I like Facebook. For a professional communicator like me, Facebook is a fun way to stay current and to share my communiques with a few key strokes. It’s almost euphoric to carry on a conversation with a friend who lives across the country in less time than it takes the gal at the Starbuck’s counter to blend my mocha frappuccino. Yet this seemingly limitless tool of social media needs to be wielded with caution.

The person who coined the phrase “Follow us on Facebook” wasn’t just being glib. Human beings are curious creatures. Post enough interesting – juicy/controversial/outlandish – tidbits on Facebook and you’ll soon be the recipient of myriad comments and advice. In other words you will soon find your cyber words and actions being “followed” by other people, whether or not that was your intent. In the story Conagher, by Louis L’Amour, a woman with two young children is suddenly widowed after moving to the unsettled prairie with her husband. In her struggle to survive the loneliness of her existence she writes her sentiments (to no one in particular) on small pieces of paper and ties them to tumbleweeds with strips of material from her petticoat. Later in the story a cattle drover  confides to his friend: “I got tumbleweed fever.”  The friend replies: “You too? Half of the cowboys in the county are chasing tumbleweeds.”

Facebook and moderation should walk hand-in-hand. A few decades ago Faberge organic shampoo launched a campaign to spread the word about their product. The slogan went something like: “I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on…” Facebook operates on a similar principle; one person posts a sentiment on their “wall” and the friends who respond to that sentiment leave a virtual trail of that response for their own list of friends to see, and so on and so on. This kind of viva voce is nearly unprecedented.  It isn’t any wonder that individuals and business alike use Facebook as a platform to “get the word out.”  The biological world relies on a similar kind of (cellular) division for growth, repair and reproduction of a species. It is essential to health and to life. Yet the very same cell division, left uncontrolled, causes cancer. You get the picture.

Facebook is neither your psychiatrist nor your priest. I am continually amazed to see posts that read more like something you’d hear in a confessional than in a public conversation. Underscore public. Unlike the woman who tied her unsigned sentiments to tumbleweeds, you cannot post something on Facebook anonymously. Attached to your post is your name, a date, time and (often) a photo. There is no mistaking who said what.  My personal rule of thumb regarding Facebook is this: Don’t post anything that you would be embarrassed to see – pictured or quoted – on a billboard. And by all means, if you’ve got your knickers in a knot over something, count to ten before posting it. Unlike psychiatrists and priests, Facebook will not keep your secrets.

In an archaic system of communication, smoke signals dissipated into the air and whistle blasts faded away on the wind. But today our texts, tweets, posts and pings continue to bounce around the atmosphere as we speak. Much like the concept of matter in Science 101, matter – or in this case, your Facebook information – is always present in some form. And the potential to eat crow is high.

Finally, we would be wise to remember that Facebook is a double-edged sword.  Posting thoughts, playing games, liking, poking, tagging, sharing, etc., have their own delights, to be sure, but the permeation of Facebook in your life has the potential to “gild the lily.” When nothing is left to the imagination then nothing remains a mystery. And really, where is the fun in that?