Emily Yoffe: How sad that your brother and Suzie are getting divorced. Do you think Suzie would notice if I un-friended her on Facebook? I actually wish I could un-friend your brother instead.
Farhad Manjoo: I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.
Emily: I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.
Today’s question is from a woman who wonders if she should remain Facebook friends with a sister-in-law who is leaving the family via divorce. She writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, after about a year-and-a-half of marriage, my partner’s brother recently left his wife. Now that he’s made his move, we have started to wonder: when do we remove his estranged wife from our Facebook friend list? Should we do it immediately? Should we wait until he starts the legal divorce proceedings? Or should we do nothing and stay friends with her?” Signed, Un-Friends and Family.
So, Farhad, do you think she should cut her former sister-in-law out of her digital life?
Farhad: This is such a weird question. It seems like these people think the change in relationship necessitates some kind of action on Facebook, and I think that’s looking at Facebook all wrong. Shouldn’t you just be friends with the person if you’re friends with them? And if their friendship is ending because of this divorce, then I think they should end the friendship on Facebook whenever they decide that they no longer want to be associated with that person. But there’s nothing automatic about divorce that would force them to remove that person from their list I think.
Emily: Well, I think this is one of the interesting questions that comes up with the advent of Facebook. It used to be, in a case like this if there weren’t kids involved, so someone would continue to peripherally be involved in the family, that person drifts away. You usually don’t stay in day-to-day touch with former in-laws. But now you do.
I agree with you. There’s no protocol for when this happens, then what’s the Facebook action? First of all, are you friends with her? If you’re friendly with her, you enjoy her, if she’s not using her Facebook page to denounce your family, why even think about it?
Another question is, well, someone who’s no longer in the family, “Should she be knowing we’re doing family vacation?” or “What if I mention my brother, Brad, is now dating this really nice woman? Then she’ll see it.” That raises the whole larger question, which we’re still all sorting through. How much about your life, other people’s lives, do you put out there? Because it’s not an e-mail conversation, or a personal conversation, or conversation over lunch. It’s a conversation with essentially everyone you know, and potentially everyone they know.
There may be some sensitivity there. But I think saying, “Oh, you’re getting divorced; you’re off my Facebook page” is kind of mean.
Farhad: Right. I agree. It is kind of mean. I could think of many different variables here that would necessitate ending the friendship. For example, if the husband in the situation didn’t want his family to be associated with his wife and felt strongly about it, they may feel that they need to remove her from their friends list because of that. They want to side with the brother in this. I could imagine that the ex-wife herself might not want to be friends with these people and might start un-friending the family proactively.