When Facebook Says Your Friends Are Hanging Out Without You

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Jan. 17 2012 3:06 PM

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Transcript)

What to do when Facebook reveals your friends didn’t invite you to an event.

Farhad Manjoo:  Is everyone hanging out without me?

Emily Yoffe:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.

Farhad:  I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Emily: Today’s question is from a listener who wonders whether a Facebook update left his friends feeling left out. He writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, most of my neighbors and friends know each other, hang out often and are also Facebook friends. Tonight my wife and I are going out with two couples from this circle. We all have little kids so this is a big deal. The wife of one of the couples who is an avid Facebooker, promoted our date with this wall posting: Can’t wait for our triple date night with John, Kelly, Jane, and Bill. Watch world we got sitters and we will be out on the town to at least 9pm.

In response several of my wife’s friends have since posted, ‘Have fun’ or texted ’Oh, you’re going out tonight? That’s so nice.’ I think these messages are innocuous but my wife swears there are tones of ‘I wish you had invited me’ and  ‘I feel left out.’ Is she reading too much into this or was the original post insensitive to our friends who weren’t included? Did our Facebook posting friend exercise bad judgment?” Signed, Post Paranoia

Okay, Farhad, you’re still in the babysitting age. What do you think?

Farhad: Oh man, I wish I could spend the whole night out on the town until 9pm.  I think there’s nothing wrong with this. This is fine and I think that this guy’s wife is paranoid. Those responses sound nice. It sounds like they’re congratulating you on getting out of the house. I guess what I don’t understand about this is what’s so bad about going out with some of your friends and not all of your friends? That’s how people go out all the time. I don’t think there is anything wrong with promoting that you’re going out. That’s the whole point of social networks.

Emily: Oh yippie! We totally disagree. To me the whole posting  “We’re going out with Kelly” reminds me of when my daughter was in kindergarten and kids started to have birthday parties and there had to be some rules in place so people didn’t get their feelings hurt. Number one: don’t bring the invitations to school. Number two: either invite everyone or invite fewer than half the kids because it just hurts not to be included.

I am not an avid Facebook user so I truly do not understand the necessity to post every jot and tiddle of your life. I think there may be a male/female continuum on this, because you read these comments exactly as the husband does. I read them as the wife and there’s a little bit of a needle – “Oh thank you so much for letting us know you guys going to have so much fun and we didn’t make the cut.”

Farhad: Look, I wouldn’t do this. I agree with you. I think there is no reason to post what you’re doing tonight with Bob and Ted. But in this Facebook world, people do this all the time. I think it’s become accepted practice, so anything you do with some of your friends is not a secret anymore, especially if you’re going out with some avid Facebookers, which this person is.

I think you should just accept that what you’re doing is going to be public and people are going to comment on it. I wouldn’t post it because I don’t think it’s that interesting. But maybe for someone who never goes out, it’s a big deal to be able to do so and it’s the highlight of their month. For that person it’s fine. It wouldn’t bother me to see one of my friends post this. I wouldn’t be jealous and I wouldn’t feel like I was left out.

Emily: What you just said comes right up against what we’re doing here. Where do manners intersect with new technology? What you said is kind of like saying once cell phones became ubiquitous, “Look people are going to be carrying on personal conversations absolutely everywhere and now. There’s no limit to it. When you’re in restaurants, on trains, walking down the street everyone is going to be yakking to an unseen person. Get over it.”

But in fact it was problem and a lot of people did take offense. It’s mostly corrected itself with a further technology: texting. I agree Facebook is ubiquitous, but I think there need to be some rules. I also agree posting that you’re going out with Kelly is very boring, but aren’t 90%of Facebook posts very boring? The point is maybe if it’s boring, why are you doing it?

Farhad: Well, then why are you on Facebook at all? This is what Facebook is for. If not for telling the world what you’re doing tonight even if it’s boring, I don’t really understand what the point why anyone would be on these sites. I think if you join Facebook you should expect you’re going to see what you’re friends are doing and some of your friends might be doing things with others of your friends that make you feel left out. I think that if you cut this out from Facebook there’s really nothing else left other than pictures of your dog.

Emily: That’s sounds like a good thing to me. Do you disagree?

Farhad: I would love if Facebook were only that. I think we’ve passed that. I bet that most people who are on Facebook expect to see these kinds of messages, and it’s not offensive and not bothersome to most of them.

Emily: Again I hate to get into sexual politics, but bless you guys that think you’re more oblivious to that kind of thing. I do think the people who are going to be a little hurt or put off will tend more to be females. I disagree. I don’t think,” That’s it world, we post everything. I saw my podiatrist; you’re going to read about it.” I think that this is an evolving technology. Maybe we shouldn’t say what we had for lunch or post a picture of every social activity.

Farhad: I’m with you on people shouldn’t post every little thing that happens to them. It sounds like for these people, the situation they described is a big deal. This happens rarely that they get to go out on a triple date, and for them, it’s a highlight worth posting. It’s not something that happens every day.

I would agree with you if there was a friend of mine who was posting all the time about every dinner they have, that would get annoying. This post in this letter probably goes a little too far with all of the details, but in general if you have something big coming up, something you’re excited about, you should be able to post it.

Emily: Maybe this is also an age divide between us. I just think this constant self-promotion – “I put it on Facebook; therefore the experience exists” – it’s not a big deal to go out to dinner with friends. It’s likely if you’re in a very tight group with other friends… there’s nothing worth mentioning in passing when you run into people. It’s the self-congratulatory announcement of it that’s get people’s backs up. It’s not that it happened; it’s that you’re making the people who weren’t invited know about it.

Farhad: I think the disagreement between us boils down to I don’t consider Facebook such a big deal. Anything you post on there seems really small to me. So if you’re posting something about your dinner, I think it’s a few lines of texts that someone else is going to see for a few seconds as they scroll through their hundreds of other friends. It seems like it’s going to not be noticed by many people. I don’t think it’s this grand announcement that you’re making it out to be.

Emily: Well, that’s what manners are; it’s a collection of these small things. I think going out to dinner is small; it doesn’t deserve noting to 700 people you know. Who the hell cares? But once you do make this announcement then you do open yourself up to, “Have fun.”

Our bottom line is I’m an old, cranky anti-Facebooker and I think it’s ridiculous to note every little event in your life. And yes, when you make a big to-do about some silly social event, people who weren’t included, just like back in kindergarten, might get their feelings a little bit hurt.

Farhad: I think that we’re not in kindergarten anymore and you should feel free to tell the world what you’re doing with your friends on Facebook. Not that many people are going to feel bad about it.

Emily: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Farhad:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week.  Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily:  And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. You can reach her at prudence@slate.com.