At any rate, two researchers at U.S. universities have used focus data to “inductively create a list of 36 Facebook friendship rules.” In fact, the ten most-followed rules seem to be concerned with topics like this:

  • Expect a response when you post to someone’s profile. I hope my Facebook friends don’t have that expectation. I like to make my own decisions as to when a response is appropriate, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or email. Yet apparently that’s the top rule. Call me curmudgeon, by all means.
  • Being respectful and considerate. That seems reasonable, but abuse and misuse are as common on Facebook as elsewhere. Surprisingly, perhaps, given Facebook’s emphasis on avoiding anonymity, which you would at least reduce the deindividuation effect whereby people feel safer when behaving badly towards others in group situations.
  • Not letting your Facebook activities interfere with your external life, if you have one. (Would that be the “I don’t have a life, but I do have 3,000 Facebook friends” mindset, or just remembering that most people aren’t actually encouraged by their employers to spend their working day on their personal Facebook pages?)

It’s hard to argue against encouraging people to behave sensitively and responsibly in online group situations. As more and more people take up the internet and social networking, I don’t see much sign of people extrapolating from what is acceptable behavior in the real world to a model of acceptable online behavior, and perhaps codifying such rule-sets will help. I can’t help feeling though, that the most important issue is the difficulty in the land of Facebook of differentiating between degrees of closeness and trust in an environment where close friends and family appear on the same page (web-wise at least) as friends of friends and the most casual acquaintances. Except where you’re communicating directly with people you know and trust through some form of direct messaging, it seems safer not to make any posts or expose data that you wouldn’t be happy to share with near-strangers. And that doesn’t seem to be the Facebook way at all.

So by all means require better behavior from your Facebook friends and defriend them if they don’t play nicely. But I’m not sure you should expect better behavior unless you’re very careful indeed about selecting your friends.

Hat tip to Robert Slade for drawing my attention to this research.