The email from Facebook read: “Ed Hamilton has sent you a friendship request”. My heart beat a little faster. Ed? ED? From the moment I cradled him in my skinny nine-year-old’s arms and promised to be the best big sister I could be, my baby brother has always been known, to me, as Edward. Yet here he was, 13 years old and asking to be my friend on Facebook under the moniker “Ed”. How grown up! I accepted the request, quickly liked his first photo (the charmingly titled “Christmas selfie”) and posted a comment on his wall welcoming him to the wonderful world of social media. Enter if you dare.
So it is with a certain amount of trepidation and more than a little incredulity that I read the recent report proclaiming Facebook “dead and buried”. According to Daniel Miller, a professor of material culture at University College London, teenagers are “embarrassed even to be associated” with Facebook, opting to socialise on Twitter instead because Mark Zuckerberg’s creation is now deemed too mainstream. Read: My mum/dad/old teacher is on Facebook, so I’m buggering off to Twitter where they won’t find me. A quick scroll down my own newsfeed confirmed Miller’s theory.
Following Facebook’s coronation as the king of social media, an influx of older users (the very people young Facebookers sought to circumvent when they first started uploading pictures of themselves doing Tequila slammers in Ibiza) invaded the magical kingdom of selfies and status updates. Now, Miller’s report says, teens are using Facebook more out of obligation to stay in touch with family than any desire to catch up with friends.
My own mum is an enthusiastic Facebook user. So present is she on my profile that friends who have never met her feel as though they are intimately acquainted. Miranda Hamilton. You probably know her too. She comments on my statuses, shares my stories (if I’m lucky she’ll share this too!) and once, before I’d explained the Frape epidemic, she asked me in hushed tones whether she should tell a family friend that his son had come out as gay.
But how do you keep familial relations sweet on social media? Well, establishing the ground rules is essential. My mum doesn’t invite any of my pals to be her Facebook friends, but if they ask her she normally accepts. Likewise, I rarely approach her acquaintances but will happily consent should a request wing its way over to my corner of the ring. We both respect each other’s virtual space and neither of us pries unnecessarily. If she comments on a long forgotten photo of me from 2011 in which my eyes are redder than Rudolph’s nose, it’s obvious she’s been digging. And there’s always the threat of limited profile.
Fortunately, we both realise the value of being friends online. Not only is it a superb method for keeping in touch now that I’ve left home, it can also prove an entertaining pastime. I enjoy reading her status updates, even if they are usually about the gym (“Another spin-tastic session today!”) and guilt-trip me into Sunday visits to the swimming pool. She acts as my social media moral compass, useful in a world where we’re regularly told employers (prospective and current) will hunt us down and tear us to shreds online. If a status update is good enough for my mum’s eyes, it’s good enough for Mr Grad Scheme or Mrs HR.
To pronounce Facebook “dead and buried” because youngsters are moving onto new, more exciting means of online communication is to ignore the steady ascent of this global social network. Plus, Miller’s report assumes that kids only use one form of social media, which we all know is utter tosh. Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all provide users with very different approaches to interaction and young people like to have every possible method at their fingertips, regardless of nosey mums/dads/old teachers.
So I implore teenagers, like my brother, to embrace older Facebookers. Yes, I might post ludicrously embarrassing comments on his Christmas selfies in the way only older sisters can; or monitor from afar his likes and dislikes so I know just what to get him for his next birthday; or bombard him with private messages asking what he learned at school today, but all the while I will toe the invisible line in the social media sand. In turn, I hope he comes to regard my cyber-space omnipresence as amusing and that his hand won’t hover longingly over the “un-friend” button.
In my mother’s case, however, resistance is futile. She’s already discovered Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ and I think I saw her download Snapchat over Christmas.