What Does Your Facebook Status Reveal?
I have given up posting statuses on Facebook for Lent as a sort of fast from a habit of self-indulgence. I had gotten into the habit of posting anything that occurred to me that I thought a certain percentage of my 174 friends might find funny, entertaining, or interesting and posted a status maybe three or four times per week.
Of course, the moment I give something up, I seem to be bombarded with temptation, whether the sacrifice is chocolate or Facebook statuses. Suddenly I constantly get great ideas for funny or entertaining or helpful things I could post. A voice whispers, “But it’s such a funny story. You can make an exception just this once. This one will HELP someone or make someone LAUGH.” I resist. I’ve got to think people can live without my help or entertainment for a few weeks. I can do this!
I considered giving up Facebook altogether for Lent—disabling my account or just keeping off the site. But this would seem like a turning away from opportunities to serve and encourage others. I have not banned myself from commenting on other people’s status if I think I can be encouraging or comforting. I do not think Facebook a bad thing. Like any technology, it is a tool that can be used for good or for evil. On the good side, I find Facebook gives me many new opportunities to pray for and encourage others. Perhaps it is because of my particular personality, but I find that I get to know people more intimately through Facebook than I ever did through non-virtual contact.
Does Facebook encourage shallow relationships?
I have read commentary on Facebook that criticizes its encouragement of shallow relationships. I can see how it can be perceived in this way. The prefabricated terminology that makes you to call someone you barely know a “friend” does cheapen the precious word. However, in my experience, even when a person I do not know well becomes my friend on Facebook, I often soon get to know them better than I ever would have otherwise. In most cases, knowing them better means I like them more and care more about what happens to them.
Also, Facebook has given me a better understanding of the differences between exterior appearances and internal character. My "status fast" is giving me a chance to stand back and think about this Facebook phenomenon and all the ways people, including myself, use it to promote themselves or to reach out to others. Most people do both.
NOTE: Any time I discuss other people, I will change their names and some things about the circumstances to protect their privacy.
Some people come right out and reveal very personal information, sometimes in heartbreaking ways. They are hurting, depressed, bitter, or lonely. Others give hints, often unintentionally, through the things they choose to share. As far as I know, I have not come across anyone who outright lies, but I have no doubt there are people out there who do. There are also people who reveal themselves through what they do not post.
One woman—I’ll call her Angela—mostly posts her thoughts and feelings about celebrities in the news. Whenever she posts anything else, it is a complaint about or a warning to other people against revealing too much information, because as she says, people really don’t want to know your business. Angela is telling me, in a way I would never have otherwise known, that she wants to keep an emotional distance and prefers to keep her communication with others on neutral ground. Had my only contact with Angela been at the office, I would only have perceived her only as a pleasant friendly person. Through Facebook I can see that her tolerance for self-revelation, either by herself or others, has serious limits.
Someone might ask, “How can you know a person better when they are revealing only the image of they want to project?” That would be a fair question. First of all, we all try to project the image we want others to see in all our public interactions. But on Facebook in particular, you might think that everyone is always living a fun-filled happy life and that their children are always winning championships, performing in concerts, and getting straight A’s on their report cards. Like one big multimedia Christmas letter.
Of course, the Facebook program is set up to identify our interests and patterns of behavior for marketing purposes. But you don't have to be a computer program to perceive patterns. Charles constantly shares the activities of his gymnast daughter, posting pictures of her performances and telling us all the things he loves doing for her and her team: fundraising, driving, paying the big bucks for travel events. Occasionally Charles mentions his teenage son, perhaps once for every 20 times he mentions his daughter. I don’t know the reasons behind his family dynamics but I cannot help but observe what he chooses to reveal, what he does not, and how frequently. I see patterns that I would never have seen by just chatting in the break room.
Evonne frequently posts information about what a wonderful provider her husband is. She posts little stories about all the ways Bill is the perfect husband—getting promotions at work, bringing her flowers and gifts, expertly installing all their new home technology. In response to her status, Bill’s comments about what a good wife and homemaker Evonne is and how proud he is of how she fulfills her purpose as a woman. Sometimes Evonne's mother will comment about how glad she is her daughter found a good man. Evonne also frequently posts about how their kids made honor roll and how cute they are. This is all well and good and I’m sincerely glad Evonne and her husband are happy.
But being the psychologically curious type, I cannot help but wonder why Evonne feels the need to constantly reinforce this picture of her perfect family. I can’t help but notice that Evonne never comments on anyone else’s status. She never compliments anyone except her husband and children and never expresses an opinion other than approval for traditional family roles as enacted in her own family. I notice that, although Evonne has 468 friends, rarely does anyone other than her husband and mother comment on her status.
It appears to me that Evonne is using Facebook as a way to present her family as a paragon of virtue while more or less ignoring everyone else. It’s not as if I am eavesdropping, although it can feel that way. People deliberately share this information. Maybe I notice too much, but I do not exactly have to strain my brain or give even it much thought to become aware of these patterns. Don’t get me wrong. Most of what I notice makes me like people more.
Privacy versus revelation
So during these weeks of Lent, I am giving some thought to what I reveal when I post statuses. What patterns to people see? Whom do I annoy? How do I want to use this powerful tool? In answer to that last question, I do want to maintain friendships and connect with people. I also like learning about people and getting new insight into what makes them tick. This is very valuable stuff for a writer. By the way, the irony of a writer giving up two-sentence Facebook statuses but plowing forth with 1500-word articles for HubPages is not lost on me. Issues of privacy and self-revelation are of prime concern for any writer. We all need to make decisions about where we are going to draw the line between honesty and privacy, especially when it comes to writing about other people.
Facebook statuses are one thing, and writing articles is another. Writing is what I do and I do not get the sense that God expects me to give it up. In fact, I feel compelled to do more of it. But every now and then it is a good thing to practice a small deliberate discipline and Lent is a great time for that. It is a well-defined, sufficiently lengthy period of time, and ends with celebration of Resurrection, a logical chance to start anew armed with new insight that you have gained through your chosen discipline. I think I will probably post a status wish my friends a Happy Easter.