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Proper Etiquette for Leaving a Facebook Conversation

You totally sure about this?
You totally sure about this?

"John Smith left the conversation."

For some, these words a simple fact of messaging via social media. For others, them's fightin' words. Every since Facebook gave people the power to exit a group message sent to them, they have loomed large over anyone who dares send one. Is it the easy way out of a conversation you didn't want into in the first place or a breach of "netiquette?" Sometimes, it's both. Of course, there isn't anything inherently wrong with vacating a message thread, but because Facebook decides to tell those stragglers left behind that you did leave, it can get a little awkward.

All things being equal, no one should really leave a Facebook conversation shared through a private message. Sure, it's the opt out we all wish we had when coworkers or family members continue to Reply All over and over again, but it is also the Internet version of turning around and walking away in the middle of someone's sentence, something very few of us would do during polite conversation. Frankly, this could all be solved if Facebook would simply remove the notification, but since that isn't an option, there are some guidelines you might want to follow if you are thinking of uninviting yourself from a conversation.

Before leaving, try turing off your notifications or ignoring the message.

One of the common complaints is that people don't want to be forced to see messages pop up constantly or get notifications via e-mail or text. My first question to you: Why are you getting notifications for Facebook messages? Notifications of most kinds are far more annoying than what you are being notified about. Try turning that off or ignoring the message before leaving the dreaded "left the conversation" message.

Try not to be the first to leave.

This may sound ridiculous, but if you are always the first person to abandon a conversation, it says something about the level of respect you have for those in the conversation. If these are friends, in particular, hold out for a little longer. The conversation will probably peter out anyway and then no one will see you as the first person out the door.

Don't leave immediately after someone tries to be funny or sentimental.

This, to me, is probably the height of rudeness in this type of situation. It normally happens in a message thread that has a specific purpose -- coordinating an event, for example -- and someone decides to make a joke. Suddenly, there are a flood of "left the conversation" messages. That is the equivalent of saying, "You're an idiot, I'm leaving" to someone's face. Don't be that guy.

Always consider the source of the conversation.

There are some who wouldn't even notice if you left. But there are others, and we all know who these friends and family members are, who would take great offense at your retreat. Think of their feelings before your own in those circumstances. All you have to deal with is a notification. For them, it could mean hurt feelings or mixed messages about your relationship. They should toughen up, certainly, particularly online, but when you consider the use of the wrong emoticon or even the lack of using one in a text or e-mail can be grounds for a fight, it makes sense to proceed with caution.

If you do leave, send a message to the conversation initiator.

This is just a polite thing to do, particularly if the source of the conversation is a friend. Just letting them know you aren't leaving because you are annoyed or dislike them may not be necessary, but it is a friendly reminder of our shared human decency. And, like emoticons, it helps to clear up any confusion.

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You are now free to exit the building.
You are now free to exit the building.

Here are five situations where leaving might be your best and most reasonable option.

If replies continue for longer than a couple days.

Any conversation in which you have zero participation that continues for more than a day or two is absolutely grounds for leaving. And no one should complain.

If the message is spam, sales or promotional.

When a guy you know wants you to come see his band play and sends a message to you and 300 of his friends, it is completely acceptable to abandon the conversation as soon as it has been read. If he is trying to sell you something, you might consider blocking him too.

If the message is from a near stranger to you and a bunch of other people you don't know.

Everyone has at least a handful of people in their friends list they barely know. Maybe it was some dude you bonded with at a bar one night or a person you met at a party or a former coworker who moved to Europe. Whatever the case, you are free to bail if you get a random message from this person along with a bunch of others who you don't know at all. No one will be offended. They probably won't even notice.

If the conversation is uncomfortable, rude or offensive.

This is the one spot where Facebook messages have a distinct advantage over e-mails. How many times has a relative sent a group e-mail about how Febreeze kills dogs or some political fact that was debunked five years ago on Snopes? And wouldn't it have been awesome if all they got in response was "Jeff Balke left the conversation"? This is your chance.

To make a point.

And speaking of that, one of the simplest ways to make a point is to leave immediately following an offensive comment from one of the message respondents. As rude as it might be to do so after a funny quip, walking away after someone drops a racial slur is as much of a message to the person who sent that message as it is a way to avoid stupid people.


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