It’s funny how we censor ourselves around certain people. For several years I've successfully avoided my relatives on Facebook, not because I don’t like them but because, well, I’m largely inappropriate most of the time, and while it truly doesn't bother me that they see the “real” me, I know my mom would disapprove if it got back to her (she’s not on Facebook), and that does bother me. It was several months ago that my first relative on my mom’s side found me and requested to be my friend. I thought I had successfully duped my family by not having listed my real name in association to my Facebook account. Instead, I only identified myself by my derby persona, which I knew they weren't likely to remember. At each family gathering I still get asked, “You still doing that roller blading?” to which I had learned to reply, “Yes, yes I am.” If they can’t even remember the sport correctly, how on god’s green earth would they remember my derby name? Well, I can only assume my cousin either looked up my husband to find me or saw my name in a newspaper article associated with my derby name and bingo! I couldn't deny the friendship, and truth be told, I was eager to talk to my cousins more often than I did – I was just hoping my mouth wouldn't push them further away, especially when they had just reached out to become closer.
That first family connection came a little over 6 months ago, and since then things have been fine. If anything, while my cousins (all older than me) are largely inactive in posting on Facebook, I know that they do read my statuses and I can see that they have become more free in their speech around me as a consequence of our internet friendship. Recently, however, I face a new challenge: my cousins’ kids are now on Facebook, and they have requested to be my friend. Initially I denied one, but then I didn’t hear the end of it from her, so after several months had passed and she requested to be my friend once again, I went ahead and granted her request. She’s 10. And just this morning she schooled me over Facebook IM as to what “hby” means. In fairness, she had typed, “good hby”, which I took as a typo to mean goodbye. I didn’t answer, and then I was informed that hby means “how bout u”. I couldn’t even LOL at myself, I felt so fucking old. I instead attempted to answer her question and tell her about work, which I’m sure she cares about deeply. So deeply she never responded back. Oh, well.
It’s funny, I often consider censoring myself because I know my 10-year old cousin may see a status update full of potty mouth, but for better or worse, inevitably I don’t. I have another second cousin that I’m friends with on Facebook who just turned 16. I don’t worry about the potty mouth so much with her, because I know she knows how to use discretion and not just repeat everything she hears or reads, but I do worry about things I might say that are overtly sexual in nature, albeit most of the time they are in jest. I’m not a parent, so I’ve never before considered having to censor myself in, say, the privacy of my own home because my kids are there. I assume some level of discretion is needed, so your kid doesn’t get sent to the principal’s office for repeating something she’s heard, but that discretion seems to vary depending on age, and this seems to mirror (at least in part) what I’m now facing on Facebook.
Then there’s the parents. Occasionally I’ll stumble across a photo or status update made by a friend, and a string of comments below that post in which the friend’s mom scolds him or her for having said or shown something “inappropriate”. The friend usually apologizes in another comment, while the friend’s friends bust him or her for getting busted by a parent decades after they’ve moved out of said parent’s house. In this instance, this is why I think Facebook is good: most people are “themselves” on Facebook, and this often forces the people who know or are related to them to see them how they really are. While parents may initially balk at language used by their adult children or something else, it forces acceptance of the adult child for who they really are – flaws and all – which in my experience means that the relationship with a parent is deepened. This, of course, is a totally different dynamic than exposing your true self to children who have not yet developed an adult sense of right and wrong.
I’ve thought about sending a DM to all my little cousins essentially telling them that while I’m a proponent of free speech and that while I am comfortable with them telling me anything using any words they choose, if I find out they start using words or discussing inappropriate topics that they’ve gotten from me, I’ll unfriend them. Still, I’m unsure if this ultimatum or warning is the right approach. Inevitably, I rely on parents to block me if they deem me inappropriate, and I won’t be upset if they do.
This time last year I wasn’t linked to my family via Facebook, and while I spend more time worrying about how I present myself now because we’re all friends I feel that worry is an acceptable price to pay for being able to become closer to many of my relatives who I would typically only see at weddings and funerals. I’m not perfect, but my intentions are good, and I never would have guessed that social media, of all things, would bring me closer to my family. I’m glad it has.