There’s been a lot of chatter lately about Facebook and the various threats to its future success, but it seems to me like everyone is missing the boat. There’s just one thing that has been very clearly eating away at the very fibers of what made Facebook cool in the first place, and it’s not data breaches or the Russians—it’s our parents.
I wasn’t cool (or young) enough to join Facebook when it first launched and was available exclusively to college students, but I was exposed to that brave new online world, compliments of a college intern working for me. I asked her to friend my then college-aged sister so I could see what she was up to, and within minutes I had a glimpse into a virtual reality the likes of which I had never known.
There were pics of frat parties and keg stands and girls in sky-high stilettos rocking tiny leopard print skirts. There were pics of my sister making out with her boyfriend that made my jaw drop. But it wasn’t just my sister; it seemed every student was willing—if not eager—to post every lurid detail of their crazy collegiate life online for other college coeds to admire.
When Facebook finally opened to the general public via invitation shortly thereafter, I was quick to accept. What I found there was a more subdued version of the Wild, Wild West I had been exposed to in my cubicle a year or two earlier. I quickly reconnected with high school friends and college buddies and spent what was probably an obscene amount of time pouring through their lives online. They celebrated marriages, birthed children, and documented trips to exotic places. It was fun to catch up and keep abreast of the details of major life events that would have otherwise been revealed to me only at the 10- or 20-year class reunion.
That’s what Facebook was, really: a way to keep in touch with friends and let them know what was going on with you.
And then our parents wanted in on the action, and slowly the dynamic changed.
For me, the wall started to crumble with Farmville. My very suburban mom joined Facebook and immediately became an avid “farmer.” Her devotion to her crops was supernatural, and she was not alone. Suddenly my previously interesting news feed became littered with notifications about various levels these aspirational farmers reached and the abundance of their harvests. It was an annoyance, but if I had known how benign it was compared to today’s alternatives, perhaps I would’ve embraced and even encouraged everyone’s participation in the mind-numbing but inoffensive activity.
Fast-forward to my news feed today, and Farmville is the least of my concerns. My mom is posting Fake News articles like her life depends on it. She cannot and will not be deterred by her family’s frequent attempts to curtail her ridiculous posts via fact-checking sites like Snopes. An avid Trump supporter who is not shy about voicing her disapproval to the opposition, I imagine she shines like a neon bullseye in the night to any Russians looking for targets through whom they can create dissension in the ranks.
My mom’s vigilante online persona is a far cry from the quiet, conservative, and respected member of the community I know IRL. Her online presence is pretty much cringe-inducing to me and my husband, and we have both, at various times, considered unfriending her, given our impression that ignorance is definitely bliss.
My dad, long divorced from my mom, was late to join the Facebook craze, but when he did, he took it on with the fervor of a long-awaited passion project. I imagine his daily mantra is “no post left unliked, no picture left uncommented on.” And it wouldn’t be that bad if his comments were normal. But they’re usually not.
They run the gamut from completely inappropriate comments about my female friends’ physique to a running commentary about the weather. Completely oblivious to the functionality of Facebook, I think he sees his comments on posts as a one-on-one conversation, which they obviously are not. They are an open letter to the world. And the world is not impressed, nor am I.
I’ve commiserated with friends enough on the matter to know I’m not the only one who opens Facebook with clenched teeth. I dread the moment when my eyes land on my mom’s most recent anti-Democrat tirade or my dad’s oblivious ramblings about gender equality, defined from his perspective as why women should be allowed to run topless just like men. You can see what I’m dealing with here.
I find myself logging onto Facebook less and spending even less time scrolling through my feed to avoid my parents’ completely weird and prolific online personas and return to a time when I thought they were normal people—you know, like you and me. But of course our parents aren’t the only ones showing their colors on Facebook, and fortunately for us all, not all parents are as embarrassing as mine.
So when you ask me if I’ve seen such and such on Facebook, and I say no, now you’ll know why. And if one day I end up running out of options and join the #deletefacebook movement, you will also know why. It’s not the selling of my personal and private information—that I can handle. It’s not Zucky’s lackluster personal communication style (“I’m really sorry that this happened”…really?!). It’s not even the ads that pop up mysteriously after I’ve talked with a friend about that very product. That’s weird, but also kinda helpful in a way. The reality is that I’m saying peace out to Facebook because I CAN’T EVEN with my very own parents. Can we just go back to the good ol’ days when they embarrassed us in the carpool line?