Ask Miriam | Older Friend’s Facebook Output a Concern

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Dear Miriam,

I have an older friend who shares anything and everything on Facebook: day-to-day commentary, an excessive number of memes, articles — some of which are definitely not from reputable news sources — and way too much personal information. I imagine that this person doesn’t really understand what it means for other people to see these posts or what other people might think. Is there a gentle way to talk about Facebook etiquette with an older person without condescension?

Signed,

Facebook Friend

 

Dear Friend,

Facebook has indeed become a simultaneously indispensable tool and cesspool of wasted time and misinformation. To the extent that you can overlook the bad to experience the good, well, that’s just about the only way anyone uses Facebook anymore.

If your oversharing friend were your age, would you consider offering advice? It’s hard for me to imagine saying, “Hi Peer, I’ve noticed you’re posting too many personal updates that seem verging on inappropriate. Have you considered scaling back?” People tend to overlook a lot of bad social media habits in their age peers because there’s a level of understanding of where they’re coming from.

It’s much, much easier to criticize someone older as being clueless and someone younger as being reckless. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for discussion, but the age context definitely complicates matters, and one person’s oversharing is another person’s self-expression. This is largely a generational question, and it could be about Facebook just as much as it could be about other forms of expression and communication.

You could say something to this friend like, “I saw on Facebook you went out for dinner the other night. How was it?” and see if the friend is surprised by your level of familiarity with this information. You could then offer some ideas on privacy settings or on scaling back the details of posts provided or on privacy settings — but only if that seems like welcome insights.

When someone posts an obviously false article, it’s important to comment that it’s not a reputable article and even to provide articles that provide facts and context. Countering these falsehoods will not fix the problems with the platform on the whole, but it will help on a small scale. Also, if this person posts publicly something that seems clearly intended as a private message, it’s worth checking in in case there’s a way to avoid some real embarrassment.

The other option is to take control from your side. Change your settings so you don’t see this person’s posts so frequently. Scale back on the amount of time you’re looking at Facebook. Scroll past this person’s posts without engaging or without letting yourself be annoyed. There are so, so many problems to dwell on when it comes to social media, and you don’t need to get dramatically caught up in this one.

Be well,

Miriam

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