Doing the right thing on Twitter and Facebook


I realize that many of my friends outside the U.K. won’t be habitual readers of
“The Telegraph” so might have missed the opportunity to update their social skills through the release of Netiquette: Debrett’s Guide to Twitter and Facebook. Of course, they also probably don’t know that Debrett’s has a long history of telling the British upper class how to behave in all manner of circumstances and has provided guides to such esoterica as how to make polite conversation during dinner (when your dinner partners are boring) and the social hierarchy of the British nobility. Their background and history surely gives them unique competence to comment on the social gaffes that can afflict anyone who communicates through Twitter or Facebook.

Posting messages when sober seems like an excellent starting point, especially if you care to comment about your employers. Being polite in 140 characters seems excellent guidance and it is important to maintain standards in spelling and grammar too. After all, there’s no excuse for falling into the mire of text speak just to appear “cool” and need to impress some teenagers. The guide also usually warns about those who post just a tad too often as they might become boring. Becoming boring was never a good thing, even in the days of extended dinners over brandy and cigars, and Oscar Wilde would fully appreciate the advice to keep contributions snappy and to the point.

One point of etiquette that’s missing in the articles is guidance for appropriate profile photos or what should stay private and not be shared for any reason. For example, is it socially acceptable to pose holding a blow-up doll with a cigar dangling from your lips as featured in a photo that an acquaintance of mine memorably used to jazz up their Facebook account some years ago.  Or how often should one broadcast one’s location to the world (and who really cares?). Or perhaps whether it is appropriate and respectful to keep one’s head down during a talk at a conference or seminar to monitor incoming tweets and posts? Believe it or not, it is possible to notice the dipping heads, flying fingers, and lit screens from a podium when speaking at a conference. These days, instead of applause, you know when you’ve made a good point in a talk when the audience focuses on their smartphones in a race to broadcast to the world, which is kind of weird.

Another interesting article from the Telegraph suggests twenty types of tweets that should never be posted as they add little value or simply clutter up the information flow. Amongst the tweets to be avoided are frequent updates about sporting events, “what did I miss” questions, one-word tweets, and the vapid “I’m bored” update to the world. I suspect that few avid tweeters will take any notice of this advice and some will continue to pollute the Internet with contributions that can be immediately erased.

I am sure that Debretts will continue to expand their attempts to bring etiquette to the online world. If you want to stay up to date with their tweets, you can find them at @Debretts or read their musings online.

While tweets and Facebook updates are relatively new methods of communication, we’ve needed help in communicating electronically since the first email was sent between two PDP-10 computers in 1971. If you are looking for further help to refine how to communicate properly, you might consult Netiquette: Internet Etiquette in the Age of the Blog or How to Practice “Netiquette” – Being Courteous Online (UK Kindle only). On Amazon.com, I found recent titles such as Netiquette: A Student’s Guide to Digital Etiquette (2010) or NETiquette (On-Line Etiquette): Tips for Adults & Teens: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter! Terminology….and more. It seems like this is a reasonably busy area for commentary so clearly there are all manner of online gaffes currently happening that need to be eradicated!

– Tony

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
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