Run Out of Town (Or Off Facebook, Twitter)

by Bill Brenner on September 16, 2010

One of my security friends thinks she needs to delete her social network accounts because she lacks social skills. She tends to offend people sometimes, you see, and she wants to go away until she can learn to behave. Though admirable, it’s a bad idea for lots of reasons.

At the height of my mental illness and addictive behavior, social skills were alien to me. Isolating myself from the rest of the world was the better thing to do, so that’s what I did. There was no Facebook or Twitter back then, mind you. I sometimes wonder how I would have behaved on those sites if they were around at the time. My behavior probably would have been a hundred times worse than anything my security friend is worried about.

A few notes about this friend: Her posts are laced with sarcasm. She uses the word “fuck” a lot in the adjective form and she makes it plain that she is an atheist.

Of course, as I’ve discovered, sarcasm is a tricky skill that can get you into trouble. When you make comments about someone’s faith or the way they look, it’s almost always going to be negative. So you have to use it sparingly.

Can my friend do better with how she conducts herself on Facebook and Twitter? Sure. But then most of us can do better.

Consider the following:

–A ton of people on Facebook and Twitter use it as a political soapbox. If they’re Republican, almost every post is a tirade against “elitist socialistic liberals.” If they’re a Democrat, it’s the reverse. That stuff has offended me before. Not because they are expressing their beliefs. That’s something I respect. What annoys me is that they never have anything else to talk about, which makes them too one dimensional for my tastes.

–Too many people for my tastes pour their frustrations out on Facebook. If someone’s having a bad week, they complain about everything. Maybe their cat looked at them the wrong way. Maybe their job sucks. One of my friends constantly complains about her job on Facebook.

–Though I don’t set out to insult anyone, I know I do. I push out a lot of links that are relevant to my work in the information security community. If it’s something I wrote, be it a security article or something from this blog, up it goes. I know I’ve been “un-friended” for that. People don’t like their feeds dominated by one person. That person comes off as egotistical and full of himself. I’ve already confessed to that sin. I also write openly about my Faith. That friend at the focus of this post? She’s an atheist and I’m surprised she hasn’t un-friended me by now. And I’ll confess I was a little pissed off last Saturday — the anniversary of 9-11 — when she made a crack about how science flies us to the moon and faith flies us into buildings.

And yet I don’t think she should leave the social networking realm. Why? Because we all have our stuff to work on, and I’ve learned from experience that it’s better to do it out in the open than in isolation.

Hell, I’ve done far worse than being sarcastic on Facebook. I’ve lied to people in the past about my addictive behavior. I’ve hurt people along the way and have spent a lot of time lately trying to make amends to them. There are worse things in the world than being an ass on Facebook. Besides, as I’ve said, we are all asses on Facebook from time to time.

In the end, we all have the choice to disconnect from a connection we find offensive. I’ve un-friended people on Facebook or un-followed them on Twitter for annoying me. It’s like the old saying about how if you don’t like the music, turn to another station.

To this friend of mine who thinks she needs to drop from the world: Don’t be silly. People are connected to you because they want to be. We already knew of your sarcasm when we decided to connect to you on these sites. Some of us enjoy your posts for the sharp, edgy humor you provide.

You need more social skills? OK. But you can’t build those skills in isolation.

And if your friends aren’t willing to hang around as you work through that stuff, then they’re not really friends, are they?

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