Even On Facebook, Silence Can Be Golden

Cartioon of man zipping his lips, with the caption "Zip It!"Social media generally isn’t a place where things happen, at least for my friends and me. It’s a place where we share what has happened, is happening or is about to happen in our lives. We check in at our favorite restaurants and sporting arenas, post photos of kids and cocktails, and circulate links to our blogs.

For some users, Facebook is a platform for spirited debate — but not really in my case. That’s not to say I never share sarcasm or express political opinions. I do, but it’s not to provoke an argument. So if you’re looking to mix it up on social media, just keep on walking.

This week I witnessed a Facebook exchange that started out innocently enough, but went south in a hurry. It got me thinking about how the platform can morph as we expand our list of “friends” to possibly include colleagues (and former colleagues), old classmates, distant relatives, in-laws, and so on. Eventually, our posts can land in the news feeds of both close friends and distant acquaintances who have never met – with some unfortunate consequences.

My high school friend I’ll call “S” shared a bittersweet story about her daughter, who is around 6 years old and as smart as a whip.  The little girl missed out on her desired role in a school production of “Frozen”, in part thanks to the class bully. I don’t have particulars about how it all went down backstage, but according to S the bully followed up by calling her daughter a lesbian.  Her daughter replied, “I don’t think that’s a bad word, but I am not a lesbian, I don’t think, because I think I like [male classmate].”  Wasn’t that a great answer?  Didn’t I say she was smart?

It hurts to see your child profoundly disappointed and bullied, so S turned to Facebook, where her friends offered words of encouragement and praise for her daughter. A few even took shots at the bully, who was not named (and neither was the school).  It’s safe to say S is not Facebook friends with the bully’s parents, so it was all pretty tame and low risk…until someone on the string called the bully the b-word. That’s when the s-word hit the fan.

I’m not big on name calling; even if I’m fuming I usually stick with “jerk”. Still, I was shocked when one of S’s Facebook friends became outraged and let the commenter HAVE IT. She was patronizing and judgmental, which only encouraged more Go-Team comments from the crowd.

S explained in a private message that these squabbling “friends” had never met, so the indignant one didn’t realize that the name-caller is gay, and perhaps extra sensitive to terms like “lesbian” being hurled like rocks by schoolyard bullies.

If S had met friends for happy hour and shared her story, someone would probably have criticized the bully and her parents, and perhaps even called the kid a name. If the outraged Facebook friend had been in attendance, would she have brought the hammer down on the conversation? She presumably would have known everyone at the table, so would she have held her tongue or tried to subtly change the subject instead?

Did the nature of Facebook enable her in some way? There was no anonymous handle to hide behind, but her combativeness may have been fueled by geographic distance and the knowledge that there was virtually no chance she’d ever meet the name-caller face to face.

S’s friend argued that Facebook is public, and therefore an inappropriate forum in which to criticize someone else’s child — even if you don’t use his/her name. But is it really public, if your posts are seen by “friends only”?  Is the issue that many of us have been too liberal in how we’ve defined “friend”? 

In social media and on my blog, my motto is: “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mom or boss to read.” That doesn’t mean they have to AGREE with what I write. What’s more, I don’t feel obligated to moderate comments to my posts to ensure that they are palatable to everyone I’m connected to. If someone did something nuts like use a racial epithet, I’d delete the comment and block them. Otherwise, I assume my friends will keep debate constructive and non-personal. If they just can’t manage that, there’s always the “hide” function.

While I’ve hidden a few “my life is so great, my spouse is so hot, my house is so large” types, I would never dream of chastising them. I accept that others may find them sweet or inspirational; I just find them annoying. No need to make a big fuss about it, though. Relief it just a click or two away. 

Facebook dislike buttonS’s friend was unwilling to just step away from her computer, and the confrontation did not end well for her. The next time she is similarly incensed, maybe she’ll choose to just be still. To paraphrase a line from the Hayden Panettiere song “Boys and Buses”, if you aren’t happy with what you’re seeing on Facebook right now, “just give it ten or fifteen minutes.” By then, the offending remarks will be long gone, replaced by a new set of posts and comments to judge.

If Facebook ever reaches a point where political correctness interferes with the ability to be authentic, in the spirit of “we’re all friends here” (or at least, we’re all civilized adults here)… that’s when I’ll go shopping for a new social media outlet.

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When It Comes To Burning Bridges, It’s Go Big Or Go Home

LinkedIn Cartoon iconLast week, the professional social network LinkedIn invited its “thought leaders” and other content contributors to write about the best  — most counter-intuitive – mistakes they had ever made.  It was pretty tame stuff, nothing controversial: “My Best Mistake: Nearly Getting Fired”, or “My Best Mistake: Forgetting the Five-Year Career Plan”.

On Thursday, however, a LinkedIn user made his own big mistake – and something tells me it wasn’t his best. If it was?  Have mercy.

On that day a large, established eCommerce/payments company posted a story, as firms and individuals on LinkedIn often do, titled “How Busy People Find Time to Think Deeply”.   Again, innocuous stuff.  Most of us are busy, and who among us wouldn’t appreciate more time to think deeply, right?

It was in response to this article that a former employee inexplicably chose to air grievances with the firm.  I’ve omitted a few specifics to protect the clueless:

“If people are thinking deeply while using (company’s product), they are probably brainstorming about how they will get their money back after (company and its parent) steal it. As a highly efficient former employee of your company, it is disappointing to see your blatant disregard for your customers. So yes, I hate (you, company) but I am not a disgruntled former employee. I am a person who moved on voluntarily after 6 years with you all. Let me express as diplomatically as I can that you are crooks. Have a wonderful day.”

Completely floored, I sent the link to friends, encouraging them to click on it only if they weren’t squeamish about professional suicide. None of us could conceive of why someone would be so hell-bent on offending both his previous employer AND anyone else who might possibly think of hiring him.  What was he trying to accomplish?

Would you make an offer to someone who holds such consuming grudges, and voices them so recklessly?  Someone who might leave your employ, then paint you as dishonest on social media?

What drives folks to self-destruct on social media this way?  I mean, we’ve all heard stories of knuckleheads who call in sick, then tweet photos of themselves doing keg stands on the beach.  Or who unload on their toady bosses on Facebook, and are summarily fired.  Still, I think this one takes the cake.

If not him, then maybe the unimaginative guy who piled on with, effectively, “Yeah, what he said”.  In the words of Forrest Gump…Stupid is as stupid does.

Aside from the obvious sarcasm in his “have a wonderful day” sign off, you’ve got to love that this guy doesn’t consider himself a disgruntled former employee.  Really?  If his bridge-burning behavior doesn’t scream “disgruntled”, I don’t know what does.  Plus, I think he protests that he left the company voluntarily just a smidge too emphatically.  I’m just not buying it.

Here’s hoping the poor fellow has some friends who can appeal to his better judgment – assuming he possesses any – and convince him to remove the comment.  It had to feel GREAT to blast his old bosses this way, but by now he has probably received quite a few concerned emails asking if he has completely lost his mind.

My Dad once told me a story of a colleague who, many years ago, got drunk at the office Christmas party and told off his bosses.  Within a week, he was transferred to someplace like North Dakota.  In the dead of winter.

Going out in a blaze of glory can sound cool, but pack your suitcase wisely… exile can be a cold place.

Have any good bridge-burning stories?  Share ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.

LinkedIn comment: If people are thinking deeply while using (company’s product), they are probably brainstorming about how they will get their money back after (company and its parent) steal it. As a highly efficient former employee of your company, it is disappointing to see your blatant disregard for your customers. So yes, I hate (you, company) but I am not a disgruntled former employee. I am a person who moved on voluntarily after 6 years with you all. Let me express as diplomatically as I can that you are crooks. Have a wonderful day.

It’s Written All Over Your Facebook

Since its launch in 2004, many of us have developed a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

When I first signed up for the social networking service in around 2006, it served as a great mechanism for reconnecting with long-lost friends.  In particular, it helped me resurrect relationships from my days at University in Scotland, so I could meet up with former classmates when I travelled overseas.  Prior to signing up, all that legwork was, quite frankly, a chore.

I even used Facebook to reconnect with a friend from elementary school, who moved 2,000 miles away after the second grade.  That would not have happened otherwise.

Yet in some cases, I determined – as did many others – that I really don’t have a lot in common with some old friends from my distant past.  Our lives have taken different paths. Some of them have probably started hiding my posts (as I did theirs) while a few others have undoubtedly unfriended me.  Either way:  no offense intended/none taken.

In the past few years, I have settled into a pretty predictable, placid place on Facebook.  I occasionally add new friends, but the bulk of my interactions are with a group of 20 or so former classmates and colleagues I have worked with since I moved to the Bay Area.  I post to Facebook less frequently these days, and I comment less often on the posts of others.

I have also come to post fewer Instagram photos of alcoholic beverages, including exotic happy hour cocktails.  Eventually, one Manhattan looks pretty much the same as any other – regardless of the filter you choose.

Newer social media platforms have edged out Facebook for me, in certain circumstances.  For a running commentary during sporting events, I’m all about conversations with strangers on Twitter (much to the relief of friends who could care less about baseball or the NBA).  If a San Francisco Giants game goes to extra innings, my fingers fly.

Recently, I’ve noticed friends on Facebook getting a little riled about the posting habits of others, which has been fascinating.  Users seem to see this public forum as also very personal; if you post something one of your friends doesn’t like, you didn’t do it to your timeline… but to HIS newsfeed.

In the parlance of Facebook… it’s complicated.

Every Facebook member has his/her peeves.  Just before the sequester kicked in, a former colleague took issue with one of my shares making fun of Congress, by directing a jab at House Speaker John Boehner. While my intention was to express contempt for politicians on both sides of the aisle, I make no apologies for having shared plenty of left-leaning opinions on my timeline in the past.  It is, after all, MY TIMELINE.

I am happy to discuss politics with anyone if we can keep it friendly, but for me Facebook is not the place for heated debate.  It’s like conducting a shouting match at a dinner party, while the rest of the guests are trapped at the table until after the cheese course.  My motto for Facebook is… live and let live.  Believe it or not, since one or two Republicans have slipped past my complex Facebook screening model, even I am forced to do it from time to time.

Some of my friends get seriously ticked off at parents posting kid photos, and endless milestones, sports awards and academic achievements.  Maybe because I’m not a parent, this doesn’t bother me at all.  I actually like it.  My friends have some pretty amazing offspring, and I am forever trying to figure out how I can take even a little bit of credit for that.

I’m not a big fan of gaming results on Facebook.  I am honestly not terribly impressed that you beat your six-year-old at Scrabble, and I am a proud member of the Facebook group “I don’t care about your farm, or your fish, or your park, or your mafia!!”  But again, if you want to share that stuff I’m not going to call you out for it.  I may hide your posts after a while, though.

My biggest peeve is the thinly veiled ads asking for likes.  You know what I mean – the huge images of disfigured veterans or abused farm animals or white-haired grannies holding American flags.  The message is, “Like this if you are grateful for veterans/like animals/love your grandma”.

In other words, “I like this… and you should too or else everyone will think you are a very terrible person.”

If you check out these ads, they are often sponsored by dubious-sounding organizations — so if you like the photos, you are in fact liking these organizations.  For the kind, soft-hearted among us, I would just ask that you check out the sponsoring group before clicking that little thumbs-up icon, lest you wind up showing support for something you really don’t like very much at all.

Facebook is a tool that allows members to express themselves, and we should feel comfortable posting information that reflects who we are.  As in any other conversation, we all have a choice.  We can be tolerant of our friends, and turn a blind eye/deaf ear (either through selective reading, or the handy “hide” feature) when we disagree with them.

If that doesn’t work, maybe we aren’t really “friends” at all.  In that case… I think you know what to do.