Avoiding Facebook faux pas in the workplace

Facebook
The social networking site Facebook now boasts 150 million users across the globe.
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Every single day, a quarter of a million people set up Facebook accounts. Undoubtedly, a few of them will be your coworkers.

Soon enough, they'll be trying to "friend you" or "poke you," or do any of the other awkwardly named things Facebook encourages people to do to one another -- all in the spirit of online bonding.

Before you know it, you could be sharing highly personal status updates with the entire human resources department.

Luckily there are people out there like Niala Boodhoo. Her goal is to make sure you don't social-network yourself right out of your job.

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Boodhoo is a multimedia business reporter for the Miami Herald. Along with her colleague Bridget Carey, she writes a blog about interacting with coworkers on the Internet.

"Facebook is no different than a century ago, when we all lived in a village and we couldn't hide anything from anybody."

"So many people were coming to us and asking us different questions," said Boodhoo. "We realized there was sort of a lack of understanding on how to behave online."

Boodhoo is basically the Dear Abby of Facebook etiquette. She offers advice on using the Web site in the workplace, and answers inquiries like, "When that weird guy from marketing asks me to be his friend on Facebook, do I have to say yes?"

Her response to that one -- probably.

"Obviously, with coworkers you want to be really careful," said Boodhoo. "You don't want to offend people. And the bottom line is you have to work with them, so you always want to maintain the best working relationship possible."

You can't, however, expect everyone to be as friendly to friend requests as you are. Some coworkers may decline them. When that happens, Boodhoo says the worst thing you can do is ask them why.

"One of the Facebook faux pas is when people in real life say, 'Hey, how come you rejected me on Facebook?' You really don't know. Maybe they rejected you on Facebook because they don't want anyone from their job to be on Facebook. Or maybe they didn't even see it," explained Boodhoo.

"The big lesson that I have learned in all of this is that everyone has different expectations of what their social networking space is for," Boodhoo continued. "So you shouldn't assume that your ideas are what their ideas are."

When it comes to questions, there's one that comes up far more often than any other -- "What should I do when my boss sends me a friend request?"

"They don't want to offend their boss. But at the same time, they don't want to let that boss into that part of their life," said Boodhoo. "Our first column was about dos and don'ts. And we said if you're a boss, you should never be friending anyone who works for you on Facebook."

Of course, pointing that out to your superior probably isn't the best move. If a higher-up shoots you a friend request, you'd better accept. Just be sure to make good use of your privacy settings.

"The great thing about Facebook is, Facebook has different settings," Boodhoo explained. "We are a big fan of setting up different profiles for different people. So you can limit what people see."

For example, you can grant your brother access to those artistic shots you took at Mardi Gras, while still blocking your boss from seeing those pics.

But, says Boodhoo, if you really want to be sure the CEO never sees your poetic perspective on his management style, refrain from posting it altogether.

"When it's online, it's online. And there's a chance someone you don't want to see it will see it. We have very modern-day expectations of privacy that people never had," said Boodhoo. "Facebook is no different than a century ago, when we all lived in a village and we couldn't hide anything from anybody. Everyone saw everything you did."

Essentially, when it comes to privacy, Facebook is a small, rural town in the early 1900s -- albeit one with a high-speed Internet connection.