You’ve got two ways of viewing Facebook.
One is your Feed, which is what everybody is talking about. If you just go to Facebook.com, that’s what you’re probably looking at. It’s a random mashup of things that happened.
The other is your Wall, which is yours. It belongs to you. You can say whatever you want. Think of it as home base. It’s yours, it’s like your MySpace, it’s like your hometown team. (Maybe this is called your Timeline; next week they’ll call it something else. The point is that it’s yours, it has your name on it.)
When you scroll through your Feed and start commenting on things like it’s your Wall, we have problems. It’s the difference between picking the music at your wedding, versus complaining about the music at somebody’s wedding you weren’t even invited to in the first place.
Your Wall belongs to you. But your Feed is just slices of everybody else’s Wall that don’t belong to you. It doesn’t even exist (because you’re aggregating it based on your friends, and their friends). You are putting one toe inside somebody else’s life, whenever you look at your Feed.
So when somebody on your Feed posts an article? Read it before commenting. They are trying to tell you something, and they are not the person who wrote the headline. Most of the time not even the person who wrote the article wrote the headline. When you respond to the headline, you’re saying you don’t care about what the person thinks, why they posted it, or what it says: Only that you are clever (or selfish) enough that it doesn’t matter.
You might only see comments, or whatever random copy that site or app pulls in to get you interested. That’s not the point of the article, and it’s not the reason your friend is posting it—they didn’t write that copy, they aren’t selling the idea of the article. They have actually read it, and posted it on their Wall because they’ve read it.
The comment conversation that comes off that post is about the piece they’re posting—not your feelings about the subject you’ve vaguely picked up by flicking past it on your Feed. Jumping in at random to say how stupid the thing is only makes you look stupid when the conversation—and probably, it is, I mean, your friend didn’t just randomly become stupid—is about something entirely different that you don’t know about yet.
Remember, your Feed does not really exist. You are the only person that will ever see it, because it was created for you from slices of other people’s lives.
Somebody on your Feed has something to say? Somebody on your friend’s Wall, or your friend commented on a third-degree-away Wall? READ IT FIRST. It pops up, you’ve got an opinion? Do the work, you’re already at a computer accessing the internet, you’re just one click away from not making a fool of yourself. I promise you that you have the internet you are on.
Think of your Feed like the news: It’s not your identity, it doesn’t mean anything about you—it’s just slices of other people’s lives. People you may or may not know, or agree with. Don’t just log in and think that what you’re looking at is an accusation, because it’s not. Your Feed is not about you. It’s the opposite.
You’re not just talking back to the news anchor, it’s calling the news anchor on the phone. When you comment on those conversations as if they were, without thinking, what you are saying is:
“I’m kind of a jerk, and I think the world revolves around me, so therefore whatever I see and what it makes me think is very important, and I should share it with this person I might not even know, and all of their friends, and their friends’ friends.”
The screen you’re looking at is a window on the world, but it’s not the truth. You are not being attacked. You’re being privileged to see parts of other people’s lives—some of whom you know, most of whom you don’t—that they think are interesting or important or otherwise very special: They clicked a thing to share that idea.
Please, please try to understand the difference between your Wall—which belongs to you—and your Feed—which belongs to an infinite number of people that are not you—before you decide to throw your weight around.
You’re deciding to take part in a conversation which doesn’t really matter to you, but matters a whole lot to the person whose Wall you are actually posting on. Because that is their “house,” basically. Even if you’re agreeing: You are still walking into somebody’s house to tell them you agree. Even if you’re just giving them a “Like,” imagine you are walking into another person’s home and giving them a literal, physical thumbs up. They’ll appreciate it, because they know you’re not being a jerk. So don’t be a jerk, because nobody appreciates that.
Your Feed is specific to you, but made of pieces of other people’s lives.
Your Wall, on the other hand, is yours to do with what you like. It represents you.
Your Feed is only slices of other Walls. It means nothing. It’s like flipping through TV channels.
At the end of the day, the things you say do matter, because you have gone into someone else’s house and—at worst—crapped on their floor. At best, you’ve done a nice thumbs up thing or contributed to the conversation in the way they intended. The two things couldn’t be more different. They put that there so you would agree, or have a valid conversation that involves your understanding of them as a human being, and all the other comments—you have to read them before you join in—as a conversation to which your Wall has only invited you to think about joining.
Listen, I’m sure you’re a nice person, and you don’t mean any harm, but you need to understand this basic thing about how the internet works, and apparently — if you’ve been directed to this page — you don’t. So please do think about it. It’s not about you, it’s about the Thing. The thing your old college friend, or nephew, or (more likely) college friend of your nephew actually thinks is important enough to post on Facebook. It matters to him or her—it doesn’t matter to you.
Which is why it should matter to you. The same beautiful system that lets you post whatever you want on your Wall is the system that asks you not to treat your Feed in that way.
Nobody blames you for thinking the internet is entirely about you, because that is the cunning disguise of the internet, and we for sure won’t hold it against you. It was just invented five minutes ago, and something else will appear once we’ve conquered this etiquette, but I don’t want anybody to think wrongly of you in the meantime. So let’s work on that.
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