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Social Networking Gone Wrong

Written by: Milly Welsh
Published: March 2010

Social networking is a global phenomenon; hundreds of millions of people use social networking sites like Twitter and facebook everyday.  I have a facebook account and I go on frequently to stay in touch with friends and family that I rarely get to see in person. As helpful as social networking can be, it’s important to remember that there are dangers in communicating with people on social networking sites and even email for that matter. An electronic conversation is very different from talking to someone face-to-face. All the information you would receive from a person's tone and body language is unavailable, opening the door for something you said to be misunderstood or taken out of context. 

Very recently I learned this lesson the hard way.  Keep reading to hear more about how a social networking experience I had went horribly wrong.  With some help from the rest of the Priority Learning gang, I outlined some rules to live by to avoid having a similar incident.

Just like Dragnet, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

ChartI have a friend named John, who has not had an easy time in the working world.  A mutual friend Sarah, who is not on facebook, was able to get John a job working in the same organization where she is a manager.  Recently I was on facebook and I saw a status posted by John's mother-in-law, Sue, who was a friend on my facebook page.  She was describing a negative experience John had at work and was making some serious accusations regarding John's boss.  Knowing some of the back story, and thinking that Sarah might be the boss she was writing about, I thought that it was inappropriate to write such a thing on a networking site like facebook.  As it turned out, other people joined in and the comments they were writing made this issue even worse.  John, who was having difficulty with his boss, didn't feel the need to participate. 

I decided to write that I didn't think it was a good idea to talk about John's boss on facebook given John’s employment history and the fact that this post could so easily get back to Sarah.  Sue was not impressed with my comment. Apparently Sarah was not the "boss" she was speaking of and she commented back that it was ridiculous that I would imply that HER post to HER own page on facebook would ever affect John's employment.  She also went on to say that I was a bad friend for not having sympathy for John's experience.  It was a relief to know that Sue's post was not referring to Sarah and I did feel bad for John.  However, I still felt that writing about any boss on facebook could only lead to trouble.  I wrote back that I was sorry I had offended her, since I clearly had.  I then wrote that my point was simply that when you write something on facebook, it becomes public knowledge.  I also included a hypothetical situation that explained how if other mutual friends of John and Sarah see the negative postings, they could easily mention it to Sarah who could then mention it to John's boss. 

The response I got back shocked me.  Sue was even angrier and, worse, she didn't understand that the scenario I had written about was hypothetical and not something I planned to do.  She replied that she was going to call Sarah herself and let her know what really happened, before I could give her my side of the story.  I thought to myself, "What side of the story?"  I didn't have a side of the story - my point was simply that you shouldn’t use facebook to complain about someone's boss.  Now the very thing I was worried about happening was in fact going to happen because I made a few comments on facebook.  Clearly the situation had gotten out of control.  I decided not to respond since all it had done so far is make matters worse.  A few of Sue's friends decided to back her up and chime in.  In the end, my words were twisted and I ended up being referred to as "the crazy person who was trying to get John fired."  Finally I got so fed up with my remarks being taken out of context that I removed Sue from my friends list. 

At this point I wished I possessed a time machine so I could go back and tell myself not to bother commenting on Sue's status.  I think most of you would agree that I had a good point; the problem is that it was completely lost on Sue and all it did was make her mad and exacerbate the situation.   I honestly don't know what the end result was.  As far as I know Sue never called Sarah and I'm sure the whole incident has died down and has largely been forgotten. I have to say that this whole fiasco has taught me some important lessons.  Fortunately, Priority Learning helped me come up with some "Social Networking Rules To Live By".

Social Networking Rules To Live By:

  1. Know Your Audience - On facebook I have hundreds of friends.  Do I have hundreds of friends in real life?  No!  I have maybe 20 - 30 people that I am close to and the rest are acquaintances.  They are people I know, but not people that I would say I know really well.  If the facebook friend isn’t a close friend, like the one I wrote about above, don’t comment on their status unless what you have to say is as sweet as gumdrops or puppy dog kisses.
  2. Never Use Social Networking To Address Sensitive Issues - It is important to remember that everyone’s idea of a "sensitive issue" is different.  For example:  I have ulcerative colitis (a form of IBD).  I talk about my disease freely and have no trouble describing it in detail, but I have found that many people with ulcerative colitis prefer not to talk about it unless they have to.  Even if it is common knowledge, don't post anything about someone else that could be considered sensitive unless they have already written about it themselves.
  3. Never Use Social Networking To Try And Resolve A Conflict - Anytime you have a disagreement, it's always best to talk it over face-to-face.  When someone is already at a high level of agitation, anything that is written could be misunderstood or misperceived.  This could create a further rift between you and this person.
  4. Watch Your Humor - My Grandfather loves to tell jokes and I always laugh, even if I already heard that one a thousand times.  The thing that makes them so funny isn't the joke itself; it's the inflection in his voice and the silly expression on his face.  If I were to read that joke on a piece of paper or a computer screen, it wouldn't have the same effect.  Humor on social networking can often be misinterpreted and someone might even feel offended.
  5. Don't Discuss Work Related Issues On Social Networking Sites – This is the very point I was trying to make to Sue and what ultimately caused me to break some of the other rules I previously listed.  Just because you can choose who sees your page on social networking sites does not mean that this page is private.  In fact, it is much more public than you might think.  I just read an article about a teacher who posted on facebook something to the effect of "I just wanted to kill my students today."  It sounds to me like she was having a bad day and was using facebook to blow off some steam.  Unfortunately, even though she claimed that none of these students where her facebook friends, school officials caught wind of it and she ended up getting fired.  I'm sure that almost everyone reading this has said or written something similar, but writing something of that nature on facebook gives it a whole new connotation and can lead to serious consequences at work, if you're not careful.

Although social networking sites are clearly a positive new force in our lives, make sure to be mindful of what you write.  If you think there is even a small chance that writing something might be taken another way, it probably will be and once you hit enter or click the "comment" button, you can't take it back!

I would love to hear your feedback.  Please contact me at

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh is the Priority Learning webmaster and Owner/Operator of Zebralove Web Solutions, a web development company located in southern Maine.
Zebralove Web Solutions