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August 12, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Mind Your P’s and Qwerty

While our parents taught us to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at an early age, the rules for negotiating relationships online are less established. As 93 per cent of human communication is based on body language, it’s easy to misconstrue a written “it’s fine” when using social media. Penny Gault offers some tips on how to protect ourselves from ourselves by adhering to some simple social etiquette.

When we engage online, we become members of a community, imagining our Facebook friends and even un-met Twitter followers as somehow connected to us. Just as there are expectations and norms dictating the way we interact with one another IRL, our online community is governed by social-media etiquette. As we become increasingly familiar with, and reliant on, social media for communication, this etiquette may seem self-explanatory. More troublesome today is the lack of guidance when social media and ‘real life’ collide. Perhaps this a problematic concept in itself—after all, isn’t social media our real life? Semantics aside, just as we must hug our grandparents and reply to ‘seen’ messages on Facebook, a level of diplomacy is required when we see our Twitter crush drinking coffee outside Memphis Belle.

Meeting people

Social media’s capacity to bring people together has made it commonplace for us to interact frequently with people we have never met. While this is a yay for technology, this could become a nay for you when someone suggests you meet up IRL, or you recognise them in the street.

The ‘Hey, let’s meet!’: It’s perfectly normal not to want your social worlds to collide, but accept that there will be people who want to extend the online relationship into reality. If this is Earl Grey to you (i.e. isn’t your cup of tea), control your social-media persona strictly—consider using a pseudonym, unidentifiable profile picture, private profile, and controlling friends or followers. A general rule of thumb: if you aren’t comfortable with acknowledging someone on the street, you shouldn’t let them access your posts. If this sounds too Fort Knox-y and you’re intent on becoming identifiably Twitter-famous, it’s pretty easy to refuse someone’s invitation to meet IRL with a polite “No, thank you.”

The street meet: If you unexpectedly recognise someone from social media IRL, it’s considered rude not to acknowledge them. Say hello, smile, or nod. You know the names of their pets and what they had for dinner last night, so treat them as someone you met at a party several months ago. Don’t be offended if they don’t recognise you straight away. Remember how many filters you applied to your profile picture?


The unrequited adoration: You may strongly identify with a stranger’s social-media posts. Don’t demand reciprocation. Just because you follow someone on Twitter doesn’t mean they have to follow back. If you’re seriously offended by a refused Facebook friend request, send them an email asking for an explanation, but leave it at that.

The tagger: Think before you tag—would you like it if a friend tagged a photo of you passed out drunk, while you were too busy writing essays to notice until seven hours, 157 likes, and a comment from your mother, later?

The Facebook ‘seen’ message: Don’t treat Facebook chat as an IRL conversation and expect an immediate response just because someone’s online. Perhaps a quick, “Sorry, I’m in a lecture, reply soon,” or “BRB, chatting online to babes,” would be nice, but it’s okay not to respond immediately. If you’re really paranoid, click the message drop-down tab and read the start of the message before you commit to letting them know you’ve read their request to borrow your prized ball dress. Sneaky.

The mother phubber: Most of us are guilty of phubbing, “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention.” Being on the receiving end is as offensive as the word itself. While online friends demand less attention and don’t require a daily shower, don’t forget the value of your friends IRL. You chose to be friends for a reason; so put your phone down and work that voice box. Otherwise, you’ll soon be eating lunch with your phone.


The fame game: Admittedly, it’s easier in New Zealand, but on the whole, stardom IRL usually requires a special skill that sets you apart. Randomly blurting out witty one-liners will only get you so far. But get the formula for social-media domination correct, and you could find yourself rising to fame while sitting on the couch eating leftovers. If you’re really committed, I suggest a stunt—think Party at Kelly Browne’s.

The overshare: ‘Winning’ at social media requires strict adherence to the maxim: beware the overshare. This goes for quantity, as well as quality. Flooding your friends’ Facebook timelines or Twitter/Instagram feeds isn’t going to win hearts, even if you’re objectively funnier than Guy Williams. Don’t spoil TV shows. As for quality, ponder your audience and the appropriateness of posting graphic details of your Grindr success. I’m not saying don’t share these feats, but consider having separate accounts with limited friends/followers. This may sound like the beginning of a multiple personality disorder, but remember how you filter your thoughts when speaking with extended family, compared with texting your BFF the morning after.

The fall: I’m still waiting to become a Twitter sensation. Things seemed to go well for me in late 2011 through ‘til early 2012—I was described as “famous on Twitter”, and people meeting me IRL frequently gushed, “ohmygod I love your tweets!” I don’t know exactly what happened to halt my rise to fame, although something tells me it could have been the incessant caffeine-fuelled manic tweets about Law. Then again, perhaps it was live-tweeting my trips to the supermarket that left my followers wanting.


The pursuit: Etiquette for apps like Grindr and Tinder are difficult to pin down. General consensus seems to be that, “if you’re gonna use [these] apps, you’re probably not the kind of person who freaks out over the occasional unexpected wang.” Personally, I think that if you wouldn’t flash your bits in public, you shouldn’t on social media, either. As many of us have learned from Snapchat, you never can be too wary of the ol’ screenshot. That said, these are forums where partial nudity is deemed socially acceptable. If you feel inclined, it’s nice to preface such an image or an abrupt, “Wanna bang? Meet me in 10”, with a polite hello. You’ll be surprised by what you get in return. To the uninitiated, an “unexpected wang” might seem tricky to negotiate—if that’s not what you seek, best practice is to ignore and move on to more eloquent users.

The collision: Most will find themselves ill prepared to see the owner of said “unexpected wang” or unrequited attraction when strolling along Lambton Quay. General protocol is to accept the uncomfortable situation and avoid acknowledging one another. A small smile or nod will suffice, if you must. While you may be open about your app use, the other may not. It’s better to veer on the side of caution and respect each other’s privacy.

The PDA: While I like to think we’re all pretty accepting of various romantic-relationship configurations, the jury is well and truly in on public displays of affection, regardless of who the consenting parties may be. Social-media PDA is as frowned upon as having sex in public. Think of a Facebook relationship status as the equivalent to holding hands in the street, “I love you, honey bunny” on social media as an inappropriate boob or butt grab in the presence of your grandparents, and “I miss you so much since 3 hours ago, you are my sunshine, I can’t breathe without you” as full frontal nudity in the middle of Readings. If in doubt, remember how you felt about seeing a giggling couple in matching chinos a year ago when you were single and miserable.


The Google search: Our Facebook page and Twitter feed may feel like a pretty private place when we’re sitting at home in pink pyjama pants, eating toast. Comfortable behind our keyboards, we’re inclined to drop our social filter and post things off the cuff. Unless your account is protected with the utmost privacy, however, your posts are most definitely public. While you may be comfortable sharing your political position with a few select friends, think twice before pledging your allegiance to The Pakeha Party, or abusing your current employer for making you stay ten minutes later than usual.  The internet never forgets, and if your future employer is worth working for, they know how to use Google.

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