Facebook: Complicit or Unwitting Accomplice?

In response to seeing a friend’s Facebook relationship status go from “in a relationship” to “single” last night, I found myself curious.  Does Facebook play a role in the destruction of relationships, or is it merely an unwitting accomplice to humanity’s propensity towards using and discarding people?

According to a 2010 survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 4 out of 5 divorce lawyers now report that they are seeing an increased number of cases in which evidence of infidelity has been derived from social networking sites.[1]  Likewise, the British website divorceonline.com reported that more than one-third of all divorce petitions in the United Kingdom cited Facebook in their divorce filings.  This is markedly up from the 1 in 5 petitions that listed Facebook only two years earlier.[2]

While this would seem to suggest a positive correlation between the use of Facebook and divorce, we should be hesitant against drawing too firm a conclusion.  According to the Center for Disease Control, the overall rate of divorce in the United States appears to be relatively unaffected by the emergence of social networking.  In fact, the rate of divorce in the U.S. appears to actually be on the decline.

In a statement issued to the Guardian, a representative for Facebook had this to say:

“It’s ridiculous to suggest that Facebook leads to divorce. Whether you’re breaking up or just getting together, Facebook is just a way to communicate, like letters, phone calls and emails. Facebook doesn’t cause divorces, people do.”

Of course, this sounds an awful lot like: “Guns don’t kill, people do.”  And I’m not sure that a flippant dismissal by a company that has a vested interest in the public perception of its product is the most reliable source of information on the subject.

So the question I pose for you today is this:  In the absence of a definitive correlation between Facebook use and divorce, what, if any, Facebook boundaries would you  be in favor of establishing as a married couple?  What about boundaries for your children?  Are their current Facebook habits training them in accordance with the boundaries you believe to be appropriate for married partners?  If not, what about their “single” status makes you believe that their boundaries should be different  than those of a married couple?

[1] Sixty-six percent (66%) of the lawyers responding to the survey cited Facebook as the “primary source” of evidence in the divorce proceedings.  An additional 15% cited MySpace, while only 5% cited Twitter.

This entry was posted in Social Psychology of Culture and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Facebook: Complicit or Unwitting Accomplice?

  1. Carrot says:

    Means, motive, and opportunity. Generically, cheaters are going to cheat – internet is an easy access to a larger pool of people.

    On the other hand, there might a lot more of dating status in our news feed these days. We’re constantly bombarded with “up to the minute” reports on everything so our awareness might be skewed versus five to ten years ago when we had to rely on “word of mouth” to find out that so-and-so was no longer together with that other so-and-so.

    • Can’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. But I do wonder. Does the access to a pool of people that have long been out of your life bring about new forms of temptation. Think about it in terms of an alcoholic? Guy gets sober and stays clean for 10 years. But then, he starts hanging out in places he hasn’t visited in a long time; starts hanging out with old friends. How many stories like that end with the man falling off the wagon again? It’s all about ease of access. Or is it not?

  2. Ray George says:

    To say that facebook has no part to play in the perpetration of infidelity, is as incorrect as saying that it is a direct cause. My personal decision to abstain from social media is the same as my decision to forgo television. There is simply better things for me to be doing than cyberstalking friends, updating the world about my childrens eating habits, or discovering that Kim Kardashian is doing……. whatever. Carrot is correct cheaters will cheat, but what of the effects of time spent on facebook. I wonder the how often the complaint filed in the divorce briefing is regarding time on facebook rather than with your spouse, or kids, or job. How about the effects of impersonal communication conditioning, that is the result of frequent, or should I say obsessive, facebook users.

    • Very valid concerns, Ray. Particularly your thoughts on the effects of impersonal communication conditioning. I think only a fool would not worry about how we are training/allowing our children to communicate. Something … human is being lost in the process.

      Good to hear from you, friend. I miss seeing you guys.

      • Ray George says:

        Kirs and I miss seeing you guys as well. Thank you for the your work on this Blog. It has been refreshing and challenging at the same time. I only wish I had enough time to comment on the issues you address.

  3. Rebecca says:

    My fiance and I leave much of our relationship off Facebook. We have promised to each other to never post the “personal,” i.e. if we are angry with each other we tell each other, we don’t post it passive-aggressively on the Internet. I have blogged a bit about some of the ways the relationship has helped me grow, but that’s a much more personal space and I don’t do it if it puts him/us in a negative light.

    I think the issue is that Facebook/Twitter et al gives people another venue in which to be childish. If a person is immature or looking for a way to cheat/indulge selfish behavior, social media gives them another way to do that. If they are prone to dealing with things in a mature manner, then it’s not going to be an issue. The same thing is true with texting and email. I have had friendships nearly end b/c of hastily sent emails (on both sides). Now I promise myself that if there’s a problem, I will pick up the phone or send an email scheduling a time to talk in person or on the phone, i. e. I promised myself to be mature.

    • Morning Bec,

      First things first. Congratulations! I had heard about your engagement, but didn’t want to say anything until I heard about it directly from you. Couldn’t be happier for you!

      As for the content of your reply, I have a question. I have heard others take a similar position, but I’ve often wondered: “What happens during the time of silence?” In other words, if you make the decision to only share the positive, what happens during those seasons when you are in a negative spiral. Does your lack of writing about the positive aspects of your relationship reveal more than you want?

      • Rebecca says:

        Thanks! In fitting with this post, we are keeping it off Facebook and telling people the old fashioned way.

        It’s mostly that we don’t share much about the relationship on Facebook or Twitter, we don’t argue on social media and we don’t address things that need addressing in a public forum. If you wouldn’t say it in a roomful of strangers and friends (i.e. a party) you shouldn’t say it on Facebook. We drew that line really early on and I’m so glad we did. I know that if I do something that irritates him, I’m not going to log on and see that he’s bashing me on his page. I know and trust that he will bring it me only because that is what we have promised to do.

        On my blog, I share only the ways in which the relationship is causing me to grow. Sometimes that’s been because of heavy/heated discussion we have had, but I only do so with his permission and blessing and that is because the public place affects both of us.

  4. All I’m going to say is people put WAY too much of their personal life on facebook (I’m at fault for this myself). Making “relationships” or “breakups” public isn’t necessarily wrong, you just have to be careful…careful with really any information put on Facebook or in public. Especially when knowing there are hundreds of people “all shapes and sizes” reading the status’.

    • Honest question: why do people (including yourself) put so much out there? I’ve never quite understood.

      • To give an honest answer: to get attention, give “updates” to friends who live far away, and to express their feelings (it all depends on the post). That is what I sense goes on in people’s heads…

        Another reason why people put “so much out there” is social networking’s sometimes the ONLY way people like to communicate so they want to make it as personal as possible. I know some people who dedicate their lives to social networking…never exactly understood why that is. It’s honestly much easier to pick up the phone, dial a number, and talk then typing up paragraphs and waiting hours for a response. Thats just me. 🙂

        One last random thought: I’ve always wondered what it would be like if facebook, myspace, twitter, email, etc just dissapeared. I think relationships wouldn’t be as fake if that were the case…do you agree?

  5. Rebecca … As I read your reply to my question, I couldn’t help but think: “I wonder if Rebecca has ever considered this topic for her senior thesis?” I know that’s three years away, but I think it’s creating a new filed called “Possible Thesis Topics.”

    As to your final question, it’s a hypothetical that I can’t even imagine at this point. As a culture, we are so “wired in,” that I almost can’t conceive of a world without Facebook, etc… It would almost have to come about as an intentional cultural revolution against technology. And I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    • Rebecca Littauer says:

      Never actually thought about that. Though it would be an interesting topic for the senior thesis! Thanks for throwing that out there!

      And if Facebook, twitter, etc were to go away, I think “Great Depression 2” would come into existence!

  6. I’m not particularly into a relationship, (I’m still young) and still am not interested, but this is some news. The generations today are so into social networking, specifically, Facebook, and it has its cons like this too.

    • So I think the question anyone in your position to answer is “how do I utilize social media now, so that when I am in a relationship, I don’t have to suddenly alter established behavior patterns? In other words, how do I live now so that the tomorrow’s version of me is maximized?

      Thanks for commenting.

Comments are closed.