“It’s MY profile”, you say? “I’ll say what I want”, you say? No, it’s not. And no, you won’t. Because you’re in public. So have some bloody manners.

By Gord Laws.

Imagine you arrive at a giant house party. It’s full of all your friends and even more of your acquaintances. Literally hundreds (if not thousands) of people. Some are from work, others from your various hobbies. There’s a bit of family and even some of your long-lost school friends. It’s full to the brim and everyone seems weirdly interested in what you have to say, forming little groups and stopping to listen when you talk. At the very least, they’re staying long enough to catch the beginning of each story you tell, until they’ve got the gist of where it’s headed. You’re pretty certain they’re actually hearing what you’re saying, whether or not they’re genuinely interested, which a handful seem to be.

Now imagine you turn the music down, get up on a chair and start screaming about something horrific, describing in great detail the horrors, holding up deeply disturbing photos and demanding that the people within earshot stop what they’re doing and go do something about it, right away. Not only are you not turning the music back on until they do, but you’re ready to scream in the faces of anyone who suggests you might be being a bit unpleasant.

“But Facebook isn’t only real friends, it’s also networking”…

Okay, fine. As far as I understand it, Facebook is supposed to connect friends, not strangers. But I didn’t invent it, I don’t own it and it’s hypocritical of me to go on a rant about how others can and can’t use something. I have this blog for that. So let’s say you have got loads of strangers in your “friends” list. Okay, try the imaginary house-party analogy again, now that 2/3 of the people are strangers. How does it look now? How do you look now? You’re not only a dick, but a dick no one knows, nor is obliged to tolerate.

You are NOT friends with “The Man”. “The Man” is not listening. “The Man” does not care.

So many people love to have a go at “Them” on FB. The proverbial, evil “They”. I’m particularly annoyed by white, middle-classed, politically inert, failing-at-subtlety, racist complainers. But, only because FB reveals more and more of my particular “friends” group to contain those, every day. Let’s assume everyone is equally awful, in their own, unique-snowflake kind of way…

Whether it’s e-Tolls, the ANC, Zuma, or international targets like Donald Trump, Monsanto or Japanese whalers… You’ll stand up on your soapbox and unleash a grammatically appalling, misinformed tirade, letting “Them” know exactly what you think of them. Your patience is finally at an end, and you WILL NOT allow it any further!

So, you are going to shout at your pals (and primary school PT teacher), waving your fist, until it brings the bastards to their knees!

Thing is, “They” are not listening. “They” are not on your friends list. Not one word of your whinging demands will be heard by “Them”. It will, however, bore the shit out of your friends, alienate those of them who are double-digit-IQ enough to sense your “subtle” bigotry, ignorance – or even just your crap spelling and grammar – and think that little bit less of you each time.

If you’re trying to talk someone about how their behaviour is unacceptable, talk directly to that person. Put in the effort to find a way of contacting them. Go stand outside Parliament with a sign. It’s more effective. It’s less cowardly. And, because no one else cares.

“I have to stand up for what I believe in, dammit!”

Your dogma (be it religious, political, or otherwise) is never welcome at a party. Sure, there are FB groups specifically set up to discuss your views so you can connect with new people who share your love of Star Wars, Jesus or Roger Federer. But those are private little rooms at the house party, especially for people who want to talk about that. They have signs on the door and everything.

If you walk into the house party’s main floor, interrupt every single conversation with a couple of angry, contrived (most likely scientifically implausible) “truth bombs” about GMOs, salvation, crossfit, meat-eating or just a little bigotry, judgement, contradiction, hypocrisy, homophobia and whatever else is on your “mind”, people will tell you to f*@k off. Which is why it happens to you on Facebook all the time.

Have some bloody manners. You’re in public.

Having a turbulent time on FB lately? Is standing up for your beliefs causing an unusual amount of friction? Is there a high cost to pay for being a noble warrior of truth, justice and letting “Them” know where to get off?

Here’s a way to test if – maybe, just maybe – you’re actually an arsehole:

Go through your last week’s FB timeline. Pull out the 5 statuses or posts that have got you the most persecution from those unreasonable people whose timelines you interrupted with your drivel…

Okay, now, take those statuses, write them – in big block letters – on cardboard. Then, go hold them up for the day at a busy train station, airport or shopping mall. See if you don’t suddenly feel a bit more aware of your dickheadry right now. While you’re at it, read them all to your mum over the phone, too.

“But it’s MY Facebook, for sharing MY views! If you don’t like it, you’re free to leave!”

Okay. I’ll take you up on that last bit. Thanks. But, the statement is not strictly accurate. It’s everyone’s Facebook. Its very value is in the fact that it curates everyone’s content into one place. It is literally an online metaphor for a giant house party where everyone who is in any way connected can all hang out, together, at once.

You can get really involved and socialise your tits off, or you can pop your head in now and then, high-five your mate who’s having a birthday, and then leave for the rest of the month.

BUT, it’s not your personal blog. If it was, you could rant whatever garbage you like. Like I’m doing, here and now. People can ignore it or tell it to piss off as much as they want. Like many do to my blog, right here and now.

But on Facebook, it’s different. For people who you know (or vaguely know you), telling you to f*@k off causes real-life tension. Unfriending colleagues causes icy awkwardness. The advent of the glorious unfollow function helps, but at the expense of never again hearing from a person (in whom you’re obviously interested on some level to begin with) at all, just to avoid hearing their daily bitch about how horrible it is to live in SA (before another rant about how patriotic they are and how we all need to use our statuses to topple JZ). Or, you know, how everyone needs to look at a daily image of some gruesome horror… so that one of them will go fix it.

Let’s stick with party metaphor: Telling people they’re wrong

In real life, walking up to someone, interrupting them, sticking your finger in their face and telling them they’re wrong will get you punched in the dick. Try it.

If it’s a stranger, there will be hell (or at the very least, serious social awkwardness) to pay. If it’s a real friend, it takes a lot of courage, care and resolve to tell them they’re wrong about something they care about. It’s scary. My good pal Ryan took me for lunch years ago to sit me down and tell me my then-girlfriend was a nightmare. Not only had I known him a decade, but he also happened to be right and had earned the right to tell me some hard facts about my life. And he was still nervous as all hell.
You don’t just randomly do it to strangers at Nando’s because you hate the band on their T-shirt, and you especially don’t do it to your friends. So how come it’s okay on FB? It’s not.

You’re just a coward and a dick because there’s a monitor in front of you instead of eye-contact and consequences.

Notice how, the better you know and respect someone in real life, the harder it is to interrupt/dickhead them on FB? Ja? That’s ‘cos you don’t want that person to know you’re secretly an asshole. But you think it’s okay en mass, because you have some kind of god-given right to an audience.

Your causes are YOUR causes. Tell, don’t show. And especially, don’t “accuse”.

Yes, meat probably is murder. Feminism may well be the biggest (and thus only worthy) cause on Earth right now. It’s clearly all some people think about. Good for them. They may very well be 100% right.

But, here’s an idea: instead of filling my timeline with horrific pictures of skinned-alive dogs and starving babies – or worse throwing me in with “Them” in your next rant because I have not obeyed your clear command to share your gore porn – why not try a considered, calm, reasonable little argument that might actually do some good?

Starting a conversation at a party doesn’t work if you run up to people, interrupt them, shove a picture of a mutilated, freshly raped baby rhino into their face and yell, “You did this! Now fix it!”.

If, however, you were to politely mention that you wish more people would consider cutting down on meat for the good of the environment, and maybe suggest some ways for ordinary people to get involved with ethical farming… now, that would be worth chatting about. It would be informative and inclusive. Better yet, it might make a difference.

Yes, you’re entitled to your issues and causes. No, you may not ram vivid pictures of them into my brain via my retinas while I’m busy with other things.

The Noble “Evaluators” of Causes

Believe it or not, it’s actually possible to be concerned about more than one thing at once. You can change your profile pic to a French flag and also think female circumcision is outrageous.

People get involved in things that move them, and that their social circles are interested in. It’s not for you to decree which cause is the most important this week (and, thus, which others may not be cared about at all until your anointed problem is solved). People are not saying they hate Burundi by having a French-flag as a profile pic. They’re saying they’re shocked about France. People also died the same week in another country? Horrible. But your friends are still shocked about France. The media didn’t cover X,Y or Z enough? Maybe they didn’t. But a bunch of kids got murdered at a rock concert in a Western country… so Western (or “Westernised”) people who themselves go to the odd rock concert are shocked and saddened about France. It doesn’t mean they’re glad a massacre also took place in Nigeria.

You? You’re just looking for someone to be mean to, something to be mean about, and some way to validate your own insecure need to feel superior, important and right.

Facebook is not your private swimming pool, which others may enter if they follow your rules. Those are called blogs. Write one and, if anyone cares, they’ll read it.

Facebook is a giant, public swimming pool. Don’t pee in it, bully the little kids, dunk people, or do bombs to strangers who are trying to relax.

A simple principle: “Don’t Be a Doos*”

Remember, there’s no “right” answer. There’s (technically) no such thing as a “wrong” opinion (unless you’re Penny Sparrow). But there is a right and wrong way to present your views in public, and to engage with other people’s. Your mum might have tried to teach it to you, long ago.

Stop and ask yourself; how would this go down at the big house party where everyone’s invited? To flog this metaphor a little further and to sum up…

People mistake Facebook for their own house. It’s actually Mark Zuckerberg’s house. You pay a small cover charge (made of privacy and advertising) to get in and, when you’re inside, if you’re a dick to people, no one will like you.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little “snack” I brought to the party. Enjoy your time here. Please don’t drink and drive.

Footnote:

Here’s a cool article I stumbled upon about how being an asshole on Facebook can get you fired. Perhaps, next time you’re worried something you want to post might be a bit asshole-ey, go say it to your boss. If she/he responds well, go ahead and post it on Facebook.

*Doos (noun) pronounced: doo-wiss – South African slang for “arsehole”.