My mother-in-law recently joined Facebook. I didn’t add her to my friends list right away. I find that subtle Facebook etiquette dictates that the new users hold the social burden to add the existing users to their circles. In other words, it’s polite to let a new user feel her way around first before jumping in with a friend request.
So, I didn’t friend my mother-in-law. I figured that she saw my name in comments on family photos. She could click my “Add as a Friend” button when she was ready. Turns out, she was thinking the same thing about me. Months went by.
After talking with my husband yesterday, he and I came to the realization that my mother-in-law was trying to respect my privacy this whole time. She’s quite polite, after all. She didn’t want to invade my space; I didn’t want to invade hers. So there it sat, each of us being too polite to ask the other about it.
Recently we had a family event and there were pictures to be shared. Naturally I posted the pictures to Facebook. After posting the pics, I friended my mother-in-law. Due to other family members insistence on seeing the pictures, my mother-in-law now feels like I was forced into friending her. The truth is I was just waiting for her to come to me. We chatted on the phone where I laid out the misunderstanding, but let’s be honest: normal, un-techie people don’t know unwritten Facebook rules, and my seemingly sudden hospitable actions look suspicious to her. Fair enough. I posted a link to my Wall on her Wall, inviting her to look through my old updates. Hopefully that will be enough to convince her that she is welcome in my Facebook account and always has been.
Avoiding this type of etiquette pitfall is difficult. This type of etiquette conflict is built into in-law relationships. You can imagine that both sides of today’s in-law fence are wondering what is appropriate when it comes to Facebook.
Here’s my advice:
1. Talk frankly first with spouses (or ex-spouses) and then with in-laws about what everyone expects out of Facebook. All parties should take no offense if someone wants to keep an account private. It’s just Facebook, people, not a last will and testament. It’s perfectly normal and acceptable if a son-in-law doesn’t want his mother-in-law nosing around his Facebook updates.
2. Don’t post anything anywhere that you’d rather not talk about at Thanksgiving dinner. If you are very web savvy and have multiple well-monitored Facebook accounts (like me), then you can post at your discretion. But if you are not a techie, don’t fool with it. Keep your Facebook updates clean. Instead, set up an email list with friends to exchange “bad” material.
That’s it. Two basic rules: Don’t be offended. Take too-personal or too-raunchy stuff to email lists.
Good luck, people. You’ll need it.