Perfect Balance: The Conflict Between Transparency and Etiquette in Social Media

A Perfect Balance: The Conflict Between Transparency and Etiquette in Social Media
By Christopher Hutton

In 2010, tech journalist David Kirkpatrick told the tale of Facebook and its rise in his tome The Facebook Effect. In this tale, Kirkpatrick got a deep feeling of what was driving CEO Mark Zuckerberg. One of the most surprising ideas in Zuckerberg’s mind was having transparency in one’s communications.He stated in an interview that, ”By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent.” Zuckerberg wanted to help people channel and communicate in whatever way was possible.

“I think that people just have this core desire to express who they are. And I think that’s always existed.”

And Facebook became that medium for millions. It presented a personal and social network that was both engaging, yet private. It allowed one the illusion of sharing with the world, when it’s just the people who cared. In fact, Facebook and other social media outlets proved useful in political situations like the Iranian Revolution in 2010 (Twitter reigned supreme).

But news reports seem to show that transparency alone isn’t necessarily good. In August 2012, a sheriff’s deputy was fired simply for liking his boss’ political opponent. Others have been released for lying and then posting the truth on Facebook, and there are dozens of cases where Facebook ruined relationships, careers, and lives. This is all evidence that there are consequences to having a totally transparent network like what Zuckerberg wants.

So, how do we balance these polar opposite elements: the need for maintaining standards and the need to be open with the world?

This is a problem that guys like Daniel Post Senning deal with. A well known etiquette expert and the great-grandson of modern-day etiquette writer Emily Post, Senning is exploring this topic in great detail (his book, Manners in a Digital World, Living Well Online comes out on April 15th).

Senning believes social media sites to be grand tools of our day, tools that are changing the relationship between privacy and transparency, to the point of blending the two. However, this does not mean we cannot leave them by themselves. As we look deeper into the issue, we find that one must use caution. Senning describes our need as one of “discretion,” that we need to be thinking about social media. Just like in normal relationships, we need to be thoughtful and helpful in whatever we say.

So, here are a few principles for individuals to consider before they post that next tweet, or share that next picture.

  • Think before you Click: Think of social media as long-lasting conversations. They illustrate who you are to others, and why you matter. So, as all of your online affairs go on, keep track of your activity. Don’t post, like, or click willy-nilly.
  • Know what to share: One of the neat features about the Facebook API (Facebook Application system) is that it allows you to share a lot of information from other sites with your friends. Sometimes too much. Keep track of what others see. If they see a post every time you post on Pinterest, turn it off. If you’re listening to Spotify, turn it off. It’s terribly annoying. If you must have outside sites linked to your Facebook, don’t allow the system to share all of your posts there.
  • Know when to share: I had a friend who had this odd tendency with Facebook to randomly post 12 quotes in a row, and then not post at all for 5-6 weeks. When he did that, he filled up my feed, and was considered more of a nuisance than a help.

These tricks can provide a stronger basis for your online presence. After all, the digital life is just like the real life; it’s a system that requires us to be wise and cautious in order to be effective.

Photo Credit: Ann Douglas via Photo Pin / Creative Commons

Christopher Hutton is a freelance journalist who covers tech, culture, and societal matters. He is a student at the Rivendell Sanctuary Honors Program, and writes at about assorted topics relating to everyday issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @liter8media.