The day my mother joined Facebook, I updated my status to read: “That loud crashing sound you just heard? That was worlds . . . colliding.”
Imagine the noise, then, when my 16-year-old daughter created her page last month. Kateri is a responsible young lady, and yet still I felt the need to set some ground rules before allowing her the privilege of social networking.
It’s not just teenagers who need Facebook rules. We all do. Here are some of mine.
1. Less is more.
This is tricky, because I love to know other people’s details. I think it’s encouraging (and a little bit hilarious) when a friend confides to Facebook that she was mortified to hear her toddler shout out a curse word when he spilled a cup of juice at his grandmother’s house.
Once upon a time, though, people used to be demure. That was a good thing. I don’t need to know that the nice lady who sits near me at Mass is at Peak Day + 3 and her husband is making her crazy, and I don’t need to know the number of bowel movements my kids’ swimming teacher’s cat has had this morning. If you are wondering whether any particular bit of information is “over-sharing,” it probably is. We could all use a dose of good old-fashioned mystery.
2. Check your settings.
This is pretty basic, but the number of people who have no idea what the privacy settings are on their Facebook pages astonishes me. Even if you think you know what your settings are, make it a habit to check them frequently. One thing Facebook excels at is changing the rules when no one’s looking. You might have missed the memo that now sets “Everyone Sees Everything, Even that Karaoke Moment from Your Nephew’s Graduation Party” as the default.
3. Remember: It’s forever.
Yes, you can delete status updates, photos, and even “friends” who turn out to be weirdos, but a well-timed screen shot is all it takes to be your undoing — with your boss, your kid’s school, or your mother-in-law. Even if you maintain the strictest of privacy settings, remember that people love to talk and share, right-click and save. Don’t ever share something on Facebook you wouldn’t want the entire world to know.
4. Open your mind.
I had no idea how many Proposition 8 opponents I knew and loved before I joined Facebook. When people freely share their hearts and minds, you sometimes won’t agree with what you read. One of the ugliest things you can be on Facebook, though, is angry. If someone shares an opinion that reveals his deep-seated ignorance, be a loving friend. Share a positive and encouraging perspective. Point out what he gets right and what you recognize as his admirable motivations, and then — if you must — gently nudge him toward the Truth you know he is longing to hear.
5. Leave sometimes.
Make sure you log off regularly to explore the great big world beyond Facebook. And I don’t mean Twitter. Some of the most interesting and creative people I know in real life are the ones with AOL email accounts they check once a month. Real life and real relationships should feed your virtual connections, not the other way around. Besides, just think of the number of Facebook-able photos you could take if you joined a hiking club. Or a soccer team. Or your parish Bible study.
6. Protect your marriage.
There’s a lot of trouble for marriage on Facebook. That guy you married might burp at the table, forget your birthday, and grow hair from his ears, but the boy you dated in high school is forever young, thoughtful, witty, and cute. That girl you married might have put on a few pounds and developed an unearthly attachment to ratty yoga pants, but your ex-girlfriend is forever adoring, flirtatious, stylish, and svelte.
Don’t even think about it.
Be proactive and protect your marriage. Give your spouse your login and password. Leave your Facebook page open on the family computer for anyone to see. Make it a rule to never share anything on Facebook — especially in private messages — that you wouldn’t want your spouse to read or hear about.
New media is not the enemy, but neither is it our salvation. It is a tool — a tool that many people choose not to use, but one that some of us ignore at our peril. When both my mother and my daughter are engaged in social media, I wake up and pay attention. If God is calling me to use my gifts and to be an example of Catholic living, I can do that. At the grocery store, in my parish, on baseball field sidelines, and on Facebook.
Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will. Just tell me what my status update should be.