Help, my mother is cyber-stalking me on Facebook!

No matter how careful you are, you can't really control what people -- including your newbie mom -- can find out about you on Facebook

It seems like every day I hear from someone who’s decided to take an extended vacation from Facebook, with the idea of possibly turning it into a permanent one. Their reasons vary, but they usually revolve around one of two things: Facebook is taking time away from more worthwhile things in the real world, or the world’s biggest social network has made their private lives a bit too public.

The latter reason is far more common, especially now that Graph Search is here, making it easy to find, say “mothers of Jews who like bacon” or “Single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like Getting Drunk.”

facebook graph search drunk women-600p.png

Source: Actual Facebook Graph Searches

Recently though, I heard a story that tops them all. An old work colleague of mine, whom I haven’t seen for a good 15 years (outside of Facebook, natch) announced she was shutting down her account because she was being cyber-stalked by her estranged mother.

That post caught my attention, so I got in touch with my old friend, whom I’ll call Lauren (not her real name, obviously). Lauren had worked in or near the high tech industry for years, and while she isn’t a geek she’s not a novice either. Because she’s a working actress, she’s especially careful about keeping a solid black line between her public persona and her private life.

“I felt I’d done everything I could to protect myself on Facebook,” she says. “I don’t put really personal stuff up there. I think I am somewhat discriminating about who my friends are. I tried to make sure that only the people I knew could see my stuff.”

Lauren had decided to not allow her mother, whom she keeps at arms length for personal reasons, to become part of her Facebook posse. But that didn’t stop Lauren’s mom from making Facebook connections with some of her other friends, and one friend in particular: an ex fiance (we’ll call him Bill) with whom her mother had “a weird obsession.”

And that’s how Lauren found out her mother was secretly following her life on Facebook.

“On New Year’s Day my mother calls me and says, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Bill has contracted diabetes and gone blind,” she says. “My first reaction was shock. Then I began thinking about this. If Bill had really wanted to to tell me he would have let me know. Do I really need to be hearing this thanks to some weird twisted Facebook functionality? If my mom, who is 75, can do this, who else can find out stuff about me? That’s when I started thinking, this is not worth it.”

Sure, Facebook has a zillion privacy controls – too many for most people to understand. Heck, if Randi Zuckerberg doesn’t understand how they work, how can anyone expect us non-Zuckerbergs to figure them out? But there’s very little you can do to keep your friends from revealing information about you, or sustaining connections in the virtual world you thought you’d severed in the real one.

“I said I’m going to get off Facebook because this doesn’t feel good,” she says. “I have personal pictures and information about my kids on there. People with more malicious intent than my mother are out there. You just don’t know who’s friends with the friends of your friends.”

The ironic part is that after Lauren shut down her account some of her friends took it personally; they thought she’d had cut them off. She says she got emails from them asking “what did I say to make you unfriend me?” Lauren had to then reactivate her account briefly to tell everyone why she was leaving. That’s the status update I happened to see.

“When I got off Facebook I thought I’d miss it,” she says. “But I don’t miss it at all. People I care about who want to keep in touch can email, call, or text me. I just don’t trust that I’m going to be safe on Facebook any more.”

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld onTwitter and Facebook.

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