It’s incredible how quickly social norms have developed on facebook since its founding in 2004. For the most part, we all have an idea of what’s socially acceptable behavior and what’s unacceptable, inconsiderate or even downright creepy. Much of this social awareness on facebook has to do with the fact that most interactions start off Face to Face (FtF) before moving to the social networks computer-mediated communication (CMC) basis before finally ending up as mix-mode relationships. There are, however, a few gray areas that aren’t quite so established. I will examine the facebook messages feature.
It seems like the growing trend with facebook messages is to treat them the same way as you would treat a new email in your inbox. Most people have the email notification feature for facebook messages turned on. As such they are notified very quickly when someone leaves them a message. The standard, socially acceptable behavior when receiving a facebook message seems to require responding promptly to the message, just like you would to any email that requires a response. Responding later than a few days is considered unacceptable and often raises concern for the original sender.
Failure to follow the social norm and respond quickly usually leads to a few negative consequences. As with many people, I’m very busy during the week juggling work, grad courses, a nonprofit and a healthy interest in technology. In addition, I turned off the facebook email notification feature for messages that come into my email inbox—I simply found the feature a little annoying and not worth the hassle of spending time cleaning my inbox each day.
The combination of being very busy and not having the email notification for messages turned on has led to my breaking the norm of timely response on a few occasions. My cousin in London and I communicate frequently about our weekly activities and how our respective families are doing. I usually respond promptly to her messages and multiple questions about how I’m doing.
However on one occasion, I failed to respond to her facebook message for just over a week. This led to a lot of anxiety on her behalf as she thought I may be ill or depressed. She ended up calling my mom and frantically explained how worried she was. This of course made my mom worried about my well being. Before I knew it everyone in my family—both immediate and extended—was calling me to ask how I was doing and to offer their own medical advice. I quickly realized that I ought to respond to facebook messages as soon as possible if not suffer from a barrage of inquiries about my well being, which were well taken but slightly embarassing.
FtF Departures from CMC
Facebook messages don’t really have a face-to-face equivalent. As such, it is difficult to discuss the enforcement of norms and the leviathan. On the whole, FtF violation of norms usually lead to less sympathy and more hostility. Typically, if you see someone and they try to engage you in conversation and you ignore them, they will take offense or decide to ostracize you. In that sense, the consequences of ignoring another person when inhabiting the same physical presence are much more severe. After all, CMC is far more conducive to concepts like deception and practices like butler lies than FtF interaction. So it should come as no surprise then that the enforcement of CMC norms do not directly translate over to FtF communication.