What's behind the mask? Facebook knows.

There are things about your friends you don’t really want to know.

If you’ve been thinking about signing up for Facebook, you have probably hesitated for one or more of several reasons. These might include:

  • You’re concerned about Facebook privacy issues you’ve heard about;
  • Social sites have the potential to suck time out of your life;
  • If you’re of a certain age, it seems unseemly to climb into the Facebook kiddie pool.

Having been on Facebook for the better part of a year now, I can allay most of those concerns. First, you control the privacy settings on your Facebook account. The furor in the news is about the default privacy settings, which do seem to assume you want the world to know your business. You can change that easily with a few minutes of quality time in your Account Settings area.

It can definitely eat up a huge chunk of your time – if you let it. But you keep it to a minimum, if that’s all you want. Upload one or two pictures, pop onto Facebook once a week, turn off your “chat” function (my sister was alarmed when a chat window jumped out at her one day, but you can tell Facebook to make your online presence invisible and that will never happen to you).

And if you’re worried about being “too old” for Facebook – fugeddaboudit! Everybody you know, young and old, and older and oldest, they’re all there on Facebook already. You’re the one who’s missing out.

I joined because it became increasingly obvious that otherwise I would never be able to stay in contact with the younger family members. I was in danger of falling out of the family; something had to be done.

Facebook fit the bill very nicely. I daresay every single niece and nephew I have (and they are legion) is on Facebook and I am able to see what’s going on with them on a regular basis. It is a new and wonderful thing and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

But there is a down side, and it’s no joke. I never hear anybody talking about this, but Facebook has brought me unexpected heartbreak. This is because while Facebook lets you better know your friends and relatives and what they’re into, it burdens you with better knowledge of your friends and relatives and what they’re into.

Especially in the beginning, it’s hard not to have friend-envy. You click on to a friend’s page and they have hundreds or thousands of friends, and you’ve got squat. So the natural instinct is to do a little mental catalogue search, and think of any old friends you love and miss who might be on Facebook.

That’s how I reconnected with a young man, a former neighbor I mentored for a few years, and whom I watched growing up in the old neighborhood. Let’s call him Lennie. I was thrilled to find Lennie on Facebook, and was anxious to catch up on what was going on in his life. It turned out to be an invitation to heartbreak.

One of my other Facebook friends, a climate change activist, posted a video of icebergs calving in Antarctica. I commented on his wall, “Why do you keep freaking me out?”

My old friend Lennie saw my comment and wrote to ask me a question (which I am pasting in here exactly as he typed it):

hey is climate change real .. i dont think so ,, i think climte change is real ,, really janis . i think global warming is a frod .. nooo!!!! we breath carbon dioxed co2

My heart sank when I read that. This boy I mentored and adored had grown up to believe that climate change wasn’t real. Almost as bad, he really seriously could not spell. But I felt he had opened a door and I might be able to throw a little common sense into the opening. I thought about my response for a full day before posting this reply:

We mammals exhale a tiny amount of CO2 — as WASTE — and trees turn it into oxygen we can breathe. It’s a balance that has worked out beautifully for millennia.

Unfortunately, today, cars and industrial plants emit TONS of CO2, and we are burning down rainforest, acres of it every minute. We are destroying the trees that might be able to turn it around. More CO2, less oxygen, people start dropping dead.

Immense glaciers breaking off into the ocean — polar bears dying off — that’s FRAUD? You don’t believe your own EYES?

Lennie, I love you. I really do. Leaving you was by far the worst part of moving away from the old hood. We used to have long talks about scientific stuff. Don’t you still believe in science?

I would dearly love to be all wrong about climate change. Unfortunately, I’m not wrong. I believe what SCIENCE tells me. I hope you look into this stuff yourself and don’t just take on faith the stuff you hear from people who might be … ignorant. I do not say this lightly, and I’m not trying to be a jerk. In the REAL world of science, climate change is an accepted fact. Big companies are trying to pull the wool over your eyes because it’s so much easier to make a profit if you don’t give a crap about the planet that sustains us all.

He never responded — but he didn’t unfriend me, either. I hope I planted a seed. I may never know, but I am disappointed that he was so easily led astray by charlatans and ignorami.

I knew my family would be a mixed bag of Facebook news, but I was still caught off guard when, during the health insurance reform debate, one of my nieces joined a group called something like “Stop the government health care grab” – this kid who was born at a VA hospital. I managed to take it in stride. I swallowed the multiple memberships of family members in the “Million Mormons on Facebook” group. It was bound to happen. Chill out, kid.

The latest assault on my political sensitivities came just a couple of weeks ago. I had Facebook-friended a woman at work whom I truly love. It was great to see photos of her family and read her funny and sometimes inspiring comments – that is, until one day my Facebook news feed showed me her positive response to a post from some pastor I would otherwise never have heard of.

This “man of God” had posted this gratuitous observation:

What justifies practising homesexuals & lesbians who confess to be true followers of CHRIST? After all, it is CHRIST who comdemned such life styles in both the Old and New Testaments. Is Christ confused or a liar? Will the will, passions & lust of people CHANGE the WORD of GOD? Is there anybody willing testify and help somebody?

My work buddy had responded glowingly:

You have done an entire sermon with this statement! Thanks for keeping it real!

I could barely look her in the eye at work the next day. It was on the tip of my tongue to say something about it for about a week. Because gay marriage is not an abstraction to me. I don’t find gay marriage threatening; I find lack of gay marriage threatening.

I had a friend in the mid-80’s who had major emotional issues, but I have always believed that one of the reasons he committed suicide was his knowledge that, as a gay man, he would never be able to get married. His sadness about that fact – and back then it was most certainly a fact – shocked me. He seemed to be out and enjoying the gay life so much, I didn’t expect to find in him a man who, in his heart of hearts, really did want to settle down with a nice guy and have a real, “normal” life.

I have told my friend at work about this person, and she has expressed sympathy over my loss. But I don’t know if I ever mentioned he was gay, and I certainly never told her that one of his deepest wishes was to be able to marry the man that he loved.

I can’t help but think that this pastor what-his-name is no “follower of Christ” — Jesus’s number one rule, as I understand it, was to love thy neighbor. (I’m also unclear about how Jesus condemned homosexuality in the Old Testament …??) And my Facebook friend gave that anti-gay diatribe a hearty Amen.

See? I can’t stop thinking about it.

So, my friend, before you sign up, be advised: This is the biggest risk you face on Facebook. You find out who your friends really are. You see what they say, and you stare at your Facebook page, wondering if you dare comment on their outrageous comments. You wonder if they will read your comments and unfriend you. It’s a mess! You wonder if any of your Facebook friends and associations bother your other Facebook friends as much as your other Facebook friends’ friends and associations bother you.

And above all, you hope against hope that at least a couple of your Facebook friends don’t read your blog posts on the Daily Censored.