Eyes Wide Shut

 Last year Rachel Balducci blogged over at Faith and Family Live! about facebook. She talked about the love/hate relationship she has. Many agreed. Some disagreed because they either loved or hated it. One woman was exceptionally bitter:one of her family member shared her private news about a pregnancy on facebook.

The fault of that was not facebook’s but the relative who shared this information in such a public forum without permission. I could certainly understand this woman’s feelings although her target was somewhat misguided. This is probably a person who would have emailed a listserv, or put out a blog post, or written letters, called their entire contacts list or written letters, depending on the time she lived in.

I was reminded of a college classmate who was married and shared how her mother-in-law called her husband’s entire family to announce their engagement before they had a chance to let people know. It angered her husband so badly that he contemplated inviting his mother but not having her walk down the aisle and not to a mother-son dance. She eventually convinced her husband that was not the track to take but insisted they sit down with his mother to explain why what she had done was wrong.

It seems as though when someone has very personal information to share we should allow that person to share it themselves is common sense. What many people don’t realize is because they themselves were told, others may not have been. And things start to get sticky at that point.

About a month ago a post went up on a friend’s facebook page from someone congratulating my friend on becoming a grandmother for the second time. Her daughter-in-law announced a pregnancy on her facebook page and this friend felt it was okay to put congratulations out. Almost immediately a comment came up saying, “What?! When did this happen?!” Another friend was actually annoyed that someone knew about this before she had been told. While this was an altogether minor instance, it can get out of hand quite easily when family is involved.

When we announced our first pregnancy, my mother asked permission to tell my grandmother, who turned around and called all my aunts and uncles and informed them. I wasn’t upset, because I knew that would happen, but when the same thing happened to my brother and sister-in-law, it rubbed my brother the wrong way. He wanted to share his news. And you really can’t blame him.

My brother’s situation though, brings to light the complexity of “family news.” When a major life event happens, it rarely happens singularly, it happens to the whole family. A wedding means two people become husband and wife, but also means a family gains a son or daughter. A pregnancy means a couple welcomes a child, but grandparents also gain a grandchild, brothers and sisters become aunts and uncles. When/how do they get to share their good news?

Recently a status went up on facebook friend’s page that stated she had a new grandson. Of course people sent congratulations but when one ventured to ask the baby’s name, weight, etc she responded that that was information only the parents could share. She also mentioned that the parents did not want to share a lot of information via facebook because of how public it was. This was somewhat problematic because, of course, she has lots of friends who are not facebook friends with the new parents and didn’t even know them. And the questions this person was asking are fairly normal questions asked when a birth is announced, didn’t she expect someone would ask them? I was struck, why was the grandmother sharing news of the birth at all as now people who were virtual strangers to the couple now had that information. She stated she only posted this information because her daughter-in-law had posted the birth on her own page. Right, because she wanted her friends to see it, that was not giving permission for any family members to broadcast the birth on their pages…it becomes a slippery slope indeed. Especially for the woman to chastise the person asking in such a fashion. It might have been more appropriate for her to post something like, “My son and his wife became parents to a beautiful new baby boy today. To protect their privacy they have asked that no details of the birth be disclosed,” instead of assuming people would know that was the couple’s preference.

The bottom line is that EVERYTHING you communicate electronically, blog posts (even on “private blogs”), facebook, email, comments on a website or text messages are NOT private. And just because you deleted them does not mean they do not still exist. Hackers could expose them, worse, a friend could innocently copy something and accidentally distribute it. And, God forbid you are doing something illegal, the authorities will see it. If you don’t want pictures of your kids on the internet, don’t upload them, don’t email them. Print them at home and snail mail them to relatives. Don’t open a facebook account if you engage in activities of any sort that are frowned upon at your place of work. And don’t share information you aren’t prepared for the entire world to see or hear, even if your web page, facebook profile, and blog are private.

Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it allows us to communicate with friends, family and even strangers more easily than ever before. On the other hand, it allows us to communicate with friends, family and even strangers too easily. Don’t expect privacy and don’t let out anything you don’t want to hurt you.