Facebook: It’s all fun and games… til your mom friend requests you

By Lauren Ramer

facebook3Yesterday I signed onto to my Facebook account to find that I had received a friend request from my best friend from high school’s mom. How did this happen? Since when did it become acceptable for our parents to join Facebook?

Adults joining Facebook has become an increasingly popular and mildly disturbing trend. According to this 2009 Facebook Demographics Report, the 35-54 age group is currently the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, experiencing a 276.4% growth rate over the past 6 months.

How did a social networking site for college students suddenly become fair game for everyone and their mother to join – literally?

In 2004, when Mark Zuckerberg launched the social networking site Facebook, originally called “thefacebook”,  from his Harvard dorm room, it was only available to Harvard students. Soon, it expanded to include other Ivy League Schools and eventually, college students all over the country were addicted. Facebook was exclusively for college students, requiring one to provide a valid .edu email address in order to join.

But then Facebook decided to change the game. In September 2006 Facebook announced plans to open its doors, allowing anyone with an email address to become a member. Facebook’s exclusive college feel had gone out the window and suddenly anyone could join. The flood gates opened and it seems everyone from your 13 year old sister to your 55 year old aunt took notice.

Facebook had opened a Pandora’s Box of sorts. But what would this mean for the millions of existing college students who had made up the Facebook community? When friend requests started pouring in from previous employers, teachers, older relatives, and other non-college students, it quickly became apparent that the private forum Facebook had once provided for college students to freely express their college social experience was a thing of the past.

The Facebook community, feeling their privacy threatened and foreseeing the possible ramifications that could occur, responded with a backlash of complaints; serving Zuckerberg with a petition titled Don’t Let My Parents onto Facebook! and creating several anti-parent Facebook Groups, including my personal favorite, For the love of god — don’t let parents join Facebook which by the way, currently has 7,820 members.

So many would say why would Facebook do this? If Facebook’s lure was its exclusivity, then why take that away? The better question that I think should be asked here would be why not?

Mark Zuckerberg had a vision and it was clear he was thinking big. His goal was to build a site that helped people, “understand the world around them”—be they in college, high school or the working world”.

He knew that in order for Facebook to remain relevant, they would have to grow with their current audience and reform to attract a new one. College students would soon go on to graduate and get real jobs, and in order for Facebook to stay a part of their lives, it would have to graduate as well.

In addition, by only focusing on college students, Facebook would be limiting its own growth potential, missing out on the opportunity to reach out to new demographics and in particular capitalize on the baby boomer trend that appeared to be taking over the social networking world. The percentage of adult internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35% now.

Zuckerberg’s decision for open registration proved to be fruitful for Facebook. From May 2006 to May 2007, Facebook saw an 89% increase in visitation, reaching a staggering 26.6 million visitors.

While I appreciate the benefits of opening Facebook up to everyone from a business standpoint, it doesn’t make it any less awkward to see my 50 year old aunt writing on my wall or my fourth grade teacher friend requesting me. In addition, I don’t want to age discriminate but when it comes to Social Networking Sites, I believe there should be some sort of Separate But Equal clause imposed, allowing for Parents to have a site where they can catch up with old friends, and network amongst people their own age, without cramping their kid’s style.

Until that site comes along, it appears we are going to have to co-exist with mom and dad.

In an effort to appease the widened range of demographics currently cohabiting on the site, Facebook has come up with some unique privacy solutions depending on whom or how much you want someone to see of your profile. This way, you can still tag your friends in pictures from last weekend without worrying that your employer, mom, or your boyfriend’s mothers best friend might get their hands on them.

So what do you do if you find yourself in the hopeless situation of getting a friend request from your parents? You could always sign your parents up for Stanford’s new course “Facebook for Parents” and if that doesn’t make you feel better checkout the new Tumbler blog Oh Crap. My Parents Joined Facebook and commiserate with others who are also finding themselves in your same predicament.

  • Rob

    Fortunately, Facebook has tons of privacy options about what people can see. Accept the parent friend requests… but put them into a friend group called Parents and limit access to the parents so you can still enjoy privacy with your friends.

  • http://ninecents.net/author/michael Michael

    Parents on facebook, sooo weird.