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Emily Yoffe: Scooping your friends and family on Facebook.
Farhad Manjoo: I'm Slate's technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.
Emily: I'm Emily Yoffe, Slate's Dear Prudence advice columnist, and this is Manners for the Digital Age.
Farhad: We received several letters this week on the same theme. Who gets to announce big news on the Internet? One man says that after he and his wife had a baby, they called their closest family members but didn't immediately post the news on Facebook.
Without asking, his sister posed all the baby details for the world to see. The writer calls this "A Facebook Scoop."
Emily: The same thing happened to another listener whose relative got engaged and the news spread on Facebook before the happy couple had been able to call grandma with the news.
Farhad: So what do you think, Emily? We're both journalists and we know what it's like to be scooped on big news. Is it bad manners or does information want to be free as soon as possible?
Emily: For goodness sake. Who are these people? Are they the same people who, the day after Thanksgiving, stand in line in Wal-Mart and trample each other to get the first Wii? Basic courtesy means asking, "Can we spread this news or should we sit tight?"
Farhad, every week it seems we have some pernicious new Facebook trend, and I think this is one. There is no prize in life for being the biggest loud mouth or busy body, so let the people with the news spread the news.
Farhad: We're back to disagreeing. This is great. If we go by the notion that we should do on Facebook what we're used to doing in real life, I think it depends on the news in question.
If somebody told me that they had a baby, I wouldn't keep that a secret unless they told me to keep it confidential. I think the burden is on the teller. If you want your news to remain confidential, you should tell the people "Hold off on posting this on Facebook until we inform other people."
But if you don't give that explicit warning, I think people are free to post the information. Unless the news is obviously discreet, like somebody tells you it's a very personal thing. Maybe they lost their job, or it's not great news – somebody died – then people could use their common sense.
But if it's obviously celebratory news like you had a baby or you got engaged, I think people will post it unless you tell them not to.
Emily: This issue gets to the heart of this podcast, because it's technology that's changing this. In fact, if you post on Facebook, you are sending out an electronic birth announcement. And traditionally, the parents have been the one who are entitled to send the birth announcement, and I really do think you have to think about the effect of the technology. It's a mass media, and it's not fair.
I think the burden is on the people who want to spread the news. Everyone is so used to posting everything instantly that the notion that there is some private news breaks down. And that's why I'm saying the burden is on the people who want to post, and it's not their personal news to post.
Farhad: People in the course of being on Facebook share information. That's the point of it. If we had this blanket rule that you can't share news about other people unless they've allowed you to, then we'd have a lot fewer posts on Facebook. People like to talk about their lives.
Emily: And would that be bad?
Farhad: I think that it doesn't come up that often where you have very confidential news, so it seems like when you do have the kind of news that you want to keep secret, it's not very difficult to just say, "Hold off on posting it," or "Don't post this."
Emily: Look, Farhad, here's my bottom line. This is not about secret confidential news. This is about scoops. This is about news that should be spread by the people most intimately involved and I think when there are big life milestones, you do not run to your Facebook page and post the announcement for them.
Farhad: Well, my bottom line is I agree you shouldn't run to your Facebook page to post other people's news, but you might mention it in the course of just talking about things you like, talking about your life. You should be free to talk about celebratory news unless somebody has told you not to. I think the burden is on the teller, on the person who holds the information.
Emily: All right. We'll agree to disagree. Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farhad: You can also join our new Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to Facebook.com/digitalmanners.
Emily: And we'll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.