Social media etiquette: Different countries’ values play a role in online interaction

By Jideobi Ezeonu
Voices Editor/Spectator

Recently, I was checking my Facebook account when I was startled by a friend request from a stranger. Not only this person had a Nigerian name, but he also had my mother and a couple of other relatives of mine as “mutual friends.”

Knowing how massive my family is, I assumed he was just some long lost uncle that was introduced to me when I was four and somehow expects me to remember who he is. So I accepted his friend request and moved on with my routine of watching dumb Vine clips and liking my friends’ statuses.

Then, the person who I had just added posted something on my wall. I thought:

“Great, it is probably some type of spam. I better delete it before it someone else clicks on it.”

When I finally clicked on the notification, I realized that it wasn’t spam. In fact, what was posted on my wall actually surprised me. “Thanks for accepting me nwadiana.” For those of you who don’t know, the word ‘nwadiana’ means ‘sister’s son’ or ‘sister’s child’ in Igbo. But that isn’t the main issue here. I was quite appalled by the fact that he thanked me for accepting his friend request. Out of my 346 Facebook friends, he was the only one that had ever thanked me.

So I decided to “creep” around his profile to try and find more information on this person. But the more I dug, the more I found a recurring theme. Many Facebook users in Nigeria actually do thank other people for accepting friend requests as well.

I came to the conclusion that culture plays a role in social media etiquette.

When looking at the American culture, one can quickly notice that the country is based on individualistic values. In other words, each individual person is unique in some way and they should be able to pursue their private goals without the assistance of others, a mode of thinking that focuses on personal achievement and self-fulfillment.

That can be easily observed when you go to class. Count how many people have headphones on or have their faces immersed in their phones. I know for a fact that I do that, and by doing so, I indirectly push others away. For that moment, I only care about myself.

On the other hand, the Nigerian culture (like many countries in Africa) is built upon collectivistic values. According to an article written by psychology expert Kendra Cherry, collectivism focuses on the needs and goals of the group as the whole instead of what each individual wants.

But how does that relate back to the difference in Facebook manners between countries? People who come from a collectivistic culture will put the group’s well-being before their own and one of the ways they do that is being polite to others. By being nice and friendly to their “neighbor,” there is the ability to build cohesiveness within the group.

The countless times that I’ve been in Nigeria have shown me just that. People are incredibly polite to each other. They also have no qualms with assisting others.

In fact, quite a few people will get out of their way to make sure everyone within the group is doing okay. Most people in the different areas in Nigeria know each other and will try to support one another due to that.

Obviously, not everyone does that as there are some exceptions. But in the grand scheme of things, it happens more frequently than not.

It can be difficult to translate the features of a collectivistic culture to Facebook, but my uncle (who I’m not sure actually is my uncle) was able to show that doing so is possible. Next time you add someone on Facebook, thank them for accepting your request. Being polite and having manners in this day and age is definitely a trait that has been disregarded, especially in a society that focuses on the individual rather than the group.

Jideobi Ezeonu is voices editor for The Spectator. He can be reached by