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Would you take a nap at work? Would you pack a lunch for church? Would you sing out loud in the grocery store? Would you wear a dress or suit to the beach? We tend to take on different personas, or variations on our public personality, depending on the setting we're in. But what happens when multiple social settings intersect? This is the situation millions of adults find themselves facing on social media sites like Facebook.
Your friend list probably includes people from many different groups that rarely would interact with each other: family members, friends, old schoolmates, current and past co-workers, church members and more. Information you post on Facebook is the same for people you know well, and who know you well, as for people you've only recently met or to whom you haven't spoken in decades. Each person is going to filter what you write by what they know about you. You may find you need to develop one more persona: the Facebook you.
To start, you need to know who has access to the information you post. Facebook allows you to control who can find you and what they can see about you. Facebook recommends you make your status updates, photos and posts visible to everyone; grant access to photos you are tagged in, religious and political views and your birthday to friends of friends; and only allow friends to comment on your posts and view your contact information. Further, you can control who can find your profile, who can contact you and who can request to be your friend; by default, these are all set to "everyone."
One group most social media experts say should not be in your Facebook circle are co-workers. If you share your Facebook thoughts with people you see at work every day, it is only a matter of time before your online persona gets dragged into workplace politics. In a recent study by social media news site, Mashable.com, eight percent of companies reported firing an employee because of something he or she did on a social networking site.
Other groups of friends may not mix well with one another. When you post something on Facebook, all of your friends (and, depending on your privacy settings, some of their friends) will have the ability to respond. Sure, you like all of your friends, but you may not necessarily want them to meet each other. You may not want your children to see the things you the people you hang out with have to say, for example. Unfortunately, Facebook doesn't really offer a way to control who gets to see what.
Also, the bigger your circle of friends gets, the more careful you have to be about what you post. Let's say you are planning the vacation of a lifetime, and you just can't wait. You post an updated countdown to the day you'll be leaving. Some friends may even ask for details, such as where you are going and how long you'll be gone. Are you absolutely certain that there isn't a friend of a friend out there who would take advantage of knowing when your house will be empty?
Facebook can provide you with an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and form new ones. It can help you connect with people with similar interests, and re-connect with people you know in new and exciting ways. But it may not be the place to "just be yourself." Bringing together people from different walks of life, with different values and opinions, requires diplomacy.