The Perils of Facebook

I’ve said before that I have a love-hate thing going with Facebook. I’m on it quite a bit, between putting these posts on the Capital District Fun page, adding all sorts of updates to the KidsOutAndAbout page, and helping out with the Schenectady Working Group on Girls page. It’s reconnected me to some lovely people, and I like keeping up with them. Plus, there are pages that I’ve “liked” that always offer up something illuminating or fun, like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.

But there are things I hate too, of course, like how Facebook puts the pages with cash up front and hides those of us who are cheapskates. And also how sometimes you find out someone you thought was lovely has crazypants-awful views about something, and then you have to decide whether to say something or ignore it, to “unfriend” or “hide,” or whatever.

I’ve had a couple of other awkward Facebook situations lately. The first is when I had a quick calendar panic and texted my friend Jen:

“Crap!!! Is the first OWL class tonight?!?!”

It took just a minute or so before I realized whom I’d texted.  Not Jen, the one whose daughter will be attending the OWL class with M. But Jen, the girl who was in a couple of my high school classes, whom I haven’t seen in the past twenty years. Well, maybe she was at that one reunion, but we didn’t chat. And as the realization erupted from my gut and vaporized out the pores of my flushing cheeks, my phone pinged:

“Who is this?”

Ah, who indeed?

Readers, what would you have done? I confessed, we exchanged friendly texts, and I beat a hasty techno-retreat. Luckily I had an easy excuse, since I was clearly not on top of the family’s evening schedule.

But, that was awesome.

No, no. It wasn’t really so bad, just a little embarrassing.

Much worse is what I’ll call the Facebook Condolence Feed-Flood. That’s when something like this shows up in your news feed:

So-and-so posted on Jane Doe‘s page: We’re thinking of you, Jane, dear. Much love from us all!

Somebody else posted on Jane Doe‘s page: So terrible! You have our family’s sympathy.

Another person posted on Jane Doe‘s page: Please let us know if there’s anything we can do.

7 Other friends posted on Jane‘s page.

And then your stomach turns inside out, and you start calculating. What’s going on? Is it Jane’s daughter? She and my daughter hang out all the time! Is it her husband? Dammit, what’s his name again? Wait, if it’s some ongoing thing, we could totally carpool, that would be helpful, right? Oh, no, what if it’s not ongoing? What if someone’s died? Wait, are they vegetarians? I have that massive pot of soup. But that’s stupid–clearly someone else has offered up food. Wait, what’s her address–I could drop off a card. Except, what do I say when I have no idea what’s going on? Oh, crap.

And then you click on the person’s page and try to figure out what’s going on. And you consider if any of the people who’ve posted on the page would be willing to update you without thinking that you’re just trying to get the latest gossip. And of course you’re curious. But it’s also that helpless, powerless feeling of knowing someone’s in trouble and not knowing if there’s anything that you can do. So maybe you tell that good friend of Jane’s who’s not on Facebook that she should check in with Jane? Because you’re not close enough to be on this person’s Crisis A-List, but you want to be helpful. And just asking for information would be causing trouble without helping, and you’re a firm believer in that whole comfort-in, dump-out Ring Theory thing. Your distress at wondering if everyone’s okay is not something that anyone who’s inside the circle needs to solve. But you know how to make casseroles! And watch children! And make phone calls. . . well, you hate making phone calls, but you’d do it. Absolutely.

Seriously, has this happened to any of you? It’s happened, multiple times, on my news feed, and every time it starts to feel like this incredibly awkward thing. Like, people want to do something or say something, but they also don’t want to betray anyone’s confidence. But it comes off weirdly creepy thing, or at least that’s how it feels to me. As a policy, I don’t Facebook-condolence unless someone’s Facebook-announced something. It just feels way too public. And way too private. And all that.

But because I completely hate these situations, I’d like to put it on the record here: please, if something awful happens to my family and you would like to react via Facebook, I urge you to make your post as informative as possible, as a service to my other friends. You might say, for example:

Katie, I was so sorry to hear that aliens abducted your whole entire family, but isn’t it fortunate that the girls were dropped out of the spaceship’s beam and only suffered broken tailbones? I’m going to visit them at Ellis during the 4-7 pm visiting hours, since you said it was okay, and meanwhile, I’ve signed the petition asking NASA to set up a search party for Cute W, and here’s the link if others want to sign, too.

or, maybe:

Oh, man! I just heard about your tragic pogo-stick-hopping accident, and I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been confined to your bed for the next 5 weeks. I’m bringing mint chocolate chip ice cream and trashy magazines for you and fried meat and baby carrots for your kids, and I’m going to check your list of favorite recipes to do more. and I can’t take on your current PTO obligations or walk your cat, but I’m sure that someone from the neighborhood can!

And I will be comforted and my friends and neighbors will be suitably informed. And if anyone Facebook-chastises you for over-sharing, other blog readers will rise up in your defense and suggest that people who have time to engage in debates with friends-of-friends would do better spending their time cooking meals for me and leaving them, anonymously (so that it’s impossible to write thank you notes) in disposable containers at my door. And you will be rewarded with massively wonderful karma.

And even mentioning this feels like I should knock on wood, because I’m clearly jinxing myself. In fact, maybe part of my strong reaction to the Facebook Condolence Feed-Flood is that I have a neurotic desire to do something helpful when tragedy strikes, as if responding to other people will give me some sort of karmic booster against ever needing help back. In fact, I even wrote about this on the blog before. Which is, of course, delusional. Maybe I just need to be more content with offering up vague good wishes and general prayers.

I understand that whining about this is entirely selfish. And even though I offered up those samples as a “service to my other friends,” I would genuinely appreciate mint chocolate chip ice cream and trashy magazines if I’m ever confined to bed. So, really, that’s pretty selfish, too. Am I, like, the worst person ever? You’re totally going to “unfriend” me, aren’t you? I guess this post is moot. Never mind.



  1. Erin T

    Best meal delivery advice ever: “leaving them, anonymously (so that it’s impossible to write thank you notes) in disposable containers at my door.”

  2. @Erin T: I used to always go anonymous when I’d do meals for the new mamas in moms’ group. Because when I was exhausted, I’d prefer to cook a pot of soup over obtaining, writing, addressing, and mailing out a card every time.

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