Studies are confirming what we already know – if we aren’t guarded in our use of Facebook, it can have a negative emotional, psychological and, I add, spiritual impact on our lives. This past week articles about Facebook’s negative impact have been trending on my wall. Even the sermon at church touched upon Facebook and friendship. I thought it would be timely to repost this article I wrote in January. It’s had hundreds of views since then. It’s not meant to make anyone feel guilty about what they post, but to think about how we respond to the posts of our Facebook friends and what we allow our eyes to see and then personalize or internalize. Most importantly, “are we robbing our true friends the honor of friendship” by not sharing our struggles and joys with them in person vice a mass Facebook status update?
Why would someone post a picture of themselves in a bikini on Facebook? Do they know that half the people who are their friends on Facebook may, perhaps, be married men who are trying to be faithful to their wives, even in their thought life? It doesn’t matter to you. It’s your Facebook, so you post what you want, calling it your freedom. You post about how great your husband is and that he watches your kids for a weekend so you can have a girl’s weekend away (maybe in the name of publicly affirming him or maybe because you didn’t think about it at all), also well-aware that some of your Facebook friends are single moms, moms with deployed husbands or women whose husbands wouldn’t be caught dead changing a diaper. (If you want to publicly affirm him, you could consider doing it in person, verbally, in front of a bunch of his guy friends). But your Facebook page is about you, so that doesn’t matter.
You post about your weight-loss successes, pictures included, oblivious to your Facebook friends who are struggling with eating disorders because you don’t know they’re struggling with eating disorders (but statistically speaking, you definitely have friends who are). But that’s okay, your facebook page is about you. You post about what an amazing time you had with your girlfriends and the girlfriends who weren’t at the party wonder why they weren’t invited. But that’s okay. Your Facebook is about you and how great you’re doing. And you want your friends to know, those who live in your town and the Facebook friend who was your partner in French class in 10th grade and that Facebook friend who you met at a party a few months ago who you wouldn’t recognize if you saw them on the street or that Facebook friend who friended you because your settings are public and they saw your “like” for a restaurant you don’t remember the name of but you liked something on the menu. . .
Or maybe you don’t want your friends to know. Everything is great. See how happy I am on Facebook? But no one really knows you. No one really knows you because they’re reading your Facebook statuses instead of inviting you over to sit and talk face-to-face about real life. Marriage troubles. Eating disorders. Relationships. Anger. Shame. Loneliness. Isolation. But not just struggles, joys too.
Maybe you are thrilled about a parenting breakthrough. You can call a friend who knows you and understands your parenting struggles and can share in your joy. Does your French partner from 10th grade truly share your joy? Indeed, should your French partner from 10th grade who happens to be of the opposite sex and who you had a crush on at the time – come on, French class?! – be your Facebook friend, oh married one? What are we doing to ourselves? What are we doing to each other? We’re robbing our true friends the honor of friendship.
Yesterday afternoon for two hours I had my cake and ate it too. My three-year-old was at her first day of school. My one-year-old was down for a nap. Wasting no time reading updates on my Facebook wall, I started a fire, made one of this season’s last eggnog lattes, and curled up to read. It was amazing. I was tempted to post my great fortune on Facebook, when my thoughts immediately turned to the topic of this blog. And then my thoughts turned to my friend J. She would truly share in my joy if I told her what a blessing it was to have those restful, peaceful hours to myself. All 649 of my Facebook friends don’t need to know that. J would be honored that I shared this simple pleasure with her just as she is honored when we share our trials.
So often our default is to share joys or trials as a status update and we devalue our true friends by not talking and sharing directly with them.
So often our default is to share joys or trials as a status update and we devalue our true friends by not talking and sharing directly with them. How often have you been startled by a troubling status update of a close friend, maybe even a friend you recently spoke with, only to wish they had told you in person what they were struggling with? I just saw you! Why didn’t you tell me? You just posted it on Facebook instead? Now you know they have the same trust and confidence in you as their 10th grade French partner who we’ve already established shouldn’t even be their Facebook friend. We’re killing off our real relationships!
How do we stop this madness that we’ve defaulted to? I’m not advocating we all close our Facebook accounts. Facebook is good for so many things. Sharing links [and likes]. Finding old crushes. (Wait, Facebook is not for that.) Sharing photos of a family vacation. But Facebook is still madness. Before you post your next status update, think about your friends, Facebook friends and otherwise – not yourself. Why am I posting? Do I need attention? Affirmation? Is there a friend I can call or meet with who would appreciate the real-person interaction and who values our friendship? Who can I honor by sharing this in-person or – GASP – in a mass email to people I actually know and can choose who receives the message?
I have a dear friend who struggled for years with infertility. When they got pregnant they were very deliberate in not sharing updates about the pregnancy on Facebook because they know how many people in general struggle with infertility – often silently. They emailed all their friends they knew would want to know about the pregnancy and kept us updated with ultrasound photos and baby growth via email. Would you gush about your pregnancy to a friend who is struggling with infertility? Most likely not. So why gush on Facebook where it’s likely some of your friends might be struggling with the same thing? Of course, when my friend gave birth to the baby they announced his birth on Facebook, but they were cognizant about not rubbing their pregnancy in the face of people who were struggling to conceive. They were so thoughtful and considerate, even as they were overjoyed with the blessing in their life and had every right to make that joy known. [I am not suggesting you do not post pregnancy updates on Facebook. I love pregnancy updates with growing belly pictures. My point is that my friends put great thought into what they post, why they post, and who the intended audience is].
Facebook has your name on but, like everything in life, it shouldn’t be about you. What?!? But I post comments and check every thirty seconds to see who has liked them or responded so I can be affirmed. I struggled with this same issue when starting my blog. Why blog? Initially, it was so I could record our family memories of travel and share that with interested friends and family. And that’s who usually reads it – all ten interested people – people who love me and know me. And that should be all that matters. I continually fight the drive to check for comments from people I’ve never met and see how many views I’ve had every day. That’s still something I’m working through in the blog and on Facebook. Hopefully you are to. In the meantime, be considerate. Be encouraging. And don’t post pictures of you in your bikini because my husband and I have a joint Facebook account and neither of us want to see it.