Your Mom Has Added You on Facebook

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There’s a new generation taking over Facebook and it starts with the letters: mom. Up until last August, my mother, an elementary teacher in her mid-fifties, had never turned on a computer. She knew of the internet as a vague medium where people wrote each other letters and researched topics for school. Last Summer, she discovered Skype as an alternative to long-distance phone calls, and with it, she discovered Facebook. Within a week of registering a profile, she had over 100 friends – mostly relatives and ex-students – and among them, of course, me.

My mom’s entry into my virtual world has had me intrigued for weeks. She brought with her many friend requests and messages from relatives I haven’t seen in years. And for the first time in a long time, my virtual gayness found itself thinking about e-closets again. Was I revealing too much online? What would my relatives think of my gay links? Are my photos too telling of my relationships?

I made a decision a little over a year ago to stop worrying about my online exposure. I had spent years monitoring every link to my name that revealed anything about my queer activism and it got very tiring. I decided, instead, to take on an unapologetic attitude for my work, to start my own blog, and to produce enough of my own content online that would drown any of the content written about me. And it worked. But it was a strategy that assumed that neither my parents nor my older relatives  were googling me or had access to my social networks.

The new Facebook generation got me thinking about all my fellow queers who must be struggling with the same issue. Hundreds of queer profiles I am linked to online are out and revealing: photos of partners, gay links, and rainbow profile pics. Online privacy and security has always been a central issue for queer communities, who are known to use anonymous log-ins, nicknames, multiple online identities,  and other strategies to protect themselves from outing. The need to systematize and think collectively about these strategies will only become more crucial as new social media trends push online users to reveal more and more about their preferences, purchases, locations, connections, and everyday activities.

And so we started a series of discussions in Meem to think about online privacy and risk management. Participants had many stories to tell, from the very funny to the very dangerous. They are navigating their virtual queer identities using different strategies to limit their exposure. And it is a constant process, always changing, always at risk. We will be sharing some of these strategies in upcoming issues of Bekhsoos. For your Facebook privacy in specific, check out this tool that helps you identify unwanted security settings you might have missed.

In the meantime,  I invite you all to think about your online exposure and protection tactics. Sometimes, our strategies become such a second nature to us – especially if we’ve been active online for many years – that we forget how important it is to document and share them and to make sure that other queers, who might be less techie than us, are using them too.


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