In the most recent episode of Modern Family, the writers examine the socially mediated relationship between parents and their children. Claire, the matriarch, is a new Facebook user who wants to add her two daughters, Alex and Haley, as friends. The girls are reluctant and actively ignore their mother’s requests. They eventually acquiesce, making Claire very happy. Claire’s happiness quickly disappears when she discovers that an old college friend has tagged a picture of her from a college spring break trip in which she is wearing a bikini and drinking booze. This episode deals with several concepts outlined by Danah Boyd in her article “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites.”
Although her article deals exclusively with MySpace, the similarities between MySpace and Facebook help maintain the article’s relevance. Boyd says that many teens begin participating in social network sites “because of the available social voyeurism and the opportunity to craft a personal representation in an increasingly popular online community.” “Teens join MySpace [or Facebook] to maintain connections with their friends,” to build identities, and to manage the impression they make on others. Social Network Sites have become communities with their own rules and cues, and “the process of learning to read social cues and react accordingly is core to being socialized into a society.”
Facebook is a community that makes young people feel closer to people they know offline. It is a sort of community or society where youth are independent and have control over image, relationships, etc. Parents are trying to tap into this in order to understand and grow closer to their children but there is a definite generational divide. Most of them are not tech savvy enough to completely understand how Facebook functions, but their lack of experience also diminishes their ability to understand the necessary social cues to exist in the social media world. Claire is clearly trying to be the cool mom who befriends her daughters on Facebook in order to grow closer to them and understand their world. The girls are reluctant for several obvious reasons, and one is that their mom might misinterpret social cues and write embarrassing posts or be overly active on her daughters’ profiles. Another reason Alex and Haley don’t want their mother to friend them on Facebook is because it is an invasion of privacy. Their online lives are separate from their lives at home and they want to maintain this distance. Boyd discusses different definitions of public and private, and these girls want their profiles to be public to their friends but private from their parents. A parent’s intrusion on Facebook book is akin to a parent trying to “hang out” at the mall with their child and his/her friends.
Many parents also join Facebook for the same reason their children do—to be a part of a community where they can connect with offline friends and distant encounters. They have the same desires to create an identity and maintain an online image. Their voyeuristic tendencies are not much different from their children’s.
Modern Family frames social media as a kid’s world that parents do not understand and cannot easily use. This is evinced by the girls reluctance to friend their mother and Claire’s ignorance about the photo tagging feature. The show ignores the idea of adults using social media in the same way as kids.