Has Facebook changed the politics of relationships?

As of late, Facebook has gained some notoriety over its privacy policies – particularly about how it has been allowing third-party applications to access the personal information of its users.  However, we have to question whether our very use of Facebook negates our claims to want for privacy.

Imagine, if you will, relationships as defined by a second-grader. You meet in the playground at recess, or in math class, decide you are best friends, and spend every waking hour together, sharing imaginary friends and secrets.

Now, picture a night out with friends.  Most likely, if you are headed to a party, you will meet others.  The next morning, (or that night, for the more zealous amongst us): friend requests and the dreaded ‘morning after’ photo tags and memory-resurfacing wall posts.  Most likely, you will leave the photos tagged and accept the friend requests.  For those of us who have had Facebook for our entire university lives, we are giving what is basically a complete stranger complete and utter access to the past four years of our lives. It is not difficult to create an opinion on someone based on their Facebook profile.

Things that used to take months or years to figure out – favourite colour, movies, quotes to live by – are now readily available (note: I STILL don’t know my best friend’s favourite colour, and I’ve known her since we were in grade 4.).  Are we not cheapening the very meaning of friendship and encouraging superficial relationships by automatically allowing every person we meet access to our life story?

Given this, where do you draw the line at who to ‘friend’? I have had a recurring friend request (always ignored) from a girl I was paired up with in the Best Buddies program during high school.  As much as I enjoyed my time with her, I cannot bring myself to add her to Facebook – I fear she might see something inappropriate which might reflect badly on both the experience and me.  Also, given a bad experience with a woman I have worked with the past four summers (where she informed me that she followed my Facebook like a soap opera and knew the names of all my friends), I have become much more choosy in who I allow to see my personal information.

This, of course, brings us to the limited profile.  While you do have the option to limit what each and every individual you add as a friend can see, those who had hundreds of friends before these measures were put into action often don’t utilize them properly with these old contacts, although we use them stringently with new ‘friends’.  Cue the awkwardness of the new guy you’re dating realizing he’s on limited profile. (It happened to me. Really.)

Finally, there is the question of the relationship status itself.  Adding someone as your partner on Facebook brings the relationship to a whole new level.  Never mind if you have been quietly dating for months – you are now going to broadcast your relationship to Facebook at large.  This is a far cry from the days when the key exclusive moment in a relationship was the first time you called someone your ‘boyfriend’, or had ‘the talk’.  In fact, should you choose to add someone as ‘in a relationship’, the other person will even get an email saying something along the lines of “…has said you are in a relationship on Facebook.  We would like to confirm that you are, in fact in a relationship with…”
Unfortunately, the same courtesy is not in place at the end of a relationship.  There is no “…has said you are no longer in a relationship. We should like to confirm that you do, in fact, realize this, before we change your linked status”. What was once a private matter shared with just your girlfriends and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is now a network-wide scandal, particularly when the person who didn’t ‘cancel’ the relationship is left with their status reflecting the former state.

Where does this leave us? Perhaps we should be more choosy with both our Facebook ‘friends’ and with how we broadcast our information. Facebook is the new Big Brother, and the world is watching.