Most people would think that the answer to the question, ‘what is safe and unsafe to post on Facebook?’ is obvious. Sadly, given recent incidents involving cyber-bullying, harassment and libel, there is a fair number people for who this is not obvious. A simple rule is: Post anything you want to make public and don’t post anything you want to be kept private. Speaking ethically, we need to add a caveat. Don’t post things about other people, especially not private matters. And what should be private about others is not for you to decide. I don’t refer to celebrities or public figures so much here; they have put themselves in the limelight and love the attention. I’m talking about avoiding sharing private information about your spouse, lover, girlfriend, boyfriend, parents, children, coworkers, supervisor, clients, students, etc. Professionally, teachers should avoid accepting students on their Facebook pages. This applies to anyone who works with minors: youth group leaders, counselors, coaches, scout leaders, etc.
Facebook status updates should not be a place to engage in online warfare, to call people out to, to demean or mock people, to challenge people, to air office gossip or dirty laundry or to gossip about someone. This is called tacky at best and at worst cyber-bullying or stalking. Inappropriate Facebook postings can also cost you your job (case of Jason Windsor in point), destroy relationships, cause estrangement between families and alienate people. Inappropriate use of Facebook has caused suicides. I was horrified to read a Facebook posting in which the poster described a friend’s sexual encounter and her feelings about it. The post was made even worse when, because the name was not included, readers were left to speculate on ‘who it was’. I’ve read Facebook postings that could be called libel and be open to lawsuit.
Be especially careful about posting workplace matters on Facebook. Divulging information about company policies can be construed as breach of privacy. If you need to message each other, do so in a private message, not wall to wall. What happens at work should not be splashed all over a social network like Facebook, unless you to find yourself looking down the barrel of the unemployment gun. Again, libel issues can apply.
Facebook use has caused countless relationship issues, too. Jealousy over chat with members of the opposite sex can turn into a firestorm. I’m not saying that you should never have communication with members of the opposite sex, if you are in a relationship. And reading your significant other’s Facebook posts hoping to catch them in the act of ‘cheating’ is a relationship killer. But if you have numerous members of the opposite sex on your Facebook friends list, you’d better practice great discretion if you are in a relationship. If you value the relationship, be sure that your Facebook interaction reflects this. Of course, this goes both ways; what’s good for one is good for the other.