Phil Gulley: Facebook Calls For A Few Rules

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When Facebook first launched, my wife asked if I was going to join. I snorted and told her it was a fad, that people would grow tired of puppy pictures and would soon return to face-to-face conversation, a mode of communication that had served us well for thousands of years. I also warned her off of Apple stock in 1983, several years later assured her the cell phone had no future, then predicted a staggering electoral loss for Donald Trump. Investors could make millions not taking my advice.

Now I’m one of 2 billion Facebook users worldwide, and I visit the site nearly every day to share my thoughts with all my Facebook friends, who I assume are sitting at home awaiting my every utterance. Even if no one were reading, it wouldn’t keep me from offering my opinion on any number of subjects. But it’s time we established a few rules to govern its use so we don’t end up hating one another.

Let’s begin by imagining someone’s Facebook page as his front porch. He has emerged from his home to observe the passing world, and share a bit of his own life with passers-by. Though visible to the world, he retains a degree of privacy because it is his page, his porch, and only the rudest among us would intrude upon that space without permission. Just as one would never insult another person in his home, one should never insult someone on his Facebook page. For instance, if from the sanctity of his Facebook page a man expressed his admiration for Donald Trump, it would be inappropriate for me, without being asked my opinion, to call that man a moron. It is his porch, he is its king, and it is no business of mine whom he admires. If I do not wish to read his opinion, I am well within my rights to block his post from my view, which I will probably do since he’s quite obviously insane. But it is not my right to barge onto his page and call him names. That would make me a troll, which is social media–speak for butthead.

Just as it is inappropriate to insult a person on his Facebook page, it is also wrong to post anything on another’s page without permission. You would not barge into someone’s home and hang a picture of your child, dog, or dinner on his wall, would you? Of course you wouldn’t. If your niece voted for Hillary Clinton and you believed Secretary Clinton murdered Antonin Scalia and have proof, it would nevertheless be wrong to post a comment on your niece’s page saying so. The exceptions to this rule are pictures of your grandchildren, which grandparents are free to post wherever they wish.

It is always wrong to post pictures of diseased or damaged body parts. We are aware of your recent colonoscopy and do not need to see pictures of your interior to believe the doctor found three polyps. Ingrown toenails, abscesses, fresh wounds, boils, and rashes are painful and we are quite sympathetic, but spare us the photographs, please.

If you are moved to post a political sentiment on your Facebook page, by all means do so. But if you wish to woo others to your way of thinking, proper spelling is essential. If you don’t know the difference between their, there, and they’re, I’m unlikely to agree with you that the United Nations is plotting a takeover of America or Barack Obama is running a shadow government. If you want to be taken seriously, learn to spell. Similarly, refrain from quoting the Bible. No one is likely to change her mind about gun control or kneeling for the national anthem just because you dredged up a verse from the book of Habakkuk. Kitten pictures, however, are always persuasive. A kitten holding a Glock while standing for the national anthem would sway even the most stubborn mind.

If you’re going to be on Facebook, you should also refrain from posting pictures of yourself in Florida during the winter when all your friends are back home in Indiana. Remember this: Someday you will die, and though your friends won’t say so, they will believe your death is a direct and fitting consequence of your Facebook pictures. Go to Florida. Enjoy yourself. But for God’s sake, don’t tell the rest of us what fun you’re having. Likewise, if life has been kind to you, don’t throw it in our faces. We’re happy for you, truly we are, but no more pictures of your granite countertops, your vacation home, your new Tesla. We don’t want to hear that your precious Muffy was accepted at Harvard and Biffy will be rowing for Yale. Enjoy your triumphs quietly so your Facebook friends won’t hate you.

The blessing of Facebook is also its curse. We can now connect with hundreds more people than we once did, but that connection is gossamer-thin, covering only the highlights with none of the depth. Facebook might tell us an old friend has cancer, but it cannot convey her fear of not living to hold her grandchildren. It can’t comfort her, stand with her, drive her to the hospital for chemotherapy, or bring her lasagna on the days she can’t cook. It can only say “praying” a hundred times over until she despises the word.

Facebook can tell our friends where we ate and with whom, but it cannot replace the laughter, the conversation late into the night, the careful unveiling of secrets. Facebook is information, but not communication. It requires no response, no give-and-take, no mutual understanding in a world sorely in need of it. One need only compare Lincoln’s letters to Trump’s tweets to see what the culture of social media hath wrought.

Facebook allows us to hang on the words of someone half a world away, known only to us by binary code, while ignoring the spouse across the table. It will not hold our hand as we lay dying, wipe our brow, or repeat a favorite story. It is a product of intelligence bereft of wisdom. It is the enemy of books, of walks in the woods, of picnics and playgrounds, of romance, stargazing, and daydreaming. Facebook is, we now know after the last presidential election, a purveyor of propaganda, a lie whispered in the ear of bad times to come.

Despite these drawbacks, Facebook does have its charms. And while it’s not easy admitting I was wrong, it appears the site is here to stay. Even my wife enjoys it. Each evening, we lie in bed reporting to the other how we spent the day; then, so we’ll go to bed thinking pleasant thoughts, I reach for my phone, go on Facebook, and show her a puppy picture or read an article predicting impeachment.

“Facebook makes me happy,” she says.

If we’re not quite ready to fall asleep, we snuggle closer and look at a picture of the macaroni and cheese our neighbor had for dinner. Facebook, we both agree, does a beautiful job with carbs.