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Life

Should I Friend My Mom?

Facebookers, heed my advice. Fence out the family.

By Rob Peters 6 May 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Rob Peters is navigating the harsh vicissitudes of life.

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And what if Grandma pokes me?

Facebook is different things to different people. It's a social planner, news aggregator, gossip generator, procrastination enabler, work distracter, Scrabble scorekeeper, and singles nightclub -- all in one.

But in addition to these somewhat useful roles, there's another Facebook function becoming increasingly common, and it's almost universally awkward for everyone involved. I'm talking about family networking on Facebook -- the uncomfortable intermingling of social worlds both familial and friend.

While befriending Mom and Dad on Facebook may not involve fluorescent "Peters reunion" t-shirts like the ones I was forced to wear at family parties growing up, online family networking provides plenty of embarrassing opportunities for public family dysfunction.

First of all, poking. A poke is gross enough coming from anyone, even vague romantic interests, but the gesture takes on a whole new level of uncomfortable when it comes from a family member. Does anyone want to be poked by his or her uncle, really? I don't even know what poking on Facebook is supposed to mean, but it's weird and makes me feel ashamed.

I noticed yesterday that a friend's Facebook status had been suddenly changed to a desperate plea: "My grandma just poked me." Apparently she had learned about the feature through his uncle and was enjoying a poking renaissance. This is but one of the dangers of crossing bloodlines online.

Secondly, observing your teenage nephew hit on girls for the first time isn't a tender learning moment in the relationship. While it's lovely to observe a young boy's transition into manhood during the spring of his youth, it's also completely embarrassing. Fifteen-year-old boys aren't smooth, nor should they be. But this is why the first few woos were meant to be confidential, not Facebooked for posterity. It's especially off-putting when you once babysat the amorous social networker.

Control the message

The same friend with the poking grandma learned on Facebook that his cousin is gay. It's wonderful his cousin feels comfortable being out, but learning about it on Facebook seems wrong somehow. Wouldn't it be better to hear this type of information in person, rather than stumbling upon it en route to your next game of online Scrabble? Admittedly, though, it's probably an easier road than announcing it at Thanksgiving dinner.

Even distant relatives pose a threat on Facebook, especially if you don't see them often. Debauched pictures will replace the image they have of you as a young child playing tag in the glen by your uncle's sunflower farm. They'll wonder why all your Facebook pictures now feature beer and cigarettes and conclude you've become a wayward ne'er-do-well.

Trapped by truth

Perhaps the biggest problem with Facebook inbreeding is that it interferes with lying. We all know white lies enable family functioning -- the only families in therapy are the ones that speak the truth.

Getting out of a Sunday family dinner with a "my dog has irritable bowel syndrome" excuse is perfectly acceptable in a pre-Facebook world.

But what happens when at the time of your supposed vet appointment, your status update says, "Tim is sipping Martinis and pondering his future life of crime"? The tenuous fabric of the family disintegrates, that's what. Suddenly you're not that child playing tag amongst the sunflowers, not even to your mom. You're a wayward ne'er-do-well again, and the word is getting out.

So, just as the division of church and state is to remain sacrosanct, so too is the fence between family and Facebook -- it's that important. Big brother, the literal one who beat you up as a child, has no place on your social networks.

Well actually, ever notice that Facebook ads creepily exploit your weakness for subtropical coming-of-age docudramas? It's not a family member that told them that.

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