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Old-Fashioned Etiquette in the Age of the Internet

Jun11

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This is not a cloth diaper question (though we use them), nor a pregnancy question (though we are!) nor a in-law question (I ignore them). This is a good old-fashioned etiquette question in the age of the internet.

My husband’s friend’s wife blogs about her family and her life. It’s just a friends/family quasi-diary blog she keeps. She links to it to promote it on Facebook so it’s not private by any means. The problem is that she shares a LOT on her blog, stories about infertility, difficulties she’s having with her spouse, etc. These aren’t things she’s talking to me about personally, because we aren’t that close, I just know all about them because I occasionally check in on her blog.

But the real problem pops up because frequently what she’s telling me to my face is significantly sunnier than what she’s writing on her blog – “my son is so advanced!” versus “he’s really struggling making his milestones..” I feel like I know way more than is appropriate for our friendship level.

Do I just keep doing what I have been: smile/nod, change the subject? Do I mention that I read her blog? Do I just stop reading the blog and go off what I’m hearing from her mouth?

Oooooh, interesting question, very very innnnnnteresting.

First, as someone who writes a very personal blog and has on more than a million occasions written about very personal things: It definitely can both simplify and complicate IRL friendships. On the one hand, it’s nice knowing that I don’t have to have the same conversation over and over about something difficult going on — my dad’s illness and passing, my oldest child’s special needs, etc. I can focus more on asking about what’s going on with the other person when I know they’re basically caught up with me.

On the other hand, yeah, it takes some getting used to realizing that the woman you just met at a company holiday party has read your blog for years and thus knows all your birth stories and breastfeeding stories and times-you-got-drunk-and-did-something-dumb stories. And oh, her husband is your coworker now. HI! I’M THAT IDIOT FROM THE INTERNET.

With any public blog (whether you have your full name on it or not, whether you promote it on Facebook or not), it’s generally a good rule of thumb to assume that anyone and everyone you know can read it. But I personally find it pretty presumptuous to assume that anyone and everyone I know DOES read it, if that makes sense.

I write with the assumption that they CAN read it, which sets my ground rules that I won’t write mean things about people or write anything that would embarrass my husband or jeopardize our employment somewhere, but I tend to interact with people on the assumption that they DON’T read it. Not because I care if they do, but more because it might not be interesting to them or they are too busy to bother, and because it’s just a dumb blog thing that I do. It’s not everybody’s jam. I get that. I once had a friend who went to my blog (after I told her about it), and then admitted that she just wasn’t comfortable reading about me like that, and she’d rather we actually talked in person about things. I totally got that too.

Once someone volunteers that yes, they’ve read my blog, that changes things, but not really. Mostly I’m just like, “Oh, God, sorry. I try not to be so CAPS-LOCK in real life.” You might not be someone I’d casually discuss stuff like grief and infertility or whatever off the bat, but I’m not going to mind that you read about it. Nor would I mind if you do bring it up because we have something in common. BUT: I think I’m pretty consistent with both my online persona and my offline one — online I’m more confessional and prone to hyperbole for comedic effect, yes, but I’m not gonna go around telling two different stories about my kids and marriage and all that.

(UNLESS YOU’RE WRITING ABOUT ME. ARE YOU WRITING ABOUT ME? OH GOD, I’M PARANOID NOW.)

Since your friend (WHO IS NOT ME) is telling you two different versions of things, she could probably use a little heads up that you do read her blog. Yes, she should already assume that you do, given the Facebook connection, but she obviously doesn’t and I think you would be doing her a gentle etiquette favor to stop her from openly contradicting herself (and unknowingly embarrassing herself, because I bet you aren’t the only person she’s doing this with).

There are a couple nice ways to do this:

One, bring it up in conversation yourself, preferably BEFORE she’s had a chance to contradict herself so it’s not like you’re calling her out. “Hey, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your last blog post (or the post you wrote about X, Y, or Z).” Preferably you could do this with a less-heavy, confessional post — maybe something she wrote that was just funny or had a great photo or whatever. This way you can let her know that yes, you are reading, while still keeping your conversation away from the super-personal topics she writes about.

Two, acknowledge the blog via social media. Like it, share it, comment on it. Just a subtle online wave that says HELLO. I AM HERE. I SEE THIS. OCCASIONALLY I ACTUALLY READ THIS. JUST FYI.

Now, be prepared for a couple different possible outcomes:

One, she acts embarrassed at first but does indeed stop bragging/revising to you IRL, but also maybe doesn’t know quite what to talk about instead. If she’s someone you’d like to get closer to, bring up any common ground you have and see where the friendship goes. If you’d prefer to keep her at arms’ length, just stay gracious and polite until she feels comfortable that you aren’t out to shame her or call her out publically for her exaggerations/outright lies.

Two, she reacts weirdly or badly, tells you to stop reading or suddenly password protects the whole thing. Whatever. You didn’t do anything wrong reading a public-facing blog and you didn’t do anything wrong by giving her the heads’ up that you read said public-facing blog. If she freaks out and has a RESPECT MY PRIVACY temper tantrum, she probably really shouldn’t be keeping a public-facing blog to begin with.

Three, nothing changes. She smiles and nods and oh yeah, the blog. It’s a nice hobby! Did I tell you about how my amazingly advanced son has already been accepted to Harvard and my husband and I are renewing our vows in Hawaii because we’ve never been happier? I’ve known more than my fair share of bloggers, and the reality is that some (not all) are indeed a little cray-cray, as the Internet Kids say these days. Sometimes it’s just run-of-the-mill social anxiety or awkwardness and they mean no harm, while others will indeed straight-up  fabricate/exaggerate online for sympathy and attention. Some really don’t see a disconnect or problem with presenting two entirely different versions of themselves and will double down when they’re “caught” or confronted with the facts. Maybe she sees her blog as a place she vents when she’s feeling down or angry, rather than a real reflection of reality. Or maybe it IS her reality, but she can only face said reality online and will continue to compartmentalize/disconnect from it when talking to people IRL.

Dealing with a number three is probably a whole other advice column, but let’s hope your friend’s reaction is more along number one: Mild embarrassment, followed by some nice self-awareness of how she’s presenting her life to people and personal growth in the humblebrag department.

(WE’RE STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT ME, RIGHT?)

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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11 Responses to “Old-Fashioned Etiquette in the Age of the Internet”

  1. Dani Jun 11 at 8:28 pm Reply Reply

    I had to check and see if you were talking about me, which, given my readership of approximately 8, is more than a little paranoid. 

    I’d comment on one of her blog posts, personally.  Leave a comment on an innocent post, so she knows you’ve seen it, and leave it at that.

  2. Anonymous Jun 11 at 9:57 pm Reply Reply

    I keep an ancient LiveJournal that few people read. I use it to write about stuff that stresses me. In real life, I have a bit of social anxiety. I don’t lie or brag, but I do tend to keep things positive because it’s difficult for me to be casually open with people. I’m in and out of counseling, which helps. Anyhow, something simillar happened to me where a friend I didn’t know still read said something to me like, “you seem good now, but are you really ok? I read you were having anxiety attcks again.” I can’t speak for the poster’s aquaintance, but for me I felt relieved. It was easier for me to say, “yeah. I have been having a difficult time lately.” I suggest bringing it up as, “I read about your son’s struggles with x on your blog. How is he doing with x?”

  3. -k- Jun 11 at 10:37 pm Reply Reply

    I think I would go with “stop reading her blog.” If the details are more intimate than feels comfortable for your friendship level, isn’t it really kind of (totally fair game) voyeurism anyway? And yes, it’s weird to have two stories, but on the other hand the public sunny face actually says something good about her- I think we’ve all known the alternative in the form of that person who tells the very detailed truth to any and everyone they meet, and that’s waaay worse IMO.

  4. Caroline Jun 12 at 8:48 am Reply Reply

    Hmm

    I’d go with letting her know I read the blog, but I don’t think I’d be quite so gentle, it’d be more along the lines of the next time she’s bragging (lying?) about her child, I’d say ”oh wow, that’s fantastic, it must be SUCH a relief since you were so worried about xyz milestone. Aren’t kids incredible?”. She is lying, either on her blog or to your face, neither one warrants politely pretending it’s not happening!

    • IrishCream Jun 12 at 12:26 pm Reply Reply

      That seems really harsh. We all choose to filter how much personal information we share in different contexts. Not sharing every detail of your life doesn’t mean you’re lying. There’s nothing polite about pushing for more information than someone wants to share.

  5. Katerina Jun 12 at 4:51 pm Reply Reply

    I find this an interesting post.  I tend to find that people live fantasy perfect lives on facebook and social media,  for example…. oh I have the best husband in the world and then complain in confidence to their friends about all their problems.  This woman is doing the exact opposite which I just find strange.  I don’t have any advice it’s just an observation!  

  6. Beth Jun 12 at 6:02 pm Reply Reply

    One of the wives of a friend of mine has a blog that she posts very personal and negative things on, and one day I was browsing down through the posts and found one that she had written about how angry she was that my husband and I were getting married before her. Talk about awkward!!? It was a long and strange road of navigating her jealousy and hurt feelings, and even when it was “resolved” she still couldn’t understand why we didn’t just change our wedding date. CHANGE OUR WEDDING DATE. Because they had been engaged longer. Somehow that means that I shouldn’t get married when I want?

  7. Angela Jun 12 at 8:38 pm Reply Reply

    I can’t tell from the example you gave but I’m wondering if it’s possible that both accounts really are accurate, or at least accurate reflections of her feelings/perceptions at the time. Parenting can be a real roller coaster ride (at least for me it is). I know there have been times when I’ve wondered whether my kids have some sort of developmental delay only to be convinced of their genius a day or two later. Also, I know several kids who are delayed in some areas but quite advanced in others. As far as the blog having a more negative tone, it’s entirely possible that she uses her writing to vent and air her fears and negative emotions but that when chatting up an acquaintance she keeps things light and heavily filtered.

  8. S Jun 12 at 9:54 pm Reply Reply

    I’d stick with the gentler approach, too, and stop reading or mention a picture or something. Time spent on the Internet can sometimes be time spent Dr Googling, sometimes turning a normal (?) person nutty with likely cases of Ebola or a kid’s milestones not met on precisely the right day. Then you fall asleep and forget about your flesh eating bacteria and everything is all better and yay in the morning. So I like the idea of assuming it isn’t outright lies, but maybe exaggerated worries.

  9. judi Jun 18 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

    i just came back to this post b/c i realized i have the opposite problem, and i’m wondering if anyone has any advice to share. i have a blog, and it’s linked in my instagram profile, but nowhere else. i don’t mind anyone reading it, i think my ‘persona’ is not at all different between mediums, etc. but i have a friend who occasionally comments on something i think she picked up on from my blog, but she’s never come out and said she reads it. i feel a little funny being like, “hey, do you read my blog?” b/c i don’t care, i guess i’m just curious…? should i just come out and ask or leave it alone…?

  10. Natalie Jun 28 at 6:12 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with the people who are wondering if maybe her blog is a place to vent. I definitely use my facebook (which is private to my family) as a place to vent. I don’t have a blog but I do have a close friend who I email pretty much every day, and she emails me just as much. We use each other to vent our frustrations in our marriages and our jobs because neither of us really feel like we have anywhere else to go with those issues. Maybe she is doing something similar, it is so much easier to write your problems than to talk about them in some cases.

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