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Whether friends on Facebook or MySpace, etiquette applies
That counts for Twitter followers, too
Lakeview Academy senior Emilie Norton, 18, has been an avid Facebook user for four years. In that time, she has picked up phrases like "FBO," or Facebook official, which is used to describe a relationship that has become serious. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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The world of social networking on the Web has presented a variety of problems along with all its conveniences.

There's privacy issues and cyber bullying, but then there are also questions like: Can I break up with my boyfriend by changing our relationship status on Facebook?

Social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace have all sorts of users, but most familiar with these sites are teens and college students. So when we had questions about proper online etiquette, we went to the experts.

(And if you're confused by terms like status change, postings and friend requests, first read our social networking primer)

The verdict? Don't post something you don't want all your friends to know, according to Tribecca Mize, 15, a student at Gainesville High School.

"In their status, they'll put confusing stuff," she said of her friends who use MySpace and Facebook. "They'll put their business out, and it's meant for one person, but everyone will see it."

According to Emilie Norton, a senior at Lakeview Academy, a change in someone's relationship status posted on a social networking site makes it serious.

"We call it FBO, Facebook official, that's when, like, the relationship has really gone to the next step."

Status changes can raise questions, too, she said.

"You see that they're now single, and you wonder what happened," she said.

Etiquette problems such as these have even spawned Facebook groups, or pages on Facebook dedicated to a particular cause. The group Facebook Etiquette lists guidelines such as "Don't friend random people, it makes you look like a stalker, which you probably are." It also addresses relationship statuses stating that Facebook users should not post fake relationships - it's confusing for those not in on the joke.

Who to ‘friend'

When you join a social networking site like Facebook, part of what makes it work is the interaction with others who you have accepted as your friend. Friends can comment on others' pages and see status updates.

Norton said when she's on Facebook, she sends a message to any stranger who sends her a friend request before she will accept it. Accepting friend requests from those she knows can get a little stickier.

"Sometimes there's that person that you know you can't deny that you know them, but you don't really want to be their friend," she said. "So I have accepted their friend request and then like a week later gone and deleted them as a friend."

Anna Post, author and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, said users can simply ignore the friend request and the person won't receive a message about it.

"What I don't think you do is send them a note saying, ‘Oh, I'm sorry, I don't want to be friends' for whatever reason. Just let it go. Don't highlight the fact that you're ignoring them."

Users should carefully weigh their decision about whose friend requests they will ignore, though.

Post said there are other options such as choosing to show that person only a limited profile on Facebook. Or for business colleagues, if you'd rather not share the personal information often found on Facebook, she suggested connecting with people on LinkedIn, a social networking site focused more on business relationships.

"That's a clear way to show that you want to be connected, but you want to keep it professional," she said.

Separation between friends and business colleagues is one thing. But what if your mom "friends" you?

Norton said her mother recently joined Facebook, and she's not friends with her.

"(It) is really weird for me and my sister and all of us," Norton said. "But she has told us she won't add anyone under the age of 30, which kind of keeps her separate from my friends."

Lots of drama

The etiquette guidelines followed on MySpace are sometimes a little more lax.

"Facebook is more like a private thing. Most of the people, it's like a school thing," Mize said.

But on MySpace, the drama flies.

"Somebody will be like, ‘Hey, this girl is getting on my nerves,' or a guy will be like, ‘I'm going to break up with this girl.'"

Often, she said, students will come to school the next day knowing all the gossip because it's been plastered all over MySpace the night before.

Miracle Bailey, 13, a student at Gainesville Middle, agreed that there's a lot of drama on MySpace.

"It's more drama on MySpace than Facebook," she said. "Facebook can be a friendly thing, but MySpace, they can cuss you out."

Brad Stone, a junior at Flowery Branch High School, said people are more willing to be rude online.

"I guess people kind of hide behind it," he said. "They can say stuff that they wouldn't normally say in person."

James Mills, also a junior at Flowery Branch, agreed, but said there's plenty of drama on Facebook, too.

"There's a lot of conversations that go on there that's not really directed towards the person, but you know it's about the person," he said. "I think they feel comfortable because they're not really facing them face to face."

Stone and Mills said they use MySpace and Facebook about once a day.

Lyndi Ellison, 13, a student at Gainesville Middle School, said she uses Facebook to communicate with her friends. MySpace seems to start drama, she said.

"MySpace, they'll put their whole business out there - stuff you didn't need to know," she said. "I like Facebook. You just do what you gotta do."

Post said to remember that there is a real person on the other end.

"These aren't just shots in the dark," she said. "Real people see them and are affected by them."

Post said she doesn't think online social networking incites rudeness, though.

"They're just technologies," she said. "People can also use them very, very well, in many cases sometimes improving relationships by giving them some structure, some boundaries. So I think it all depends on how you choose to use it."

For users who may be the victims of gossip on these sites, Post suggested simply canceling the account or not being friends with the instigators.

"It's up to you ultimately how you want to handle your relationships. You get final say."

Giving too much

It's also up to you how much information you share, or how much information you want to receive.

Some Facebook users update their status frequently, and Twitter users often are posting even more frequently. For some, it can be too much.

"There's always those people who constantly, like hourly, tell, ‘I'm going to the bathroom,' Norton said. "... But short statuses like "homecoming tonight" or "basketball game," those are OK. But you really don't need to know every second what you're doing."

Post said too much information is relative. Some people may want to hear every update about a friend's date or a relative who is in labor. For others, they should turn off or unsubscribe from that person's news feed.

Keep in touch

With all the information available online, sometimes seeing an old friend in person can get awkward. Do you ask them what they're up to these days, even though you know most of the answers from looking at their Facebook profile?

Post said Facebook can be a jumping off point for conversation.

For example, she said you could start with, "I can't believe it. I saw on Facebook that you have two kids. Tell me about that."

Post said she uses Facebook to keep in touch with friends, and she's beginning to flirt with Twitter.

MySpace and Facebook seem to be more popular with high school students.

Mize said she spends less time on the phone and more time online.

"I talk to all my friends on Facebook, when I get home" from school, she said.

The sites are a great way to keep in contact with people who you don't see frequently, Post said.

Norton agreed.

"It's a nice way to keep in touch with those people who moved away or you lost contact with," she said. "I also recently just found my roommate, I'm going to college next year, off of Facebook."

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