Welcome to another Media Moment! This month, Kristelle Lavallee, CMCH’s Content Strategist, shares her experience discovering a friend’s life-altering news through social media. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
Media Moment: Maintaining more than a Facebook Friendship
It started with a text.
“Did you see that Ellie is pregnant again?!” a dear friend of mine texted one afternoon, accenting with emojis for dramatic flair. “No!?!” I texted back, adding my own dramatic emojis to underscore my shock. I then proceeded to check every social network I am on that Ellie is also on, cursing the day I decided to disable automatic alerts from my phone—1 second later, I saw it: a cute Facebook post featuring Ellie’s toddler, Laura, wearing an adorable shirt proclaiming that she soon would be a “big sister”. I was simultaneously thrilled and appalled. I felt the full force of a phrase I had heard so often uttered by my peers and so often dismissed: “I can’t believe I found out about this on Facebook”.
The dilemma, as I saw it, was that Ellie and I are close. We’ve been friends since the age of 12, and even though we now live far apart, we’ve made it a point to stay connected through in-person vacations, phone calls, Skype, texts, and even old-fashioned letter writing. Before, major Ellie life news—“I’m going to the prom with so-and-so”, “I’ve decided to go to CT for college”, “So-and-so broke up with me”, “I’m engaged”, “I’m pregnant”—was always discussed in person, or, when physical proximity prevented it, over the phone. I found myself outraged upon finding out the news through a “public” forum. Wasn’t I worth a phone call or Skype chat? Were Ellie and I no longer close? And finally, why was I basing our friendship value on a Facebook post?
I Liked the post and texted Ellie, “OMG CONGRATULATIONS!!!!” (joyful emoji included) She immediately texted back “Thanks!!!!” and we set up a phone date for the following day. I was still upset.
I then proceeded to check all of my social networks for the latest updates. I received a snap from a friend who took a video of himself slurring his words hilariously while on novocaine at the dentist’s office, was tagged by a friend on Instagram in a pic of an amazing ice cream sundae, saw a friend’s latest skiing trick on Vine, and had an email from my brother containing the latest news on media and the law, a text from a colleague about an upcoming meeting, a Facebook invite for a dinner party, a post about the latest outdoor excursion being planned by one of the clubs I belong to, and a Tweet from a journalist I had reached out to an hour before about the source for one of his articles. It was all news, it was all different, and all of it meant something to me. So why was I still upset about the pregnancy post? Was it because Ellie’s news was life changing, as opposed to a teeth cleaning? I still wasn’t sure.
When I was in grade school, I took a course on etiquette—a course I have forever been thankful for as I feel prepared for a variety of social situations. I know what utensil to use when, how to properly order food, how and when to address people by their professional titles, how to respond to formal invitations, and more. What the course did not cover, though, was how to announce life milestones to family, friends, and social networks—or if there is even a difference. Still, clearly I felt that there is an underlying “right” and “wrong” way to share life altering information – I also know from conversations, Google searches, and my own work that I am not alone in this line of thinking, but there is hardly an accepted method of information dispersion etiquette. While it may be fine and preferred by one couple to break up publicly on Facebook, to another, a partner is devastated on finding the news so “callously” placed in her online inbox.
Today’s world is full of concern about the messages we communicate online. We are often bombarded with articles expressing concern about oversharenting, cyberbullying, hookup apps and advice column after advice column about how to talk to kids about what they share via social media. With all of these concerns in mind, I took a hard look at how my own social networks share life altering news.
I’ve found out about death and major health concerns through social media more than any other outlet in the past five years, and it now makes perfect sense to me. A friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer, explained that she felt exhausted just by the idea of letting everyone know individually, and that the process would have been emotionally draining. Posting her diagnosis on Instagram allowed her some control – almost everyone she wanted to know would know right away, offer support and reach out to her in a way she could manage. I found these sentiments similar for a friend whose father died in a car crash – for her social media was a “blessing” in the situation.
I also turned to the high school students I know. For them, social media is how they find out about most major things in their lives, and for the ones I talked to, finding out this way isn’t bad. In some cases, it’s even preferred. Posting about what college they got accepted into, or who they are going out with, what they ate for dinner…all of it is important, and all of it is online. Sure, some things are kept just between friends and groups of friends, but milestones are filmed, tweeted, blogged, posted, pinned, and shared for all Followers and Friends.
I sat down with a former student of mine who told me she was accepted into Harvard by tagging me in a Facebook post. When I asked her about letting me know via social media, she quipped, “I was so excited, I had to let everyone know right away, and I knew I’d get to talk to you about it eventually”. And then it was clear… I didn’t mean less to Ellie. Ellie and I would still talk about her pregnancy, and her plans for managing a growing family. My trip to visit her would be full of fun, laughter, talking, and reminiscing—all of it unchanged by the fact that she was so excited to let people know that she was pregnant that she posted it online.
I had my phone date with Ellie, and all of my concerns about our friendship were alleviated. When I ended the call, I actually felt badly that I had ever been so upset. We live in a fast world, largely thanks to our advances in technology. Information spreads fast, and many of us are able to stay in touch with many more people than ever possible. Ellie was intentional about her post. She shared exciting news to people who mean a lot to her and to some who are emotionally less close but who are still figures in her life. I would never be able to maintain as many relationships as I am able to without technology. Although there isn’t a “Miss Manners Guide to Sharing Information on Social Media”, relationships have their own guides that vary based on the people involved and the situations that arise. For me, I have come to further appreciate how the tools I use to maintain relationships have changed, while ensuring that they do not dictate but rather enhance them. I’m thankful that I can celebrate life milestones, no matter what my Friends’ age, almost instantly with them from afar, following up with an IRL hug and a very real ice cream sundae.
~ Kristelle Lavallee