Geek Ethicist: Friend your Spouse?

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“Dear Ethicist–

Perhaps this is a question for the Internet Miss Manners, but I have yet to find her. So I’m asking you. Here’s my question: Should spouses be friends on Facebook?

In my limited experience, what I’ve seen from the interaction of spouses on Facebook falls into three categories:

1.) The spouses are friends on FB but rarely ever communicate with each other via FB or if they do, their friends don’t know it (one spouse has a fake name, for example).

2.) The spouses are friends on FB and it goes very, very badly: one spouse openly flirts on FB, or the spouses divorce and make nasty comments to each other via FB, etc.

3.) The spouses are friends on FB and constantly post saccharine comments to/about the other spouse saying how wonderful/ideal/amazing/etc. they are.

facebook-couple
Number one is the ideal, number two is a train wreck with many spectators and number three just annoys everyone except the spouses involved. We are talking about “social” media here and let’s face it: most spouses don’t hang out with their spouses’ friends. If FB mimics real life, it would seem that each spouse would have their group of friends, some of whom would be mutual, but generally the two spouses would not interact a great deal. I mean, aren’t we all just creating an extended network of friends on FB? And does your spouse really need MORE information about you, like what you ate for breakfast? Because didn’t s/he SEE you eat those cornflakes for breakfast? And if you love your spouse so darn much, shouldn’t you just tell him/her instead of the rest of us who don’t really care?
What is your take, Ethicist? Are you friends with your wife on Facebook? And do you really enjoy reading about what she ate for breakfast?

Sign me–
Frustrated Facebook Friend”

Dear FFF,

For the sake of full disclosure, I have ‘friended’ my wife on Facebook; we never post directly to each other, yet I enjoy reading her posts. And I do try to make her laugh with mine. We are cognizant of each other on FaceBook; yet intentionally avoid direct FB contact. I do know her phone number after all. This is not to say I recommend our strategy, but only that I recognize the problems posed on a personal level as well as a theoretical level. Your questions are extremely thought provoking, but I want to approach this from the perspective of trying to determine how best to manage the tension between the professional use of a Facebook Profile and the personal use of a Facebook Profile.  A Facebook business Page is an entirely different topic for a different time.

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So, to answer your question I have come up with a list of what I call “The Five Categories of Facebook Profiles.”  Some are awful, some are not. See if you recognize them. The problem is not whether or not spouses should be friends on Facebook but rather how should people create their ideal social lives on Facebook. Facebook’s terms of service requires that we really be ourselves on Facebook, and just one self per person, too.

The Five Categories of Facebook Profiles:

1. Narcissists

facebook-narcissist These are the candidates for LameBook.   Like all narcissists, FB narcissists are not usually happy, and they often come in miserable pairs. They have issues. They have strange illnesses, food allergies, diets, enemies, fears and they post constantly!  They wreck your news feed. Their posts are bizarrely long and this type of user is generally oblivious to all customary FB protocol. They are not novices: they just don’t care. It’s only about them, after all. We know they never read any other status but their own and they will comment on their own status in another status, usually inappropriately. If you find one person over and over in your news feed, that is the narcissist.

Narcissists come in various annoying flavors, but most are reckless and self destructive. Three subsets are noteworthy: The Pathetic Narcissist posts about sadness and illness, ex-spouses, horrible bosses, and bad weather. The Obnoxious Narcissist is the one whose posts consist entirely of the wretched thumping music blaring from FB car windows at rush hour: inevitably we learn about their religion, sex lives, bowel habits and drug use, ALL IN CAPS. The Love Warrior Narcissistic Couple. Ick. They relish public FB displays of affection and strife. We see their evolving tattoos of each other, pre-divorce and post divorce. These are the moribund couples whose disasters you watch, squinting through your fingers, wishing you could turn away.

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2.  Pure Pro Business Creepers

facebook-businessThese are the people who never ever offend anyone with their posts because they never post. They friend everyone from coworkers to distant family members to high-school friends.  Everything is what you would want to hear and see from a future employee. They are tasteful and polite and sometimes even interesting. They use Facebook like an extension of LinkedIn.  They are the moral egoists of Facebook. For them Facebook is quite simply a very effective business tool. They develop enormous networks and systematically creep through their feed looking for that perfect business opportunity. It is never a bad idea to friend these people since they have the connections you may need too.

3.  Perfect Integrators

facebook-integratorsThese are the true champions of Facebook. They manage both their personal relationships and their professional relationships simultaneously. They are witty, thoughtful, informative and never put their professional lives in jeopardy with reckless posts. They friend family, colleagues and their weird interesting real friends from their college days. They have incredible memories of who they friend and are extremely careful not to be douchebags. They are generally morally competent, polite folks who never post their status more than twice a day. They post authentic pictures of family vacations and their kid’s birthday parties. They never mention what they are eating or brag about their children or partners or anything to make others think snarky things about them. They seem to really like us, not just “Like” us. They share real enduring friendships for years on Facebook and post things they know will actually appeal to their friends. They look forward to their friends’ posts and miss them if they fail to post for a few days. They enjoy subtlety, and periodically, intentionally, don’t post their status just to be sure they have annoyed no one and also to create a bit of suspense about where they have been. These are our favorite FaceBook friends. They are authentic people we often admire.They may be gods or extraterrestrials.

4. Non-user Users

no-user-facebbok-usersThese are the people who have an FB profile and rarely use it. This is the non-user user: they find no use for FB but know it enhances their status in the family over the holidays. They usually have three or four “friends,” have no idea what a “feed” is or even how to post a status update. If they are lucky, their wives or children post for them and let them know what they care to know.  They will brag about being on The Facey Book thing at Thanksgiving. They drink beer with their friends. Good luck connecting without a landline.
5. Illicit Gamers

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facebook-gamerThese are the Perfect Integrators’ second, entirely illicit personal accounts under bogus names where they indiscriminately friend gazillions of fellow anonymous pseudonymous people to play interminable and deadly serious games of Mafia Wars, Farmville and Sim City. You never knew, right? Never thought your closest FB bud was obsessed with the Ville.  These Illicit Gamers are the furries of FaceBook and could be anyone…or just your Mom.

The Conclusion:

Facebook might seem like a thoughtless enterprise, but what I would suggest is this: Make FB a thoughtful exercise. Carefully consider what your FB philosophy is, preferably before you start your FB account. Do you want to have a highly interactive experience with real friends? Do you want to know what everyone else is doing but divulge nothing about your personal and professional enterprises? Once you figure out what type of user you are, proceed with this philosophy in mind. Consider carefully who you friend and whose friend requests you accept. After amassing your friends, post and read according to your user type. Don’t be surprised if people unfriend you. If you are a business person with a Facebook Page connected to your profile, be very careful and remember that, in some way, you always represent your business.

How does all this relate to spousal interaction on Facebook? Because you control it: you can quietly (and unbeknowst to the annoying spouses–your own or someone else’s), remove them from your feed. Or you can choose not to friend one or both spouses to begin with. I have a friend who intentionally keeps her Facebook friend list to 50 people, no more, no less. If she doesn’t friend someone, it’s because she’s got her “Fabulous Fifty” and won’t deviate from the number for anyone. Whatever your FB social media philosophy, make sure it works for you.

********

Emily Cantin researched and co-authored this article.

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