A Social Media Moment: Knowing Boundaries

Our nurse-practitioner-of-infinite-awesome, Mary Hesdorffer, brought to my attention that on our Facebook page there has been more and more activity appearing, people ranging from mesothelioma survivors to those surviving loved ones lost. She mentioned to me that she got an impression from some new to Facebook that they were not sure what is appropriate and inappropriate to share on the Facebook platform. For many of our users, the visit to our online group or fan page is their first foray into the social network. Where do you begin to figure out the rules of engagement, as it were?

Well, your answer really is in what Facebook is all about, isn’t it? Facebook is a social network, so it’s all about being social. While completing your profile (which I suggest you do because the more complete profile, the easier it is to connect and interact with people) is important, it can be a bit daunting, especially if you classify yourself as a private person. The thing to keep in mind with Facebook is it is very much like any social interaction: you have boundaries, just as others do, and you must respect them.

This may sound funny, particularly from the guy who just last week was telling you to “Share! Share! Share!” Trust me — there is a method to my madness.

The way I approach social media — blogging, podcasting, Facebook, Twitter, and so on — is what I call the “Bullhorn Doctrine.” Simply put, if I were to take what I tweet, or take my Facebook status, or something I were to say for a podcast, walk into a crowded room of strangers, and say it through a bullhorn, would I be comfortable doing that?

Of course, setting aside the whole idea of using a bullhorn which can be intimidating to begin with, you get the idea — before hitting “Update” or “Send” I take a moment and ask “How comfortable do I feel about making this statement?” Perhaps the biggest mistake people make in social networks is not realizing that unless Privacy filters are in place on your profile or a group page is set to “Private” (and both our Group or Fan page are “Public”), your words are shared with anyone and everyone on the Internet.

Now before you flee from your computer in a panic, this should give you a bit of perspective. Yes, I should think for just a moment before sending out any message; and this is empowering as I am the last say in what I do and do not share. I set boundaries for myself, and then it is entirely up to me whether or not I share whatever is on my mind.

Another good rule of thumb — if I ever have to stop and ask if something is “safe” to share, chances are I should keep it to myself.

A good example of a boundary I won’t cross: I will talk about my daughter, but I will not send out our location nor will I name her. I usually refer to her as “Sonic Boom” which is her online code name. If people ask me about my kid using her code name, I know those people know me only through my social networks. If they refer to her by name, then I know we’ve had previous contact before. (Usually that is a given.) I can still talk about my daughter and her accomplishments, but there are some safeguards in place.

Speaking of safeguards, remember that this control also applies to how much information you share in your profile. Just because Facebook wants a phone number and an address does not necessarily mean you have to give it up. (The more information you give, the easier it is for Facebook to design custom ads in the sidebars targeting you.) If you wish to give a name and a city, do so. It is also good before heading out into Facebook’s wild, wide open spaces, you review your Privacy Settings. You can find those under the Home menu under Privacy Settings, and a few extra security steps under Account Settings.

When visiting our Group or Fan page for the Meso Foundation, remember above all this is your community. The amount of sharing is not dictated by anyone other than you, and it is you who controls exactly how much you do or do not share. This is what a community is all about — a place where your thoughts, your opinions, and your words are safe and welcome.

Just remember to stick to a few basics in being social, and treat people with the same respect and dignity you expect for yourself, especially when it comes to your own personal boundaries.

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