Here’s a generational marker I never thought would make me feel old: I remember when Facebook first started. In the 2004-2005 school year, I was a Freshman in college and my school was one of the early adopters* of Facebook (or “the Facebook” as we called it at the time). When you met someone at a party, they’d ask if you were “on the Facebook.” After working with a kid on a group project, you’d go back to your dorm and discover that you’d been “poked.” Facebook was like a whole world populated solely by college kids.** It was like Lord of The Flies that way. You couldn’t get on there without an .edu address, and it was a parent-free zone.
Unless you’ve been Rip van Winkle-ing*** since 2005, you know what’s happened since. Like all things that have lost their youth culture cache, Facebook has been taken over by moms. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming soon — the friend request from your mother. It’s bad. My mom is on Facebook, and she is the worst because she takes everything she reads very seriously and literally. A few months ago, she said to me “I didn’t know your cousin ‘Derek’ was gay!”.
“He’s not gay, mom. He has a girlfriend.” I know having a girlfriend isn’t the sine qua non of straightness, but I also have really solid gaydar.
“No. He’s gay. His status is “I am a homosexual.”
Oh, brother. Here we go. My cousin is that particular kind of dude-bro who has friends who sneak into his Facebook account and write homophobic stuff because they think it’s hilarious. By the by, his mom and sister are both lesbians.
“Mom. Nobody says “homosexual” except for Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. That was Derek’s friends.”
Cut to two weeks later. “Derek is DEFINTELY gay. Look at his status now!”
I looked. His status was now “I like dick.” I considered explaining to her that nobody, gay or straight, would write that, but figured it was a losing battle.
There are a few ways to prevent scenarios like this:
Ignore Friend Request
This is the cleanest option, and works best with tech-clueless moms. You can tell her that the request didn’t go through, or assume that she’ll never know how to figure out if you’ve confirmed. If your mom is the type to nag a lot, is okay with computers, or will read a large-scale rejection into this, then I’d skip the ignore option.
Heightened Privacy Settings
Make a list of people you want to restrict, then make a “custom” post setting so that nothing is seen by people on those lists. If you have a bunch of gossip-mongers in your family, this might have to go beyond your mom. There are some things that I wouldn’t mind, say, my aunt seeing, but I know she’d bring it up to my mom, so I play it safe and hide it from all of them. That includes posts from this blog. One of my favorite gems of writing advice comes from Anne Lamott, who suggested you “write as if your parents are dead.” I find that “write as if your parents don’t use social networking” works almost as well.
Cleansing Your Past
A lot of us have stopped using Facebook in earnest. With full-time jobs and professional degrees on the line, we aren’t posting photos of us “totally wasted!” at 2am on a Saturday. We’re in bed by then anyway. However, if your mom is nosy enough, then she might reach into the way-back years. A while ago I took a trip down Facebook memory lane, and apparently I was kind of trashy and skanky in college. You might want to clean up your past a little. Just think of it as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Internet Record.
Sanitizing the Future
If you really don’t want to block your mom, then every time you write something you have to realize that your mom is going to see it – and, as I discussed above, is probably going to read a whole lot into it. It’s okay to write “Sooo tired!”. It’s not okay to write “I haven’t been this tired since I took a 24-hour bus ride to Florida, went to a sketchy karaoke bar, then stayed at the apartment of these iffy Southern frat boys who just said they were taking us out for grits then wouldn’t take us to our hotel.” This is a new life, and in this new life, your mom is on Facebook and that never happened.****
Continuing as you Were
Maybe you aren’t one of those people who has stopped really using Facebook. Maybe you’re also not one of those people whose life has turned staid and orderly after college. Maybe in that case, you’ll just say screw it, accept your mom’s friend request, and carry on posting as you were. You’re probably smarter than all of us, actually. While the rest of us are covertly restricting our photo albums or writing vague, cheerful statuses, you can just let it all hang out. Actually, if you do this right, you might repulse your mom so much that she will disavow of Facebook altogether.
I suggest you start with posting “I like dick.”
* My college got Facebook early because it was “the Harvard of the SUNY system,” which I guess is almost a compliment. Or almost an insult. Not sure which.
** Another thing that’s like a whole world populated solely by college kids: College.
*** Rip van Winklevossing?
****Only thing worse than spending 24 hours on a bus: spending 24 hours on a bus, then ending up in Florida.