Facebook faux pas: The geek's guide to netiquette

Social networking is a minefield for manners – should you poke your boss? Can you have too many friends? Rhodri Marsden shares his golden rules

A recent survey revealed that almost two thirds of people using social networking websites feel frustrated and confused by the unwritten etiquette. That reliable source of taste and decency, Debrett's, leapt to our aid last week, issuing five golden rules on how to behave online – but the venerable publisher left several potential pitfalls woefully uncovered. Here's a more comprehensive look at how not to get irritated, or indeed irritate others, while you're social networking.

A little mystery goes a long way

Social networks are no place for anyone who wants to remain mysterious and enigmatic. The sites are designed to leech as much information out of us as possible so that adverts can be targetted at us more effectively; if you mention that you're single, you'll be subjected to ads for dating sites, and if you reveal that you're allergic to cats, you'll probably be teased with antihistamine pop-ups. But how much information is too much? Some people won't even reveal their name, preferring to call themselves Babylicious or Speedfreak; a disadvantage could be that Speedfreak's friends might not be able to find him – although, of course, that might suit Speedfreak just fine.

Beware of public "just for fun" questionnaires that reveal to everyone that, say, you've got chlamydia – and also the lure of blogging tools that offer an easy way for you to diarise your addiction to online webcam strip poker, while forgetting that your friends are reading every word.

Your friends have egos, too

If you have a photo of a pal urinating in a phone box, only upload the pictures that you took before he got hammered. Or, if you're feeling particularly compassionate, let him decide which photos of the day of his divorce hearing should appear online. Similarly, don't splurge other people's personal details; innocuous public messages such as: "Sorry to hear that you had to spend your 40th birthday in traction after failing to vault naked over a Nissan Micra" can cause embarrassment on a number of levels. Also, avoid those social networking features that allow you to showcase your "top" friends. You may as well line up all your chums and arrange them in order of preference.

Friends do, in fact, equal kudos

Debrett's says that accumulating friends online isn't a competition. Hogwash. MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, LinkedIn and the rest all pander to our most pathetic innermost desire to appear popular by giving a highly visible tally of contacts and umpteen tools to push that figure as high as possible. They allow you to easily send friend invitations to everyone in your email address book – but wait! If yours is anything like mine, it'll contain the customer service desk for your ISP, your council's waste management department and your landlord – none of whom will want to reciprocate. If you're truly desperate, there are enough people masquerading as celebrities for you to bump up your quota with the ironic placement of Jenson Button or Thora Hird on your friends list.

Avoid e-misunderstandings

You'd have thought that after 10 years or more of communicating with each other online, we'd have got the hang of sending simple messages without conveying the opposite of what we intend. An ill-judged phrase such as, "Haha, you looked gorgeous at Carina's party", while possibly intended as heartfelt, comes across as sarcastic. And while, "Steve, you wanker" might be a cheery address down the pub, accompanied with lager spilling, on Facebook it's as good as inviting someone outside for a fight.

Don't mix business with pleasure

Your list of social networking buddies will grow into an unholy collection of people who, in everyday life, you'd probably go to great lengths to keep apart. Your colleagues and mates will become aware of each other, and if you've taken great care to construct a hard-working persona in the office, it's going to surprise your line manager when he discovers you're a foul-mouthed waster with a penchant for Brazilian porn. More terrifying is the shock of receiving a friendly request from a parent. If you deny it, you'll be seen as secretive. If you accept, your mum will know why you are so secretive. Facebook's "Compare People" application recently asked a friend which of two of her friends they'd rather sleep with: the choice was between her brother and her dad. Enough said.

Don't overload your diary

Debrett's stresses that birthdays should be treated as real events. Send a card, it says. Debrett's must have shares in Hallmark, because this advice is impossible to follow. You're kept informed about dozens of birthdays of people you'd never consider inviting into your home, let alone sending a card to – so why not dash off a greeting? It'll give the birthday boy or girl a lift, and make you feel better about yourself. More of a dilemma are social opportunities that result from your click-happy friending policy. Each comes with an RSVP. Do you say you'll attend, knowing you won't? Do you say you won't go, placing your online friendship in jeopardy? Or do you pretend you never saw the invite, giving you the option of last-minute attendance if you're feeling desperate? Answer: the latter. Every time.

It's not a red-light district

Some social networks can become cruising grounds for the sexually frustrated, thanks to over-flattering photos. No one ever submits a shot of themselves emerging from a cross-Channel ferry wearing a cagoule. No, it'll be a snap of them reclining on cushions and playing coquettishly with their hair. So, when you upload that photo album of your holiday in the Algarve, remember that lust-crazed admirers may see it as the equivalent of a voyeuristic Hello! exclusive. And if you've listed yourself as "single" or "in an open relationship", suggestive notes will inevitably jam your inbox.

Don't drink and surf

Social networking and drinking don't mix. Why? Because you tend to leave an erratic trail of evidence. "Status update" features – especially Facebook's, which works via SMS messages – can tell an increasingly incoherent tale of descent into alcoholic stupor. And then there are the opportunities to post incoherent notes to people you barely know, friend requests to celebrities who have strayed into the social networking area, and blogs about your imaginary friend called Arthur.

Beware of musicians

No group of people are as eager to seize the chance to relentlessly pester people as musicians. Anyone possessing a guitar will have three times the number of friends as anyone else, none of whom will have expected the torrent of useless information that's now hurtling in their direction. There'll be news of a new song being written, details of a forthcoming gig in Rhyl, links to a new single on iTunes, and flyers the size of the Bayeux Tapestry. Refuse the friendship of anyone with musical ambitions.

Leave me alone!

Coping with the deluge of virtual social interaction relies on disabling as many of channels of communication as possible, and deleting some friends. Yes, they might take umbrage, but don't worry. And if you get defriended – don't be disheartened. It's nothing personal. People can just become sick of being messaged, poked, invited and flirted with. Debrett's says wait 24 hours before accepting a friend request, so you can think it over. But maybe a better strategy is to leave them hanging. Then nonchalantly reject their request. They'll cope. It's only social networking, after all.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst - Tunbridge Wells - £30,000

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Test Analyst/Systems Administ...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET, C#

    £40000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Global Real Estate Software P...

    Recruitment Genius: Drupal / PHP Developer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer

    £17000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continuing growth, recru...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project