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The Facebook Conversation Test

In a new window, go open your Facebook account and bring up the news feed that contains people’s status updates.  And now let’s do a little test with the top 10 statuses.  Taking into account your relationship with the person, is their current status update an appropriate first line to a conversation?  If you bumped into them face-to-face and they led with this news because it was in the forefront of their mind, would it be something where you’d nod in understanding (as in, “yes, it is totally fun to get dinner with your grandma and grandpa!”) or would it be something that would make you inwardly cringe and flounder around for an appropriate answer? (For instance, how does one respond if someone starts the conversation with “my boobs are so damn itchy!”)

No, really, go open a new window and do this.  What is your score?  I want to know.

In a perfect world, you should have a score of 10 out of 10.

This, of course, doesn’t take into account the fact that people lump all of their family members, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers into a single account, therefore, what is understandable to one group is a head scratcher for another.  Still, though people may have status updates that make you feel on the outside of an inside joke, everyone should feel as if status updates are something they want to read vs. something that make them cringe in horror.

My Facebook news feed doesn’t always follow this simple rule.  My feed at the moment of writing this scored an 8 out of 10.

Which is a problem because the point of Facebook is communication; to know what is happening in each other’s world.  And if I am moved to hide status updates because the ones you are posting are so unbelievably inappropriate or offensive, it begs the question: why are we connected in the first place?  And yet I cannot tell you how many people have told me that they filter and hide people’s status updates when I’ve commented to them about my personal Facebook Conversation Test.

“Oh, just hide their status updates,” they tell me when I comment that I really didn’t need to hear the intimate details of their last yeast infection.  Nor do I want to hear about how I’m going to hell because I haven’t found Jesus.  Nor do I want to hear their favourite sexual position.  And while that is obviously a solution, it sort of leads to that deeper question: why are we connected?  Why not just remove the person from your feed entirely?  What is the purpose of being connected on Facebook if you’re not reading what the other person is saying?

Since I’m here, throwing stones, I checked my own Facebook feed to see the last 10 updates.  There were a few random quotes from the kids, snarky commentary on Mother’s Day and fast-moving yoga instructors, and an admission that I just watched the Zapruder film for the first time.  Perhaps they’re not the usual things I’d use as a conversation starter, but certainly within the limits of good taste on information I could share with most people, the outliers who hate children, people who do yoga, or adults who wait to see the Zapruder film notwithstanding.  My point, of course, is to make people want to read my thoughts rather than have them run horrified from the information that drops into my Facebook status updates since it’s the way I comport myself in the face-to-face world.  After all, how often do we go to our co-worker and casually announce that we just took the biggest dump?  You do?  Perhaps that’s fodder for a different post…

Should Facebook be a recording of the random thoughts that pass through our brain without any regard to who is on the receiving end of our words?  Or should we look at our words as the first line in a conversation and tailor it accordingly based on the majority of our friend list?

Or… even more importantly, do you see Facebook as a conversation or a platform for multiple monologues?


1 Sharon { 06.08.12 at 1:33 pm }

Interesting post. I did as you instructed, and I think at the moment my feed is 10 out of 10. (I also noticed that a lot of my friends post photos and videos more than status updates.) I will say that this is likely in large part due to the fact that I have “hidden” the worst offenders who post random cryptic things regularly as status updates.

Regarding your questions, people certainly seem to have different ideas about what Facebook is for. I have some friends who post multiple times a day (which will almost always mean some random thoughts in there), a significant number who never post at all, and some who only post significant things (pregnancies, vacations and the like).

I think I see Facebook as more of a platform for multiple monologues than as a conversation. Most of the conversations I have on Facebook, even if they start out with a comment on a photo or a status update, usually take place via private message (or email or text, if the FB friend is someone with whom I communicate in that fashion also).

2 Blanche { 06.08.12 at 2:09 pm }

I’m selective what I put on FB thanks to the audience I know is there, so it runs to things that I don’t mind my MIL/extended family/friends of various ages reading. I guess you would call that the tailored approach. I feel more anonymous on Twitter – most of my followers are fellow moms or corporate (who knows why they are following me!) so they either get it or I don’t care. I now twitter much of what I used to blog, which is probably why my posting has mostly dried up. But FB seems more like a monologue with a bunch of side conversations.

To answer about the score: 10/10 – but I would say most of my FB friends are friends in real life, someone I could have lunch or dinner with and depending on the amount of alcohol involved, the conversation might degenerate to something like your example, but it wouldn’t be a starting line.

3 heather { 06.08.12 at 2:14 pm }

Right now, shockingly, I’m 10 for 10.
I think that FB is for conversation starters and Twitter is for random thoughts that go through your head.
I’m big on the defriending on FB. I don’t ‘unsubscribe’ to stop seeing status updates. I’m pretty cut throat and hit the defriending button (I don’t know what it is really called). I have a good friend that feels guilty about doing the full defriend and just unsubscribes from the person. If I don’t want to see their status updates… then why be ‘friends’ with them? I’m with you on that one.

4 a { 06.08.12 at 2:24 pm }

My score was 9 or 10 out of 10, depending on how I feel about know that my mom is playing Wheel of Fortune. 🙂

I think it’s multiple monologues that are sometimes used as conversational opening gambits.

5 Rain { 06.08.12 at 2:30 pm }

Mine was 9 out of 10. I look at Facebook as a way of sharing little parts of my day or posting pictures of Cadet. My Facebook friends are mostly friends, family, and former students who live a good distance away. They like sharing their day, and I do the same. Rarely do my statuses start full blown conversations, nor do any of my friends’. And, frankly, I like it that way. It’s just a way, for me, of quickly sharing a bit of what’s happening.

6 oliviacw { 06.08.12 at 3:06 pm }

9 out of 10. And the inappropriate one? My dad.

It IS possible to direct facebook posts to a particular subgroup of people, but I don’t think anyone ever does it.

7 Sarah Q { 06.08.12 at 3:47 pm }

I defriend people if they offend me. Or if I don’t talk to them. Ever. Or haven’t talked to them in years. Or I just don’t accept friend requests from them at all. If I do it is because I am really nosy and then when I get bored out they go.

Also, I NEVER put anything on there that could remotely be considered offensive since a large number of my friends are family members.

Facebook, for me, is really just about keeping in touch with friends and family who are far away. I don’t understand people who get so up in arms about FB. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

I don’t mess with the drama. If I don’t like things people are saying they are automatically removed. End of story.

8 Io { 06.08.12 at 4:19 pm }

All the top ones right now are inoffensive. Of course, I am really hard to offend. And perhaps can be somewhat offensive. While I wouldn’t put it on fb, I am pretty sure I have turned to friends in person and remarked on my level of boob itch…
I do get somewhat political at times, which is probably the most offensive thing I do. I see fb as a way to remark a bit on things happening in the world and get feedback and share what I am up to. Certain posts are very much directed to certain sets of friends, but I haven’t done much with creating “groups” other than a work one. I should get around to doing that. Also, I am now wondering if I have been inappropriate on your fb feed…

9 Tigger { 06.08.12 at 4:48 pm }

If I ignore the images that people are sharing (because I wouldn’t see those IRL), then I have a 10/10. Most of the time my feed is this way, mostly because I’m lucky not to have a lot of oversharers. I try to make sure that I only share things people might actually hear from me, were they in the same room as I am. They might still be offended, but that’s them and not me (necessarily).

10 Jonelle { 06.08.12 at 5:14 pm }

During NIAW week I posted all the random, insensitive things that have been said to me in regards to my infertility. I was extremely sarcastic, bordering on the offensive in my status updates, but they were like that for a reason. I expected to shock people that week into realizing that infertility is real and that something as harmless as “you can have my kid” can be damaging and an unwelcome sentiment.
Outside of that week, I do consider my audience when posting my status updates.
In all honesty, the people that I ‘hide’ from my newsfeed are usually people that push my buttons on certain levels (from the mommy-martyrs to the overly spiritual posters). And I think the reason we don’t disconnect from them on FB is because it would cause more drama unfriending them, than it would be to just hide them from my feed.

11 Aisha { 06.08.12 at 5:56 pm }

It’s funny because I went through and 10/10 were all appropriate even those of people who were acquaintances—- and then I realized I’ve hidden and unsubscribed from feeds from people who over-shared and did the TMI thing a tad too much so that explained my perfect score.

12 Queenie { 06.08.12 at 6:42 pm }

You know where I struggle with this? When I use FB for work. I can’t defriend people because that might offend them, and I’m FB-ing for the company and don’t want to do that. But there are people who appear in the feed who are offensive, or who post pictures of themselves that might offend others (a whole other post: why young women who contact me for career advance also friend me on FB and post photos of themselves in string bikinis, drinking, and/or making out with their boyfriends. . .can they really not think of the career advice that I’m thinking of?). But anyway, I generally minimize the “offensive” people, but I’m still not sure that’s the best approach.

13 Justine { 06.08.12 at 10:59 pm }

Like Sharon, I found that many of my connections are posting pictures or videos, and most of them are things they’d say or comment on. So, 10 for 10, though not as you might expect.

I defriended people a while back not because they were posting inappropriate things, but because I found I simply didn’t *care* about what they were posting any more. Because the people whose posts I *do* care about are people with whom I’ll have a conversation, for the most part (except for former students … I just enjoy watching their lives unfold, knowing I was part of it at some point in the past).

I think people use social media for a variety of reasons, and not all of us agree on a single use for a single platform. Some people are more comfortable on FB because of its graphic nature; some people prefer Twitter for its portability; some people have just never tried one application or the other. (Somewhere in the back of my brain I have a post about social media overload brewing.) The various applications are sort of like tools in a toolbox, to me: you can use a hammer to bang something into something else, to remove a nail, to make patterns in metal, etc. etc. … and until there are written rules of etiquette, I’m not sure that’s likely to change.

14 Her Royal Fabulousness { 06.09.12 at 7:41 am }

I was 10 for 10 but I hide people when they make me nuts on FB. I figure FB brings out the best and worst in people. Sometimes they post things that are definitely TMI and inappropriate, but I find those people are likely to say those things in person too. I still take FB for what it’s good for: catching up with people I never see, posting pictures, and sharing thoughts or posts that are amusing or interesting. The rest I tend to either tune or filer out.

15 Isa { 06.09.12 at 8:03 am }

the only person who regularly offends me on FB is my father in law. I’ve hidden all but his most important updates, and now things are 10/10 in my news feed! But people still occasionally post things that i dislike–just like they sometimes manage to offend me in real life. To unfriend them over that when they are usually funny, pleasant, or innocuous seems extreme to me, especially since I’m pretty sure that sometimes i do the same thing.

16 loribeth { 06.09.12 at 9:41 am }

I looked at my feed yesterday & got a 10/10 (when looking at actual written statements vs photos or shares, news items, etc.). This morning, not so high. Nothing truly inappropriate, but sometimes they (particularly the younger people, in their teens & 20s) make these cryptic comments that have me scratching my head and wondering what the heck they are talking about (although sometimes it comes out in the responses). One young relative currently has her boyfriend entered in a “hot dads” competition & keeps urging us all to vote for him. (eye roll) I also have a couple of cousins in the States who can get kind of, shall we say, political, & I don’t necessarily agree with their views. Nothing much in that vein lately but I’m bracing myself for the fall when the U.S. elections start heating up.

I also had a distant cousin (ironically, the same one who inadvertently “outed” my blog a few weeks back) announce this morning “I’m a grandma!” She is the same age as me, & I knew she had kids, but I didn’t realize they were that old. :p

I’ve never actually de-friended anyone or hidden their comments, although there are a few I tend to skim over. ; ) As you said, what’s the point? There are a couple of people whose friend requests I have ignored. I consider them more acquaintances than friends — I really don’t care to know what they are up to, & I don’t want them privy to my thoughts & photos either.

I have yet to “friend” a coworker. I know a few of my coworkers are FB friends but even if one of them asked to “friend” me, I’m not sure I would want that. Maybe when I retire. ; )

17 It Is What It Is { 06.09.12 at 2:19 pm }

My feed scored 10 out of 10.

I see FB and Twitter to be different with the former being more of a vehicle to keep one’s friend list up to date with the goings on in ones life or to share interesting or important information (polls, petitions, causes, facts, views, passions, events, families) and the latter more of a personal stream of consciousness spew. I dislike it IMMENSELY when my FB friends use their status update like a twitter feed, providing the play by play or blow by blow of whatever is going on.

I am OK with mundane updates (in fact, I have just rediscovered Grape Nuts and rekindled my love of it which I think is deserving of a status update as a public service to anyone who may have forgotten this breakfast treat) but could easily not post it and no one would really miss out.

18 battynurse { 06.10.12 at 3:10 am }

Interesting. I tend to stick with basic stuff although some of it is probably boring to some. Yes I’ve hid a couple of people so they don’t show up but that’s partially so I don’t have to deal with the why am I not your friend any more from a relative. I try to leave really personal stuff off facebook as there are a lot more reading it than my blog (especially lately since I hardly blog any more). It reminds me though of an episode of Criminal Minds where the victims were big users of social media and one of the investigators made the point of how it was sort of conceited to put so many mundane things out there and expect others to be impressed by it. It’s a bit true but yet I still find myself fascinated by FB.

19 Blanche { 06.15.12 at 8:50 am }

I had to come back to say one of my IRL friends posts pictures of her almost 2 year old son running around sans pants or diapers in which the boy bits are clearly visible, even though they are certainly not the focus of the picture. It creeps me out that she’s doing that but I can’t really defriend her, and it certainly reminds me that we have some very different philosophies when it comes to our children!

20 Bea { 06.29.12 at 11:52 am }

I never got the hang of Facebook and I think you have just hit the nail on the head for me. I do use the technique you describe, without knowing it (brilliant, by the way). I can’t seem to hit publish on much because I always feel my “friends” listening in and I’m not much for small talk and I get disheartened when nobody joins in the big talk and I end up back here in blog land 🙂

But I think you are so right about the first line of conversation test.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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