The Day I Went Viral

Social media's newest manners maven Randi Zuckerberg opens up about her biggest Facebook gaffe.

My sister Donna is an amazing cook, and last Christmas she was making Peking duck in honor of our family's modern Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas. We're all so busy that it's a real treat to get together.

Everyone was gathered in the kitchen, clearing dishes and drinking coffee, while my brother [Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg] demonstrated the brand-new Poke app that Facebook had launched earlier that week. Through the app, you could send someone a message that would vanish in 10 seconds. We'd all downloaded Poke to try it out. I thought it was funny that here we were, standing around the kitchen counter, everyone looking down at their phones, sending one another messages on Poke. So I snapped a photo of the scene and uploaded it to Facebook.

I knew there was a chance that picture would leak—I never post anything online that I wouldn't feel comfortable being reprinted on the front page of a newspaper. And this photo was the holy grail of tech photos: Facebook family, using Facebook, on Facebook. But I thought surely Christmas was a night when everyone could appreciate our family photo without going, "OMG! Look! I need to blog this!"

About an hour later, I took a quick glance at Twitter and did a double take. Someone had taken the photo and re-posted it. That meant that one of my Facebook friends had seen the photo, downloaded it or taken a screen shot of it, saved it to his or her phone or computer, then uploaded it to a totally different site. I fired off a Twitter response expressing my frustration. Then I went to bed.

The next morning, practically every news station was talking about my Twitter exchange. Obviously people were greatly enjoying the Schadenfreude of a Zuckerberg getting mixed up in anything that had to do with Facebook and privacy. But it really wasn't about that at all. This was about the gray areas of sharing, social conduct, and online etiquette.

dot complicated randi zuckerberg

(Image credit: Courtesy of Company)

I post family photos on Facebook all the time for my friends to see. I see photos of my friends' kids, weddings, and families. None of these photos are private, per se, but they are certainly personal, which means my friends trust me to behave appropriately when I see them. It's generally pretty easy to identify information as either public or private. But when it comes to personal information—that middle ground between something that's OK to share slightly outside your immediate circle but not with absolutely everyone—you enter a bit of a gray zone.

Did you ever wonder why, in movies about the Old West, despite how hot it must have been, the frontier folk wore heavy suits and always spoke in a kind of flowery, polite way? It wasn't just because it was fashionable—this kind of behavior played an important role in maintaining order in a strange new environment.

The Internet is the latest technological improvement bringing us into unfamiliar territory, and as with previous frontiers, we're going to need to grasp something that our parents, our teachers, and our communities probably spent a great deal of time instilling in us as we grew up, something known simply, for lack of a better word, as etiquette.

Even though so much about the way we communicate has changed, certain basic rules of decency and civility haven't and, in fact, may be needed now more than ever. In other words: Re-post unto others as you would have them re-post unto you.

Excerpted from Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives by Randi Zuckerberg (HarperOne), due out this month.