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Miss Conduct

Miss Conduct’s primer on Facebook etiquette

Plus, what to do about an unprofessional colleague.

Illustration by Nathalie Dion

> A friend of mine vented about the stress of buying her first home on Facebook, and someone else responded to her, saying, “That’s such a First World problem!” I’ve had people say this to me, too, and I totally recognize that most of us in this country have a far better quality of life than much of the world. But is it insensitive/elitist of me that I don’t want to be made to feel guilty about that at a time when I’m already stressed out?

M.F. / Needham

Not at all. Facebook can allow for delightfully serendipitous moments, like when a friend posts a recipe that neatly solves your problem of what to do with the leftover chili. But serendipity is double-edged. Even the most anodyne “I had bacon and eggs for breakfast” update could cause a twinge of hurt or envy for someone who is struggling with a food budget or an eating disorder.

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Facebook friends should remember that they are friends, and give one another the benefit of the doubt accordingly. Herewith, Miss Conduct’s General Principles for Social Media in a World in Which Fortune Favors Us All Differently:

(1) Appreciate what you have. Lighthearted complaints are fine, and if you are good at complaining entertainingly, by all means do. But people generally prefer to read positive status updates. And friends who don’t have a spouse/child/job/house/dog/iPhone don’t want to hear you talk about yours as though it is nothing but a burden.

(2) Don’t mention numbers. You can decide whether to talk salary, mortgages, or weight among close friends. But never put numbers on Facebook.

(3) Respond to posts in the spirit intended, or not at all. If a friend is asking for sympathy, don’t tell her there are children starving in Africa. If she is asking for prayers, don’t tell her you’re an atheist. Not every post is intended for every person. (Of course, if someone is constantly posting questions and comments that you find wrongheaded and dumb, you might want to reexamine your friendship.)

Next time you get called a “White Whiner” on Facebook, point out to your friend that both of you are ridiculously privileged by any historical standard. And that you’ll listen to her First World Problems any old day.

> A paraprofessional at the high school where I teach behaves very unprofessionally. “Jane” swears in front of students, has showed a pornographic photo on her phone to other educators (not even trying to shield it from the students around her), and texts and reads magazines during class. We don’t feel comfortable talking to her, because we aren’t her boss. But if we were to talk to her boss, maybe Jane would be fired, and we don’t want to be responsible for that. Jane is in her early 30s. We feel she should know how to behave at this point, but she needs some help.   

B.R. / Wakefield

I’m certainly not going to put on my heels and come over there, so if Jane is going to get any help, it had better come from you. Jane’s poor work habits are affecting the students, which means that someone needs to step in.

Your reason for not speaking to Jane’s boss is odd. First of all, hasn’t he or she noticed Jane’s behavior? It sounds as if everyone else has, which makes me wonder about the boss’s competence. Second, you say Jane might be fired – but wouldn’t the first move, after hearing a bad report on an employee, be to investigate? Speaking to Jane directly would also be acceptable, because you aren’t telling her how to do her job, but setting her straight about institutional norms that no one clued her in on. I agree that she should have figured it out herself, but she obviously didn’t, so there it is.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.GOT A QUESTION OR COMMENT? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live this Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.
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