In a recent episode of Modern Family, a show that details the life of three families, the decision of Claire Dunphy, to create a Facebook profile is met with much displeasure from both of her teenager daughters. When her daughters question why she signed up for a profile on Facebook since she thinks it is such a bad thing, Claire explains that she only created the Facebook profile so she could catch up with old friends and seems to express a kind of resignation about signing up. Both Alex Dunphy and Haley Dunphy view their mother’s creation of a Facebook profile as upsetting. Haley, the oldest, does not want Claire to be able to see her pictures and find out what she does with her friends at parties. Alex, the younger sister, does not want Claire to post embarrassing family pictures that her friends will be able to see. The siblings are able to evade their mother’s friend request by lying to their mother about the technological affordances Facebook provides. Once Claire figures out that they lied she assumes they must be trying to hide something on their profiles if they do not want to be her friend on Facebook. In the end, the girls accept their mother’s friend request and they end up finding out secrets about their mother. Once they go to their mother’s profile they see an old spring break picture of their mother. Claire, who is still new to the site, does not understand the tagging feature and is upset by the picture that was posted by an old college friend.
This episode of Modern Family is an interesting one because it illustrates a few of the discourses that we have been discussing in lectures this week. When the daughters first lie to their mother about Facebook’s technological affordances they say that the site has blocks to protect them from older people trying to friend them. This taps into the discourse that Rebekah Willett details in her article, “As soon as you get on Bebo”, where she argues that even youth define their use of social network sites using the popular discourse that youth are vulnerable to the dangers on the internet (289). Claire is quick to believe her daughters’ lie and this serves to reinforce how the older generation believes that the internet is a dangerous place that youth should be protected from. These blocks while hindering Claire’s attempt to friend her own children appear to be a positive to her.
When the girls explain why they felt the need to lie to their mother their reasons were different. Haley stresses the fact that she does not want her mother to look at her pictures and this serves to illustrate a key discussion in danah boyd and Alice Marwick’s article, “Social Steganography”. In this article, the authors stress how parents and their children try to negotiate the boundaries of privacy on social networking sites (24). By focusing on what her mother’s reaction would be rather than her peers’, Haley is clearly echoing the youth discourse of surveillance and monitoring (24). The author’s point out that youth use this language to explain the difference between when their friends look at their public sites for social reasons and when their parents look at their public sites to wield control over them (24). This is an important distinction because most youth would argue that they should have privacy from their parents on these sites because their friends do not hold that kind of control over them. On the other hand, Alex is upset by her mother’s creation of a Facebook profile because she does not want her to post old family pictures that her friends will be able to see. This clearly echoes Willett’s article again since Alex seems to be asserting a level of control over her use of social networking sites that her mother will be impeding (294). Alex seems to imply that her profile is perfectly managed, but once her mother logs on she will lose the agency she once had in choosing the content on her profile (294).
Ultimately, I think the show presents the use of social networking sites as a youthful endeavor. Throughout the episode, the daughters appear in control and understand the technology much more than their mother does. In fact, in the end it is Claire who is upset that they have now accepted her friend request since someone has tagged her in an old spring break picture that her children can now see. Claire’s anger seems to speak to the discourse that social networking sites are for the younger generation and the older generation will merely be confused or annoyed by what they find on these sites.