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Is Facebook Ruining Your Friendships?

Sure, we're way more connected with everyone: college roomies, coworkers, old flames, and long-lost relatives. But it's all too easy to make virtual mistakes that can muck up real-life relationships. Here, smart advice from the experts on how to navigate social netiquette dilemmas.
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Jude Buffman

A while back my friend posted pics from her son Sam's bar mitzvah on Facebook. In a breezy, off-the-cuff moment, I commented: "His was the first one that didn't give me a migraine. By far, the loveliest I've attended all year!" Then came the pissed-off posts from mutual friends whose kids' bat and bar mitzvahs (obviously headache-inducing and far less wonderful) I'd also gone to. Oops. Just lump me in with all the other middle-aged cyber-klutzes who are lovin' the social networking thing (there are now more Facebookers between the ages of 35 and 54 than those between 18 and 34) but can't quite get a grip on the rules. "When Facebooking at home alone, it can feel like you're having a private exchange. It's easy to forget that other people are in on the conversation," says Kirsten Dixson, an online reputation management expert and coauthor of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand (Wiley). "Most of our goofs happen because we're not accustomed to putting our lives up on the wall." For help on how to handle hot-water social networking messes—or, even better, avoid them altogether—read on.

You've reconnected with your high school prom date and have been bantering back and forth about everything from his old mullet to that notorious grad night party. Your husband sees your posts and—to put it mildly—is not amused.

Sweetly inform hubby that if every married Facebooker who friended an old flame was looking for action, there wouldn't be enough motel rooms to accommodate them. "Most of the time it's about curiosity—people want to see how an old boyfriend or girlfriend has held up over the years and where they are in life compared to you," says Hal Niedzviecki, author of The Peep Diaries (City Lights Publishers), which examines the culture that Facebook and Twitter have spawned. But your spouse's worries might carry some cred if your retrosexual reconnect starts to heat up or your ex is pressuring you to meet in the real world. "If you're thinking of reaching out to a long-lost love for whom you still have strong feelings, it's probably better not to get in touch at all," says Nancy Kalish, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University, Sacramento. You should be logging off Facebook and logging more hours with your husband.

You're psyched to see a new Facebook friend request—until you realize it's from your boss. How should you respond?

That all depends on your Facebook friendship philosophy, and now's the time to figure it out. Do you want only your closest friends and family members in that inner circle, or professional acquaintances as well? "There's no right or wrong answer—just decide what works best for you," says Dixson. "It would be perfectly okay to message your boss and explain politely that while you don't include colleagues and supervisors as Facebook friends, you'd be delighted to be connected on a business-oriented networking site like LinkedIn." Another option: Create different lists for your professional and personal friends, and control which group gets to see what. Your boss will never know that she's only getting limited postings from you, but you'll still have opportunities to impress and connect with her. And remember, fusing your private and professional lives online has its benefits. "When business associates can see your more casual, intimate side, it provides them with a more rounded picture," says Dixson. "That can only help you professionally, whether you're looking for a raise, a promotion, or a new job."