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Losing Connections: Ignoring Facebook Weakens Ties with Friends

Backs of three people silhouetted against a large window

Always looking out at the world, never letting anyone see in…

Former co-workers and faraway friends lose track of me

Last month a former co-worker/good friend of mine hopped over the pond from the UK to the US. I was lucky to visit with him, his adorable little girl, and his lovely wife for an afternoon. I already felt very close to him and “caught up” with his life because his wife maintains a detailed log of pictures and updates on Facebook. I realized they probably didn’t feel as close to me and my family because I post very, very few pictures and personal updates. I don’t post a lot of pictures anywhere except Flickr, and even those are not of my family members. I don’t blog about my family at any social media sites or here at purplecar.net.

Last week, I lunched with different former coworkers (yes, I keep friends from every job I’ve ever had!) who told me there was no evidence online that I was still married. They actually wondered if I was getting divorced because of the lack of references to my husband. They found a mention or two on Twitter or elsewhere that I have children, but nothing about my husband.

My fairly anonymous presence online is by design, but for the first time since the mid-90’s I’m wondering if I’m taking the right approach. Perhaps my business-only tactic keeps my friends at an unnecessary distance.

2 hard lessons in 1989 & 1995 that lead me to be privacy-oriented

In 1989, I was a Freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. I had an online account and would visit a lab almost daily to check email and hop on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to talk with other students from around the world. One day, a young man from a college in Ohio with whom I had chatted a few times online drove (uninvited) to UPitt, logged onto a terminal, then waited for me to log on to IRC. Once I signed in, he “fingered” my IP address and found me at my terminal. I can still feel that silent and startling tap on the shoulder when he sneaked up behind me in the computer lab. It turned out he was a basically harmless guy who just wanted to say “Hi” and confirm I was a real person. Although insensitive to women’s experiences, this guy wasn’t at all dangerous. A woman on IRC back in those days was a less than 1% occurrence, so naturally I stirred up much curiosity at Pitt and frankly, in the entire tri-state area. But I didn’t realize until that day how easily I could have been harmed. I stopped using IRC until the UPitt system designed a safer way for me to log in by rotating DNS/IP licenses for the terminals (which was never, at least not while I was still at Pitt).

Around 1995, I left a job at UPenn to go to graduate school at TempleU. My html page that I started in 1993 while I was working at UPenn was never deleted from the server and unscrupulous grad students hacked the page and wrote derogatory and  libelous statements next to easily-identifiable images of me. I had to threaten a lawsuit for the Principal Investigator to take down the page. But back in those days, false statements as captions under images on the Internet were ignored in the courts. A lawyer told me that I’d have to prove damages to collect them. They just didn’t get it back then. Thankfully, the UPenn responded quickly to the situation, but the scars on my psyche remained.

I really haven’t posted many easily-identifiable pics of me or my family online since. Sure, there is an occasional one here and there, but they are quite rare and usually in limited and fairly secure environments.

Why I don’t post pictures on Facebook

Facebook’s Terms of Service make it clear that Facebook will take and sell your photos at their discretion. This means that if you say, win the lottery, are accused of holding up a bank, or your teenager runs away, Facebook can grab a little cash by selling your photos to media outlets. Does this happen a lot? No. But more and more employers, lawyers, law enforcement, are searching social media profiles for information or even evidence against you. Bad guys have been known to look up your home price and the fact that you have children and plan kidnapping attempts. The pain that can come from pictures of your family members released beyond your control can be immense and devastating.

a picture of young christine with 4 male friends

Me, a year or 2 after the scary guy incident. One of these young men is my husband.

But on the other hand, my friends feel like they don’t know me anymore. They can’t keep up with what is going on in my life. Two decades ago, we would’ve called or written snail mail. A decade ago we would have emailed regularly. Today a new standard of social media sharing has made using phones and emails for catching up inconvenient and obsolete. So, I don’t call or email but I don’t post either. The threads of connection to my far-away friends are fraying.

How to keep in touch without Facebook or social sites?

The only idea that holds any appeal to me is a personal newsletter sent via email or (gasp!) snail mail. Of course, if you know me well this idea is so laden with irony it could crush a truck. I despise Christmas newsletters and photocards and have never sent them. I ache over what to do with birth announcement pictures and the like. The thought of storing these pieces of paper forever just gives me hoarding-induced nausea. At the same time, I feel horrible guilt shredding them to bits (makes for a joyful holiday season, eh?).

I need to do something. There isn’t a viable option online that allows me to post and share pictures online. Flickr is pretty great, but my friends and family don’t use the site. Everyone uses Facebook. They also have email, though, and I think that’s just the way I’m heading. A newsletter published in pdf form sent to a small few is my best bet. I suppose in the next few weeks I’ll set up some varied email lists and start making a monthly update schedule. Email me if you want to be included. I guess I’ll have three types of newsletter: “Friends and Family,” “Business, Social Media, Tech” and maybe a third for my personal “Writing” updates. You can already sign up for PurpleCar updates via email under the “subscribe” option in the right column of the purplecar.net homepage, so I won’t be including posts. Watch this space for more details on the newsletters.

And please, if you do sign up for a newsletter, read it, then delete it! No need to keep email forever either. Digital detritus is still detritus. Too much clutter clogs up your mind, even if it is in 5K increments.

How do you keep in touch?

Any and all ideas welcome. Let me know in the comments.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Patrick Kernan 6 April 2013, 1:42 pm

    Very good post. I struggle with this as well. I would like to keep friends more ‘in the know’ & be the typical proud dad, but being wary of the negatives makes the choice difficult. I find the periodic newslatter intriguing. Will be interested in your impressions after a few months of implementation.

    • PurpleCar 6 April 2013, 3:36 pm

      I will definitely let you know how it works out. I’ve been investigating a few different options. Do I want to use a service like AWeber or just email it directly (which may get me blacklisted)… so I’ll work it out somehow and let you know.

  • Marie-Aude 6 April 2013, 2:43 pm

    It seems many people struggle with the same concern. I’m considering opening a private and “secret” profile, with high security level

    • PurpleCar 6 April 2013, 3:35 pm

      Marie-Aude, I *do* have a secret profile on Facebook for family and close friends, but I still don’t post much to it due to the invasive Terms of Service.

  • iMorpheus 7 April 2013, 4:26 am

    First, allow me to say the use of laden, crush and truck had me in stitches; If I didn’t know you well prior to that statement, I certainly do now. On to my regularly scheduled comment.

    If your friends and prior colleagues tote iPhones around or own iPads, you can set up private Photo Streams: I have set up such an stream with a few friends and my wife and kids. I do not have a practical solution for Facebook.

    • PurpleCar 7 April 2013, 9:16 am

      I feel like I’ve Internet-known you forever, man. Thanks for comin’ round. What do you mean by private photo streams? Like, give me some deets. This sounds interesting.

      • iMorpheus 8 April 2013, 5:35 pm

        iPhoto Photo Stream (Private photo sharing): http://skift.com/2012/09/12/what-ios-6-means-for-travelers-photo-streams/

        “Users select specific photos, click Share, and choose the recipients. Recipients using an iOS 6-updated Apple device or a Mac will receive the pictures directly in their Photos app or iPhoto, but non-Apple users can also view photos on the web at a designated photos.icloud.com site.”

        I sent an invite to your purplecar account for a Photo Stream.

        • PurpleCar 9 April 2013, 7:15 pm

          Wonder how this will work overseas with UK people…

  • chrishambly 7 April 2013, 5:51 am

    Good one Christine and not easily solved. To run a newsletter takes time and commitment both on your part and on the subscribers part. It’s not so easy to get people to sign-up unless you are providing something incredibly useful, in my experience. I suppose the other thing is, how will you ensure that only the people you want are signing up for it? Added to all of this we are all so used to checking twitter, G+ and Facebook (mainly) and anything much outside of that is really hard to get traction on. I suppose the other thing is that people like to interact with the content, which might be pretty hard to do if the content is distributed by a newsletter. If your site here is wordpress you could install Buddy Press and build out a members only network on your blog, giving people the option to engage with your content a bit more. http://buddypress.org/ – I’ve been experimenting with it and it is very good for this purpose.

    • PurpleCar 7 April 2013, 9:15 am

      Chris, Thanks for telling me this. I’ve been hearing about buddypress but I haven’t looked into it. I’ll give it a go. I mostly am thinking about contact with my friends who really only ever use Facebook and nothing else. They are all mostly analog people. Not sure if they are people who’d want to “interact” as much as just “keep tabs on”. Again, it’s all up in the air. Facebook has set up this new standard of keeping in touch but they don’t give us enough privacy. Maybe the buddypress will work for the “Business” newsletter sect. Thanks again. I’m sure you have a ton of experience with newsletters and I really appreciate the feedback.

  • Stephanie Booth 7 April 2013, 12:45 pm

    I use Facebook. I’m not overly concerned about what Facebook might do with my photos (I’m recalling the panic around what would happen with Instagram photos when Facebook bought Instagram). Facebook is the company we love to hate right now. As for evil people checking out my profiles to figure stuff out about me, well, the counter-argument to that is that by making that information public, I also allow my friends and family to be more informed about what is going on in my life. As in, people who care about me.

    (You know: yeah thieves can see that you’re away, but so can your upstairs neighbour, who will then wonder why there is light at your place when you’re on holiday.)

    For me the solution, if you’re sharing private/personal stuff you don’t want all over the place, is to use friend lists. Control who gets what.

    Or another option, but it requires your friends to join: Path.

    • PurpleCar 7 April 2013, 1:18 pm

      Yeah I have Path but I doubt my friends will join it. It’s not as user friendly in UX as FB is. I hear you about the panic, but I’m still too skittish to share too much online personally. Especially since I have minor children who are defenseless. I guess I don’t depend on neighbors and friends enough to keep my place safe, etc.

      • Stephanie Booth 13 April 2013, 1:08 am

        About children: there is a lot of paranoia out there about how dangerous the world (online and off) actually is for kids. Read “The Culture of Fear”, for one. What exactly do you feel your children are defenseless against? What kind of concrete danger do you imagine you would be putting them in by being more active online? You should have a chat with Euan Semple (and others) who has been very active and open online for years, including when his kids were small (his daughter is now blogging your socks off at 15 or something).

        • PurpleCar 13 April 2013, 5:24 pm

          Stephanie, I totally get where you are coming from in terms of paranoia. I’m well aware of what an “at-risk” student is and how my girl isn’t one of them. I feel like my children are defenseless against online bullying. I also don’t trust them to tell me when it is happening. I also don’t trust them to be able to recognize it or know what to do.

          The other problem I have is privacy. My children have their own lives and motivations. I owe them some dignity. Blogging moms who reveal their children’s faults, mistakes, embarrassing moments, etc., worry me. What will their relationship be like with their children when those children grow up? I know they are my children but I don’t own their stories, ya know?

          I’m not too keen on my kids using their real names on Twitter and not having private accounts. The whole “privacy in numbers” thing only goes so far, especially if people are looking for her. Plus, she’s a child right now. What will happen if silly posts from this era come up in a job vetting? I know that sounds ridiculous, but just the mention of controversial beliefs that are ten years old still stick in a hiring manager’s mind.

          • Stephanie Booth 14 April 2013, 1:40 am

            I think online bullying is precisely one of those things we make a lot of hoo-haa about when reality and numbers don’t justify it. It’s not more common than offline bullying — just more visible to the adults in children/teens’ lives. Have you read danah? (zephoria.org)

            Bullying doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so maybe it could be helpful to have a chat with your kids about what it is, how it works, what to do about it, etc — assuming you haven’t already.

            I get your concerns about privacy, though I think that we’re making judgements based on values of a pre-internet era. I’m sure people were concerned too when people started taking baby photos of their children and putting them in photo albums where everybody could see them 10 years later!

            • PurpleCar 15 April 2013, 10:29 am

              I love danah boyd, thanks for the reminder. I am constantly talking to my daughter about incidents in the news, etc. She doesn’t want to hear it and she doesn’t get it. I suppose it will be one of those things she will have to learn on her own, and I just hope and pray it is a small lesson with big impact instead of a big lesson with devastating results.

              Your point about privacy in a pre-Internet era is interesting. Perhaps we are redefining privacy. I’ll think on that for a while.

              • Stephanie Booth 15 April 2013, 11:47 am

                If you read French I would point you to “L’intimité au travail” and the work of Stefana Broadbent (you can find her TED talk if you google), who shows that “privacy” is actually a pretty recent concept 😉

  • Claire 7 April 2013, 12:46 pm

    Very interesting post ! I use a newsletter for members of my family who don’t want to be on FB : it’s a good way to keep in touch. I use Evernote to remember the news and ideas that I want to include in the newsletter.

    • PurpleCar 7 April 2013, 1:19 pm

      I like the idea to use Evernote or Dropbox on my phone to keep ideas and pics for newsletters. That will help me a lot. Like today, we have a little league game and I’m sure some family members would love to see pics of that. How do you send the newsletter?

      • Claire 9 April 2013, 9:21 am

        Fortunately, most of them have an e-mail ; but for our few beloved “old timers”, I send an “old school” printed letter by the “old school” post.

        • PurpleCar 9 April 2013, 7:16 pm

          My kid has an assignment to write a letter. A snail mail, old school one. I find it funny, as if he was learning calligraphy. But maybe I’m wrong!

  • Mari Adkins 10 April 2013, 11:53 am

    hey you.

    through february, i did mary robinette kowal’s “letterwrimo” – 23 letters in 23 days project. i made one new friend and got closer to a couple of other folks. well worth the two books of stamps i bought and used (can we still rightfully call them books of stamps when they come on a sheet?). we all got really creative, and it was a ton of fun.

    in december, i started a journaling group on facebook. we’re up to 52 members, and we stay busy. many of us are doing “shared journal” projects – i just put one in the mail on monday morning. we’re all doing our own thing. smashbooks, diaries, victorian journals, art journals, whatever it takes to record our lives. i’ve gone through one moleskine since the end of november and just received another one. i’m also keeping a moleskine dayplanner for this year. it’s where all my notes go – instead of the tear-sheet notebooks i used to use. (bonus: it has snoopy on the cover)

    also, i switched from evernote to microsoft onenote a few years ago. it’s made a huge difference in how i organize / keep / use / etc my notes.

    i guess you’ve noticed i’m not on twitter any more. i locked my account to invites only and got out of there. it ate up so much of my time! i’m all over facebook but am in the process of trying to wean myself away from it, too. i’m mostly trying to keep up with the three groups i maintain, along with my “fan page”, and letting everything else go. (have you read about “the culture of busyness” and letting go? awesome stuff!)

    a close friend gave up the internet for lent. she enjoyed that so much, she’s not online much at all any more. and i say, kudos to her!

    • PurpleCar 10 April 2013, 12:13 pm

      Mari I do miss you on Twitter, but I’m not on there like I used to be either. Trying to write more. I love your letter writing and journal projects. I tried something similar decades ago but it didn’t stick. I often thought of making a smash book for my characters, my main one especially.

      I need to keep more notes in my moleskine. Maybe I’ll get a new one because mine is all banged up and almost full.

      I’m afraid a newsletter for friends might be a bit… I don’t know. Dull. Presumptuous? But I need to research options besides FB!

      • Mari Adkins 10 April 2013, 1:01 pm

        i have smashbook pages for my writing! 🙂

        i’ve discussed my journaling a bit on my blog – i do it a lot differently than i used to.

        good luck!

  • Adam Tinworth 15 April 2013, 5:30 am

    I struggle with this – but in a different way. My wife is very keen to have no social media profile to speak of. If you Google her, you’ll pretty much just get her academic publications.

    This has consequences for me, of course. Like you, people could wonder if I’m still married, or if there’s a problem in my marriage. There isn’t, but this lopsided view of who I am online could give that impression.

    It’s more important, though, that I respect her wishes than portraying a completely 100% public view of myself.

    And all of this has been further complicated by the arrival of our daughter…

    • PurpleCar 15 April 2013, 10:42 am

      You know, I was just thinking after reading your post on this issue, that perhaps a new bias is forming in the psychology of Internet-connected humans: an “availability” bias of some sort, i.e., if information isn’t available, then the opposite must exist. If you don’t mention a wife, therefore you must not have one. We assume total transparency in our social media presence. We need to put a name on this and make people aware that some people may have an entirely different personal life than what they portray in innocent-and-transparent-seeming profiles like Facebook.

      • Adam Tinworth 15 April 2013, 11:28 am

        Now, I need to find an article I read recently, which linked Facebook use to depression, because people were assuming that their friends “shiny, happy” Facebook lives were their true and complete lives.
        We need a new language and new skills to navigate our way through this new social world.

        • TibZ 16 April 2013, 8:25 am

          @oneman:disqus If you find this article, I would love to read it! 🙂

  • TibZ 16 April 2013, 8:22 am

    I do have a concrete case that I’d like to share.

    I’m using Path. It’s an iPhone, iPad and Android app based upon the idea of The Personal Network. What that means, and the way I describe it, is “what Facebook should have been”: an experience focusing on YOU and the meaningless things you do but that your close friends and family might like to know or “L-O-L” about.

    What’s interesting is that you can’t connect with more than 150 people. While the average user has 15-50 people on Path, on average, 150 is known as the Dunbar Number: it’s the number if connections that the brain can handle before starting to saturate.

    I’ve started using it alone, as an early adopter, at first, but as the app improved and focused on being what they call “a smart journal for your life”, I’ve managed to add my not-on-any-social-platform parents. The reason is simple: the app is incredibly well designed (aesthetics and experience) which makes it easy to use, and the recent inclusion of a messenging functionality made me use it even more.

    What do I use it for? To share and connect with only the close people in my life, through the latest pictures, thoughts, insecurities, songs-I-freak-out-too, and more. But the fact is that since you choose who to share it with, the experience is more personal than on a (very) personal Tumblr or anything like that. There are no brands, no ads, and the quality of the service, once again, makes it very reliable.

    Recently, ive started using the messaging functionality much more, whether with my friends from around the world, or family, or even housemates. Since it’s available on the main 2 mobile platforms, I don’t feel like I have to worry about friends or family’s devices, unlike iMessage or Facetime.
    What I find interesting thing is that the balance of features, good design, and having people that I really care about, makes it the go-to application on my phone and tablet.
    I think if you manage to get the core of your groups of friends on Path, then you can be sure that more people will join, to some extent.

    I have also paid a lot of attention as to how Path hopes to monetize, just to make sure that they won’t have ads, or be acquired or shut down by some other company. At this point, I have found information saying that there will not be ads on the platform, and they are thinking of introducing subscriptions. To me, if they continue to implement and improve like they do now, subscription will be a personal guarantee that the service continues without sacrificing on the experience or having my data sold.
    At the moment, I believe they have their partnership with Nike to integrate with the “going for a run” activity, and also drive revenue through in app purchases of photo filters and smileys/emoticons. It’s minor.

    Disclaimer: aside from being a power user, I’m in no way affiliated with Path, just loving the app a lot.
    I also have a very specific case since I’m a 22 year old student and French expatriate.