‘We need you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with Dad’

By Lee Feder

Sarah and I had an interesting conversation the other day about her dad Facebooking her. This came two days after another friend posited the question, “If your mom Facebooks you, what do you do?”

Over the past two years or so, the threat of uninvited people viewing college students’ Facebook content has increased. First, rumors circulated about companies checking Facebook via their young human resources employees’ accounts. Recently, Facebook went public and anyone could get an account, effectively making everyone’s photos of debauchery visible in a open forum. Anyone pursuing a job who has Facebook pictures of themselves doing keg stands or suffering “shamings” will have a long career path to success. Very long.

Before Facebook went public, my friend Lisa, who worked in human resources for a reputable company, gave me a piece of advice with respect to Facebook pictures. She told me that she would never hire anyone with whom she did not want to be friends. Implied in her statement was that showing some personality online is a good thing, but that there are boundaries people should keep in mind.

Everyone has personal secrets that only their most intimate friends know, yet the Internet is making such personal factoids more and more accessible to the general populace. What should the threshold be for self-censorship and when does our young generation’s lust for divulgence become self-destructive?

This recalls Sarah’s dad-Facebook dilemma. Everyone has information that, while not exactly private, they would rather their parents not know. Rejecting your parents as a Facebook friend, though, is rather harsh. Imagine the dinner table conversation that night:

“Hey Mom, how was work?”

“EXCUSE ME! You want to know how work is but won’t be my Facebook friend? That is soooooo not cool, Lee. We are NOT talking for a while.”

Right, because that is the situation everyone wants to be in when they return home for Thanksgiving break. However, accepting parents as Facebook friends can open a veritable Pandora’s box of problems. To wit:

“Dad wrote something on your wall.

To see what Dad wrote, follow the link below:”

Click.

“Son, what is that funnel and tube doing in the picture? Is that one of those beer hats or something? You know you’re not even 21. Do you have a drinking problem?”

One solution is to (heaven forbid) act sensibly and avoid all forms of incriminating behavior. I have been around the University too long, though, to believe that possible for the majority of campus. An admirable minority avoids putting itself in compromising positions while the rest of the population will graduate with at least one picture it would rather not see again.

A better solution is for our generation to cure itself of its impulse to share personal information. We take pleasure in revealing our innermost secrets to the world, visually through Facebook pictures and YouTube videos, orally via podcasts and verbally with blogs. We are a voyeuristic generation that enjoys exposing our own personal demons as much as learning other people’s.

The implicit paradox of accepting a parent as a Facebook friend is that of privacy. We relish the willing revelation of our private matters yet take offense when others look without permission. Parents fall into that second category, creating Sarah’s dilemma.

Sarah accepted her dad as a friend because her relationship with her parents is one of trust and she has nothing to hide. Other people should follow her lead. There are real dangers on the Internet, from sexual predators to those simply wanting to steal your credit card. Maintaining a facade of maturity mandates prudence when choosing the pictures we post on Facebook.

While that discretion represents the real world’s encroachment into college life, self-censorship is a necessary step toward adulthood. At some point, college will end and people will have to answer for their youthful miscalculations. The privacy concerns in the real world are far more serious than hiding keg stands from mommy and daddy.