somebody else has seen something they’ve intentionally made public is probably kind of a lunatic, and you shouldn’t be dating them.

I vote for honesty. The one exception is if this happens on a first date, maybe. First dates are no place for honesty, am I right?? If you get the opportunity to admit to Facebook creeping on your first date, you should lie your little face off. You don’t know each other well enough yet to pull off “charmingly self-deprecating.” First dates are about getting to know each other, and it is weird to hear something about someone new and be like, “ugh yeah, I already knew about that, BO-RING!” So on a first date, and on a first date only, you have my permission to lie.

What’s the appropriate response time for Facebook messages? Is it longer or shorter than with email or phone-related communication?

The really annoying, yet fair and truthful, response to this question is that it depends. It depends on how often the recipient uses Facebook (because I’m sure you and I both know a handful of weirdos who somehow don’t go on it everyday?) and on the urgency of the message. That being said, my main answer is “as soon as possible.” Nobody with a Facebook is too cool to use that Facebook. If you send someone a friendly, generic message, just to check in on how that person is doing or something, and they’re a semi-regular Facebook user but maybe not a compulsive one, I think it’s reasonable to expect that that person gets about a week to reply. Does that sound strict? Good. I think everyone could stand to reply to messages – of all kinds – a little quicker than they do now. In my Chain of Communication Response Time Command, Facebook falls below the phone and above email. Phones are, obviously, the most pressing tools of communication we have. I don’t call anyone unless I need to talk to him or her like YESTERDAY. Facebook, unlike email (usually), allows people to see when you’ve been on it recently. There is nothing worse than waiting on a message reply while you can see the proof that your friend Chester A. Arthur has just played “HORNY” in Words With Friends, and later logs off without so much as a peep in your direction. People! We can SEE YOU. We can actually see you ignoring us. This is so rude that it makes my skin crawl. Do you know how long it takes to reply to the vast majority of Facebook messages? Two minutes. If you don’t think you have two minutes to spare, you’re an asshole.

Should I defriend and unfollow my ex? We broke up on okay terms, so it’s not like we’re mortal enemies now, but I just don’t know whether it’s a great idea to stay friends/followers.

YES. Yes yes yes yes yes. I can’t even believe this is a question. No, sorry! I can. I know there are people out there for whom complete and total isolation from their exes is not tantamount to survival. It’s just that I don’t get those people. How do you stop yourself from typing in their names to check on whether or not they’ve got any new suspiciously romantic-looking pictures? How do you stop yourself from looking at pictures from around the time you two were together while you listen to Jeff Buckley and try to make yourself cry? How do you keep yourself from tailoring your own Facebook (or Twitter) to make yourself seem cooler than you really are (“Katie Heaney is SOOO HUNGOVER from all the partying she’s been doing with movie stars and underground indie rappers, LOL”)? My personal belief that nobody, really, is above all that. Even if you and your ex are “friends,” now. Even if you think it won’t bother you when he or she starts dating someone new. That ex will always just be sitting there in internet space, waiting to be scrutinized and agonized over, unless you defriend/unfollow him or her. That ex will keep popping up on your newsfeed, reminding you that he or she hasn’t had the decency to just perish already. You can try unsubscribing from his or her updates, but that doesn’t stop you from looking him or her up so often that your Facebook starts predicting it, which is embarrassing. The internet ex check-up is a compulsion and you need to cut it off at the source. If you guys are really okay, there will always be email and texting to check in once in a while. You don’t need to be attached to your ex in any format that updates daily. People in the olden days (the nineties) wouldn’t have put up with that shit. It would’ve been like having your ex-boyfriend rollerblading by your house three times a day, everyday, screaming in through your open window to let you know what he’s having for lunch or what he thought about “The Artist.” You wouldn’t put up with that, would you? You’d dump pebbles and sand all along your front sidewalk. Now all you need to do is click a button. It’s going to feel great.

Katie Heaney is a writer and text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Would you like to know how to be a human being when using technology? Email your questions to Katie.

Image: Shutterstock/Yuri Arcurs

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