Oh, old people. We love you, really we do. You're so wise and loving and experienced, and we would not be here today without you. But we have to talk about the way you use the internet. It's... it's just... you're doing it wrong.
You're embarrassing us.
You're embarrassing yourselves.
But look, we know it's hard to pick up subtle social mores through observation once you're out of your teen years. And there are plenty of amazing things you know that we never will! Like the proper etiquette for a sock hop, or how to darn socks, or even how to find your way to a place that Google Maps doesn't think exists. You're amazing! We get it.
But we want to help you be your very best, modern, social media-savvy selves. And we know you don't mean to be... you know, kind of off. You just can't help it. So let's try to fix that, OK? Here, just for you, is a rundown of how to use various internet sites now called "social media."
Ready? I promise it won't hurt.
This is not for you. Do not use it.
You probably are already on Facebook! This is great! If you're not familiar, Google+ is like Facebook except with fewer people and fewer ads, and I'm only including it here for completeness because you don't need to be on it. Pretend I never said anything.
These two sites are mostly for sharing things that you agree with, and stuff like baby and vacation pictures. And picking fights about religion and politics, if you like that kind of thing.
It is OK to friend your younger relatives and other loved ones to see what they are up to! But you should know that every time you post a comment on something they say, you are probably speaking to an audience including their other relatives, boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, close friends, boss, coworkers, classmates, and everyone else they have ever wanted to impress.
It is not the right place for "We are so proud of you!" or "How did the doctor visit go?!" UNLESS you see other, younger people not related to them say those kinds of things first in comments before you. Repeated for emphasis: Everyone they have ever wanted to impress is watching.
If you do not understand something, do not comment on it, because they probably are not talking to you. If you are not quite sure if you understand something or not, do not comment on it.
Do not post on someone else's wall. NOT EVER.
Do not try to have a detailed catch-up with someone else and their life on Facebook. If it's not a conversation you should have at top volume on a bus filled with everyone you have ever wanted to impress, it is not a conversation you should have on Facebook, either.
Also, do not comment on someone else's post about something completely different from what they were just talking about. It is like barging into the middle of a conversation and changing the subject, and it is very rude! If you want to talk about something else, post it yourself on your own profile, and type in +THEIR NAME to catch their attention. That plus sign turns their name into a TAG, and it means they will be sure to see the comment. They'll get a notification about it! Awesome!
This is not for you. I'm not even kidding. Just don't.
Remember how I said that talking to someone on Facebook is like talking to everyone they've ever wanted to impress all at once? Twitter is like attending a party where all of those people are hanging out, and also the whole world, too. It is even archived in the Library of Congress! Twitter is for keeps, yo, and so you need to be really careful about how you use it.
Twitter is not a way to talk to one specific person and catch up. It's a public conversation. Even when you use an @reply on Twitter, other people can see it!
That includes information you may not even realize you're giving away, like where someone works, the names of their friends and relatives, when family birthdays are, and other stuff that could potentially help a bad person perform identity theft. Be cool, OK?
But if you can't catch up with people on Facebook and Twitter, you demand, where IS it OK? Didn't you think the purpose of all of these newfangled tools was being able to keep up with their lives?!
Yes and no. It's to keep tabs on things that people are sharing on purpose -- NOT to ask questions about things they have not chosen to share online. Asking questions and talking about personal stuff is OK... as long as you do it in private!
Fortunately there are a lot of ways to contact someone privately.
On Facebook there are "Messages." They are only readable by the person you send them to!
On Twitter there is such a thing as a "direct message." That's a private message to only one person! A DIRECT MESSAGE IS NOT THE SAME AS A REGULAR TWITTER MESSAGE STARTING WITH @theirname. Twitter can make it very hard to find direct messages; they are located on the "Your profile" area, accessible through a button with an envelope on it.
Of course there is the classic: email! Email is a fantastic way to keep in touch with people privately!
And of course there are the reigning methods of private conversation these days: The text message, or instant messaging (either through your phone, or a service like AIM, ICQ, Google Talk, etc.) If you're using text messages or instant messaging, be sure to keep them short and to the point. It's a conversation, so say one or two sentences and then wait for a response. Don't get offended if someone doesn't reply right away (or at all.) You never know what they might be busy in the middle of!
Oh, and... signing "Love, Your dad" is sweet and all, but you don't need to sign a text or an instant message. It's not a letter.
I am confident you know how to use the telephone already, being old and all. Probably you are a MASTER of the phone compared to young people today!
Just one thing, all right? DO NOT EVER CALL a young person because of something you just saw posted online. Likewise, don't ask a question on Twitter about something you saw on Facebook. This is called context-switching and it is rude.
I'll give you a pass for very major life events, such as "I am getting married," "I am pregnant," or "I have been sentenced to twenty years." If something of that magnitude occurs, then yes, do call.
And of course you're free to call your younger people just because you love them and like to hear their voices! We all expect this from our old people.
Seriously, just stay off Tumblr. It will only confuse you.
Oh, you sweet, adorable thing. If you're still on any of these platforms, you can do whatever the heck you want. Nobody else is paying attention anymore. Just have fun and stay safe, you crazy kids.
LinkedIn is basically just an online resume and not really important unless you are looking for a new job. If you are retired, you can safely ignore it entirely. If you're not retired and somebody sent you this post, um, maybe you should stay away. You know, to avoid embarrassing yourself in front of a potential 24-year-old boss. Just sayin'.
One Final Warning
I have a terrible thing to tell you. It's... well, there's no sugar-coating this, brace yourself. Many things on the internet are lies.
It's horrible, I know, but... look, if something seems too good to be true, like you won a foreign lottery or a company is donating absurd amounts of money to charity if you forward an email, it probably is. And if this is proof that your worst enemies are doing evil perfectly calculated to blow your brittle arteries apart... be skeptical. Or if someone is helpfully warning about a danger but you don't personally know anyone who died that way, don't believe it.
Remember, anyone can type something that looks like a press release. Anyone can say that they checked with their cousin the chief of police, or their brother-in-law who works at the company, or their second cousin who's a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. That does not mean it's 100% true. People lie! A lot! So just... check before you share, OK? And check before you answer. A lot of bad people are trying to get your money. Don't let them win.
There's this site, Snopes.com. It collects common rumors and scams that go around on the internet and tells you if they're true or not. Use it. Live it. Love it. If you're not sure how to use it yourself, ask for help. Just about anyone will be happy to help you sort it out.
In order to make this a better and more useful resource for the old people in our lives... what am I missing? What elements of the new social contract might need spelling out? What habits would you like the gentle opportunity to break? And old people... is there a way to call your attention to these small matters of etiquette without hurting your feelings?
Do weigh in in the comments. We're all friends here.