Practise social media etiquette

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  • Friday, 16 Sep 2016

Social media (SM) has gained a firm foothold in our lives. It’s here to stay and will never go away. We use it in almost all aspects of communication whether it be work or play.

Since it exploded upon us, we have been pretty much learning about the nuances of SM etiquette from trial and error.

I have found that many approach communicating via SM as completely different from verbal communications.

While it is true that sharing content, thoughts and views through SM is a different kettle of fish from the spoken word, nevertheless, there are some foundations of proper etiquette which needs to be followed.

For instance, I still find Facebook (FB) posts from friends venting about work – their colleagues, bosses and general office politics. I think this is a dicey path to take – although you are in control over who your 400 or so FB friends are, there is no guarantee that word won’t get back to your workplace.

In a verbal conversation, we tend to minimise the people we share information on these situations with, and even if word of mouth gets around, there is still the possibility of denial – after all, it’ll be your word against the other person’s, right?

But in the FB universe, it’s on your timeline for posterity and you can’t really reverse your position on it, unless you delete your post and even then, I’m not entirely certain that it’s so easy to wriggle your way out of it.

Similarly, slagging off people on Twitter or FB is a very in-your-face of letting your opinion of them be known. It’s a strange thing – Malaysians are generally quite polite in a face-to-face context, but in SM, it seems anything goes.

Even slagging off people you hardly know. I wonder why this kind of nastiness is necessary – it certainly doesn’t lend positively to our lives at all.

Somehow, people get a certain Dutch courage when faced with a mobile phone or a laptop from which to shout out their opinions.

The same can be said for those who have arguments with their spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends. Is it really necessary to update your 400 friends/followers on FB/Twitter/Instagram about it?

I think there’s a strong point for navigating SM with grace. To not say something stupid online, when you would think twice about saying it in person.

So here’s a checklist of five SM etiquette norms that I’ve done some research on, which seems to be the best way to go about things.

1.We all love our status updates. But before we hit the share button, it’s worth considering whether we really need to share whatever it is we’re thinking of sharing at the moment. There is a limit to how many breakfast/lunch/dinner food posts you should share, along with selfies of yourself looking gorgeous.

Yes, you do look good, but is it really necessary to share how good you look five times a day every single day?

2.The whole unfriend/hating their posts conundrum can be a vexing one. Sometimes we have friends who are great at face-to-face conversations, but we find them quite obnoxious online. We may find they just have too many of that foodie/selfie posts which eventually grates on our nerves. So what do we do then? Do we slag them off online about it? Do we unfriend/unfollow them?

How about just hiding their FB posts? That way you can keep them as a friend in real life while not having to deal with their annoying online presence.

3.And then there’s the dealing with hurtful and negative comments online. What should you do? I find that not responding immediately is a good rule of thumb.

Let it settle a little in your mind and have a think about what you want to say. Sometimes, you may conclude that you have nothing to say.

Sometimes you may have something to say but to say it in the best possible way where your message gets across clearly without any scope for misunderstanding, you will need a bit of time to think about how you’re going to word it.

4.For those who drink, think twice about posting when drunk. In fact, don’t post when drunk. You’re likely to say something embarrassing which you will later regret, except that online, a whole load of other people would have seen it as well by the time you’re up the next morning.

And now with FB live, I would suggest caution before you do a live post as you’re doing a pub crawl with your 10 best mates on your Friday night out after work.

5.Don’t lie online. Never lie online. I think lying online may actually be worse than lying to someone to their face. In the latter case, you’re only lying to that person, but when you lie online you’re lying to the whole FB universe.

And there’s bound to be people who know you are telling a bald-faced lie and may call you out on it online.

So think a little before your next tweet, Instagram picture or FB post. Don’t say something stupid which you will later regret.

Sheila Stanley is a writer, trainer and communications consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. She finds herself still navigating the do’s and don’ts of social media despite having used it for nine years. You can get in touch with her via e-mail at

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