Smartphones, Facebook and the internet are the Wild West of the manners world, a place without rules or order, a land where Emily Post dare not tread. It's time to clean up this town and lay down some hard and fast rules for how to behave in these digital times. Our E-Techquitte series is here to help.
It's a fact of life that people with Facebook, a.k.a. people, sometimes get tagged in photos they don't want to be associated with. This is why Mark Zuckerberg, a benevolent god, gave us the de-tag function.
In general, the ability to de-tag unflattering, embarrassing or incriminating photos seems fair. It's your profile. The place your ex goes when he feels like crying, and it's your business if the image you want to cultivate is one of a woman with bangs who has never owned a ferret.
However, de-tagging can take a toll on taggers. There are situations, usually events that don't happen often with people you don't normally see, where de-tagging comes off as rude or vaguely anti-social behavior.
This raises a new etiquette issue that people who use Facebook are forced to wrestle with: How do you de-tag politely? The answer lies in knowing which pictures are in the de-tag danger zone.
Whether or not a picture is okay to de-tag is a simple question of supply and demand. Dissociating your name from a shot of you and your friends smiling in a bar is fine because variations on this photo happen every hour on the hour. It's not special. You're probably taking one right now. Removing yourself from your sister's wedding, grandma's funeral, or child's birth is a little different. This is because momentous occasions are rare, and so the photos documenting them are simply worth more. The de-tagging threshold is higher because quite frankly your baby may never be born again. If you wouldn't walk out of the pictured situation with only a perfunctory goodbye, then you should probably think twice before hitting de-tag.
Momentous occasions also often involve people who aren't necessarily your peers, and who may not have a deep understanding of social media. These people might be hurt when your name no longer shows up in the "Mom and Me Yellowstone Fly-Fishing '05" album. It's been my experience that real adults (people who didn't have Facebook in college) rarely de-tag themselves from photos, which might cause them to take it personally if they notice you de-tagging.
Although, it's entirely possible that most people don't notice when others de-tag. The amount of time we spend poring over our albums to see who's tagged and who isn't, is hopefully not that much. However, the times I have noticed that someone de-tagged themselves from a photo I posted, I will say it gave me a twinge of what can only be described as mild rejection.
If you just can't make peace with the photo, there are ways to let the taggers down easy. While an apology would be a overblown, you could leave a comment on the picture itself. Something like "Beautiful moment...but had to de-tag!" is a good way to acknowledge the loveliness of the occasion without actually having to include it in your carefully curated Facebook identity.
Luckily, Facebook offers a bevy of ways to control your photographic presence on the site. You can decide who sees specific albums and who sees the photos other people tag you in. You can even make it so all your photos are only viewable by you.
In August, Facebook implemented the "Tag Review" feature which allows you to approve photos people tag you in before they go online. You can turn on Tag Review in your privacy settings.
Facebook also gave users the ability to be a little more direct about de-tagging. Now, when you remove your name from a photo a dialogue box pops up asking you if you would also like to send a message to the person who posted it asking them to take the photo down, which Facebook says is a good way to help your friends “post better photos in the future.” We'll see about that.
Got a story about de-tagging gone wrong? Tell us what happened in the comments section below.
Please send your tech etiquette questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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