Faster Forward: Facebook etiquette: Let friends break their own big news

By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 8:23 AM

Last weekend, my sister-in-law got engaged. After I congratulated her on the phone, I thought it would be fitting to post a note to that effect on her Facebook profile -- but then saw she hadn't updated it with the news.

Now what?

There's only one thing to do in confusing social-media scenarios like that: Post your question on some other social network. So I asked on Twitter: "Friend just got engaged but hasn't updated her Facebook relationship status yet. How long do I wait to post congratulations on her profile?"

I was surprised to see most people take a conservative, deferential view, suggesting that I hold off until she updates her profile. As one reply sagely observed: "She may be calling friends and family first so they don't find out via social networks!!"

That consensus held on Facebook as well. Only two people left their congratulations -- a third simply wrote "ahem...." -- before my sister-in-law changed her relationship status to "engaged" and set off the inevitable thread of dozens of happy comments (mine included).

The other big life changes don't seem to involve this kind of timing hangup. Take births -- thanks to mobile phones, you can expect typo-strewn updates about new births from giddy, sleep-deprived moms and dads within hours of the blessed event. We all know the formula: baby name + weight + length + blurry cameraphone shot.

Deaths, meanwhile, rarely seem to be announced close to real time -- the usual cue is somebody's total disappearance from their online social networks. Once friends find out, they may face a different problem: "Oh, hell; what can I possibly write to make sense of that?" (Should you be in that position, write something anyway.)

So now I have another ethical quandary: I've met my sister-in-law's fiancé once before but didn't think to send him a friend request then. At what point would that be appropriate?

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