So, for the sake of not being a hypocrite and not making everyone angry with me, I’ll start out with the obvious fact that I use Facebook (sometimes too much). I think there are a lot of great things about it.
But, now that the disclaimer is over, here’s something else to think about: we have instant easy access to a whole lot of information about others makes it easier for us to nose around where we aren’t wanted.
You know the old stereotype of the old woman who sits on her porch knitting, bespeckled eyes trained on the small town goings-on so she can always be ready with the latest gossip? (I’m thinking of Rachel Lynde, for all you Anne of Green Gables fans.) That old lady was the only one in town who really could be an effective busybody because she was the only one with the time to sit around eavesdropping, people-watching, and information-gathering.
Thanks to the Internet, all of us can do that with just a few clicks. Chances are, if I wander over to your Facebook profile, I can know an awful lot about you: what movies you’ve watched, how you vote, what events you’ve been to recently, who would be on your zombie apocalypse team, and what stupid chain letter things you participated in during high school.
And, if I’m feeling like a stalker, I can find out all those things about your mom, your siblings, your roommate, and your boyfriend/girlfriend too.
Thanks to social media, we have an incredible amount of information about people. Sometimes that’s good—Facebook is great for sharing pictures, keeping up with friends who moved away, planning events, etc. But I’d like to claim that Facebook is also really good at making us busybodies.
Not convinced? Answer the following questions:
Have you ever judged someone based on something they posted on Facebook?
Are there any conversations that probably shouldn’t take place via Facebook messages…but you know they do?
Do you ever hear conversations about dating couples’ relationships that are heavily annotated with information gleaned from Facebook?
Can you think of any instance in which Facebook has created drama that should have been avoided?
Have you ever seen something on Facebook, then wondered (or worried about) whether you should say something to the poster about it when you next see them in person?
Yep. That’s what I thought.
I think it’s important for us to remember our place in a digital age that tends to remove boundaries. What do we do when we don’t have to peek over the back fence or lean closer to the phone booth to invade the privacy of others, because they’re displaying their whole lives for everyone to see? A few things, I think.
- Resist gossip. Always. It’s so much easier now, but not a shred more appropriate or necessary.
- Know your place. This Relevant article on giving advice puts it well: “Speaking into someone’s life requires an awareness of your differences. Who is the person in front of you? Are you peers? Are they coming to you for advice? Are they younger or older? Are you in a secular setting or faith community? Are you different genders or cultures?” Once you understand your relationship and your responsibility to that person, you can decide when to speak up and when to butt out.
- There are times when it’s none of your business. But there are times when you should be confronting others, or telling them you’re worried about their relationship with their boyfriend/girlfriend, or getting involved with their lives when they don’t want you to (but they need you to). It takes discernment to know the difference.
- Consider clinging to your own privacy. The following has been my “About Me” section on my Facebook profile/timeline/whatever-they’re-calling-it-now since high school: “There are a lot of blanks on this little information page. That's intentional. If you want to know who I am and what I like, get to know me in person. (Or maybe this is a setup and I just don't have any interests/hobbies/favorite quotes because I'm a really boring person. It could be that too.)” I kind of like it. It’s got just the right note of curmudgeonliness, and keeps you from knowing every possible thing about my life.
Facebook is here to stay, the good, the bad, and the ugly. What matters is how we chose to use it. If we’re careful to be intentional about relationships despite the dangers of anonymity, narcissism, and information overload that social media can pose, that will make our friendships more real.
And it’ll keep us from being that old lady on the porch snooping on everyone’s activities. Because what kind of a life is that, anyway?