Monday, May 5, 2008

Facebook friends: Keep 'em separated?

Dear Mr. Steichen,

I am finally using Facebook for legitimate purposes and not just checking up on potential employees and interns. I work in higher education and also want to use it to keep up with alumni and current students, as well as my nephews and godchildren and former colleagues and classmates.

I see Facebook has a function to keep friends lists separate and to restrict access to certain parts of my profile for particular people, but I do not know the etiquette involved. Would this seem prissy and rude?

This question might seem an occasion to pronounce the death of traditional etiquette. How could old-fashioned politeness possibly cope with the brave new world of Facebook and MySpace? In fact, the tried and true applies just as easily online as in person.

In real life, you don't reveal the same aspects of your personality to everyone, right? You interact with people differently depending on their role in your life, and you filter the information you provide them accordingly. The same goes online.

I'm told that on any social networking site worth its salt you can customize privacy settings quite precisely. The way they are set up, your friends shouldn't be able to discern that they are seeing an edited profile. For example, you can choose for only certain people to see your photo albums, or only certain people to see your Wall. For those people who aren't allowed to see those parts of your profile, it just appears as though you're a Facebook minimalist. No rudeness whatsover.

The fact that all your contacts on Facebook are your "friends" doesn't mean you must share every aspect of your life with them indiscriminately. You wouldn't dream of doing that in real life, and your life online is part of your real life, no?