Friends Don't Let Friends Look Ugly On Facebook

Since I joined Facebook, I have excised exactly 2 photos from my timeline at the request of my friends. The first was a photo of a friend who is now an up and coming actor. He's doing great work on the big screen, both here in the U.S. and in southeast Asia, and his popularity is starting to soar. We used to sing together in an a cappella group. Think "The Sing Off," but with more stubble and less talent. I posted a goofy looking picture of our old group, and I tagged all of us. Then I got an email from him asking me to remove his name.

I can definitely see his point. People are starting to search for his name. He's at a weird point of fame. I'm sure if I were in a college singing group with Robert DeNiro or Alyssa Milano, there would be no problem posting goofy pictures of us in hockey jerseys singing Oom Poppa Mow Mow. Bobby D (as we called DeNiro when he was a high tenor) might not prefer I post our intimate moments of camaraderie, but they certainly won't spoil his image or hurt his career any. Guessing celebrities from High School Yearbook photos is practically an internet sport.

Similarly, if my friend were not at all famous, he would not have cared. I'm not famous, so I don't really care which pictures of me are posted. But my friend is at a turning point. People are just starting to form impressions about him. Casting directors are starting to Google him and search for him on social networks. I would hate to stand in his way, simply because we sang the national anthem at the All-Star Fan Fest one year.

The second photo was also from my a cappella group. This was a shot of a few of us at our absolutely most unphotogenic. We were recording a CD on a shoestring budget. We were sleeping in the music building on campus. We were in pajamas with sagging faces and dark circles under our eyes. We looked awful.

Actually, I shouldn't say "we," because I was taking the photo. I wasn't actually in this horrid shot.

I posted this picture on Facebook because I'm friends with most of my old group-mates. But of course they are not my only friends. So I was also sharing with all of my friends, and all of their friends. Let's do some quick math.

The average Facebook user has 130 friends. Let's assume a 20% overlap between friends, which is probably quite generous. So, I shared my photo with 130 people, and all of their friends. They are all friends with 104 people who are not in my circle. I have now shared that horrible photo with 13,520 people. My friends are actually quite active on Facebook, so the real number is probably much higher. I have almost 300 friends. Doing some quick math in my head . . . I could have spread that photo to 10 million people.

[aquote]How many of us love the way we look so much, we want to put our picture in a magazine?[/aquote]

Nobody wants that. How many of us love the way we look so much that we want to put our picture in a magazine? Because a strong circulation on Facebook probably gets more eyes looking than a low-end glossy.

So, here are some rules I might suggest for posting photos on Facebook. An etiquette guide to photo-documenting the lives of others:

1. Think about when XXXX sees it

I keep a cultivated and groomed list of Facebook friends. I have strict controls over who gets to see what. But most people aren't like me. I'm not friends with my boss or my ex-wife. I have strict control over the photos that my father can see, or my cousin, the DEA officer. I don't post anything stupid or illegal on Facebook, but I'm well aware of who gets the joke, and who will jump to the wrong conclusions.

So, before you post a photo, remember that everybody who is friends with the person you tag may see it. If I post a picture of Dave, Dave's wife will see it. So will his parents. His boss. The kids he babysits. Teenagers who work for him over the summer. His distant cousins in Austria. Does Dave want that picture shared with everyone? It's probably okay, but when in doubt, just don't post.

2. Check the background, and don't tag

Don't tag me if I just happen to be in the distant background of a picture. Share the picture with me, so I can see what was happening while I was off talking to Fred in the corner. But there's no need to tag me and Fred, if we're not the subject. You don't need to tag everyone in a photo. Just tag the most important people.

3. Only people with faces

I know what I look like, kind of. That is, I look in the mirror every day, and I'm familiar with my own face. I'm not happy about it, but I can work with it. The back of my head? Not so much. I have no idea what the back of my head looks like, but I'm sure it's not my most flattering angle. There's something unpleasant and uncanny about looking at a picture of yourself from the back. It's so unfamiliar to us, it's almost never pleasant. It's like hearing a recording of your voice. You think: "do I really sound so nasal and pinched?" No, of course not. But it's not an angle I like, and it doesn't add to the picture to let me know that I'm there, even if you can't see me.

4. The 10% rule

Don't post every photo you take. I subscribe to a 10% rule. When I bought my digital camera, and started snapping photos like crazy, I found that only about 10% of the photos I took were worth looking at. And only 10% of those were actually good. So, 1% of all my photos are truly keepers, and the rest are taking up space. And I'm not a bad photographer, having wielded a camera professionally for a few years.

That said, I take hundreds of photographs at a time. When I take a trip to the zoo with my son, I snap 300 – 400 photos. I save about 30 of those. When I really want to show off, I pick the top 3. I'm satisfied with that. If I did that every weekend for a year, I'd have 150 or so great pictures. I don't think there are 150 photos of me when I was a child, in total, let alone the good ones.

So, snap lots of photos, but only save the best. Don't try to set up the best 20 photos you can imagine at a party, or a baby shower, or on a field trip. Just keep shooting, taking dozens, even hundreds of shots. Why not? Memory is cheap. Shoot more, and be more picky.

5. Accept the inevitable

Finally, I have a suggestion for photo subjects. Grin and bear it. Remember, Facebook is not for you. On its surface, sharing so much of yourself, your thoughts, actions, and images, may seem like a selfish act. But actually, it's selfless. You are sharing with people who want to see you. People want to know what you are up to, and what you are thinking, and especially how you look. Don't untag yourself from all your photos. That defeats the purpose of Facebook. Embrace it. Or ignore it. But most of all, accept it. Trust me, you're not nearly as ugly as you think.