Facebook, Twitter Compound Familial Estrangement

Facebook and other social media sites have been lauded as they’ve become a part of our lives for facilitating reunions, enhanced familial closeness and general increased contact.

But while being in touch with people you believed were lost to you is one of the upsides of Facebook, a growing segment of the population is realizing that the social networks can also be a painful reminder of those they’ve loved and lost.

Death and social media is a common topic of discussion, but estrangement and social media (outside the awkward period following a breakup) is less so. The New York Times examines the ability of Facebook and sites like it to torment family members who have been cut off from someone they love, and the predicament of estrangement in the Facebook era comes off as an intensely sympathetic position to be in.

A woman identified only as Mary spoke to the paper about her two bouts of estrangement from her daughter. Mary says that before, the distance was easier to deal with because she did not have a constant reminder of her child and grandson via the Facebook feeds of family of friends.

Now, Mary explains, logging on to Facebook is painful:

“I didn’t know all those months and years what she was doing… It was easier because there were no reminders.”

facebook estranged

Mary continues:

“You’re watching other people enjoying your daughter and the grandchild you’re supposed to have, and you’re left out in the cold… I have to watch pictures of my grandson — that I didn’t get — on my daughter’s sister-in-law’s page.”

However, another young woman, Jessica, explains that the openness of Twitter allows her estranged father- who unceremoniously abandoned her family when Jessica was young- to spy on her movements and report them back to family members. Jessica laments:

“I didn’t want him to be telling extended family that stuff he was learning online about me because 140 characters don’t tell the whole story… That’s been a frustration. That’s when I realized how creepy the digital space is.”

Interestingly, one mental health expert also indicated in the piece that one couple he sees conspires to share only “sunny” information on Facebook to torment an estranged family member. The professional describes the actions as a “charade” designed to present a falsely enviable situation.

Have you experienced painful distance or estrangement worsened by Facebook?