The writing on the (Facebook) wall

7 Apr - I need to know you've kept me visible in your Facebook News Feed

Many things about Facebook are self-evident. For example: the fact that, if you have a Facebook page up, people will read it.

Not many, unfortunately, are aware of the impression they are making on the social platform.

A new study in the US revealed that most women found their friends’ behaviour on Facebook “annoying”. According to 63 percent of women surveyed, the most annoying habit of their Facebook friends was “complain[ing] all the time.” Other annoying traits of Facebook friends included posting political opinions, making mundane updates, or “Like[ing]” too many posts.

Big news: your Facebook activities influence what your friends and acquaintances think of you.

This fact was brought home to me recently.

One day colleagues came to me and asked if I played a lot of games in my free time. I was a little surprised because, while it was true that I had bouts of video gaming now and then, gaming wasn’t something I talked about a lot in the workplace.

I was about to briefly describe a game I was currently exploring when one lady colleague revealed the source of her impression: “You have a lot of game announcements on your Facebook wall!”

It was then I remembered: I recently linked my Playstation Network account to Facebook.

That evening, I switched off the Facebook sync function on my game console.

I like playing video games. Even if it did make me sound a little geeky, once in a while, I’d happily share about something cool I see in a game. But having my identity as defined by my gaming habit was not exactly desirable.

In recent years, various media have been warning people to be careful with their opinions on Facebook. As if to prove how fast technology moves these days, such advice is now outdated and understated. Because it’s not just what you write on Facebook that others see.

There’s those applications talking about your online activities, like quizzes and games. Then there’s apps telling what restaurants you’ve been to. You might not think much about it, or you might argue people are reading too much into things. But the reality is, such “updates” on your wall say way too much about how you spend time in the office, and what your monthly dinner expenditure looks like.

There’s at least two common approaches to deal with this. The first is a technical solution: make use of those Facebook privacy settings you may have missed. The second is to have your public image in mind, and be selective about what appears on your Facebook account.

These methods are imperfect for several reasons.

The first method—to make use of those built-in privacy settings you might have missed–are ineffective for reasons both obvious and well known. Even if we exclude the occasional privacy glitches that arise from Facebook’s frequent changes to its underlying technology, it’s difficult to keep track of all those privacy settings. Try remembering that pictures from your drinking party last October should be open only to your friends, except Bob, who’s a friend of your reporting officer, as well as your date from last week, who’s a teetotaler by principle.

The second method—cultivating a persona on Facebook—is possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not only is it not fun, it’s also a full time job. You’ll be constantly thinking about which picture has your best angle, “friends” whose company you wish (not) to be seen with, whether your status updates over the past week improves your public image as an outgoing person or not, etc.

The most important argument against the “public relations” approach on social media is that it usually doesn’t work. In the above study, the third biggest peeve of women in the above study were friends who were constantly “bragging about their perfect lives.”

You could, of course, pull the plug on your Facebook account. But that would be a little extreme.

How, then, should you manage perceptions on Facebook?

Like all things in life, your existence on Facebook should be managed in moderation. Be aware of how you present yourself, but give up the idea that you can take total control of what people think about you.

Rather that vex over Facebook’s ability to amplify your real life, think instead about being authentic in all aspects of your life. Don’t compartmentalise. Don’t devote too much effort to hiding your faults. Don’t burnish your image, claiming hobbies and preferences that you don’t really have. If you’re not happy with your life, fix that instead, rather than your Facebook account.

If you’re happy with yourself in real life, your activity on Facebook should show it. Don’t be obsessive with your hobbies, but don’t be afraid to let people know what you like. That way, you’ll draw people with similar interests to you. Which is what dating is all about.

I also suggest weekly checks on your Facebook wall. That will tell you—as it has told others– what’s on your mind the most. Not only will this reveal what others have thought about you, it’ll tell you exactly what your recent preoccupations have been. In a sense, the Facebook wall does not lie.

If a woman is has absolutely no interest in you, you don’t have anything to worry. But if she has even a little curiosity in you, she will be looking at your Facebook profile. I should remind you that this is not stalking. Because you were the one who published that stuff in the first place.


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