Are Social Media Sites Like Twitter And Facebook Making Us Rude?

Last week, I had the pleasure of sipping Earl Grey at the Russian Tea Room while listening to Anna Post (Emily’s great-great-granddaughter) and anthropologist Genevieve Bell discuss etiquette as it pertains to technology. The event was hosted by Intel, which just completed a study on tech etiquette that shows that people believe there are unspoken rules when it comes to technology use, but we haven’t been able to agree on what those are.

Anna and Genevieve spoke to these differences in opinion, agreeing that we’re in a transitional period. There’s no clear-cut answer to the question, “Can I use my phone in the bathroom? just yet. Mobile devices and programs, like Facebook and Twitter, are still relatively new, and society needs a little more time to figure out how to be polite about using them. But Anna did share some advice. … “Whenever two people come together and their behavior affects one another, you have etiquette,” Anna said. I thought this was an interesting new way to think about things, because it means, for example, that when you’re on your cell phone, you’re interacting with both the person at the other end of the line and those around you. Anna said that since there is so much confusion about the rules of interaction, whenever you’re unsure of how to act, ask yourself, “Is it appropriate right here? Who is around me? Who might be affected by it?”

This brought up a question on the appropriateness of certain Twitter updates and Facebook status updates. Is it appropriate to tweet about a wedding you’re attending? “No!” Anna said. “Who are you tweeting to, the people who aren’t at the wedding.” Oops.

This, to me, was more shocking than the fact that 75 percent feel it’s OK to use a laptop or cell phone in the bathroom. I guess I’ve gotten so used to hearing every single detail about my friends’ lives that it hadn’t occurred to me that by sharing something on Twitter, I might be offending a few of the people who follow me. But it made feelings I’ve had seem justified. While Twitter and Facebook status updates are great for keeping in touch with friends without having to do any work, they also mean everyone knows you’re at a party they weren’t invited to. And a photo album on Facebook that lets you easily share photos from a wedding alerts other college classmates to the fact that they never got an invitation.

Without social networking sites, it would have been possible to avoid offending friends by highlighting how they were left out. If Megan wasn’t at Lucy’s party, you wouldn’t talk about Lucy’s party in front of her. That was common courtesy. Now, everything is everyone’s business.

Anna’s way of thinking has definitely changed how I operate on Twitter. Since the tech etiquette tea, I’ve been more mindful of what I write about, trying not to talk about exclusive events so people don’t read them the wrong way. However, if I try not to exclude or offend anyone, I won’t be able to share anything about my life anymore. But maybe I shouldn’t have told you about the tea since you weren’t invited.

Do you think social media outlets are making us rude? Do you think about who’s going to read a message or see photos when you post them to your blog, Twitter, or Facebook page?