Once in a while I will take a look at the "Dear Prudence" column, and just as often she will dole out advice in a way I never even considered the issue. This time, she suggested that people could be reported to Facebook for "uncivil behavior."
Dear Prudie, A few years ago, my cousin's wife (40) left him for a much younger man (19), a student of hers while she was a professor at a community college. The younger man moved in with her and her 2 young kids and she has since filed for divorce. It has been nasty! Both sides have been using the kids as pawns and trash talking the other in their presence. I'm writing because my aunt has recently started a facebook smear campaign against this guy, even sending lengthy letters to family members. While I feel bad for my cousin, I think it is completely inappropriate for my family to badmouth his ex wife, especially in front of the kids. How can I express my concerns to my aunt and nicely opt out of these messages? Is there such thing as facebook slander? ~Want to be left out!~
EMILY YOFFE:Here's a situation in which there's no one to root for. I hope the community college knows about the professor's extra-curricular activities -- because this should get her booted from the faculty. It's also understandable that your cousin's family thinks his ex is trash, but that does not allow them to trash her publicly. Doing so only demeans themselves and harms the children. Today's New York Times has a story about the Facebook team devoted to monitoring uncivil behavior on the site and your aunt's campaign sounds like a perfect example of something they would want to block. Feel free to contact Facebook and ask that this smear be taken down. And have a discussion with your aunt in which you explain you perfectly well understand her hatred of her former daughter-in-law, but spreading poisonous things about her will only damage the grandchildren.
I agree that family trashing a mom whose kids are probably on Facebook, too, is hurtful and damaging. But I was surprised by a couple pieces of Prudie's advice. One, I didn't know that colleges had policies against teachers dating students, especially since in this case, they would be consenting adults. Surely, this mom has not committed a crime, like let's say, Mary Letourneau.
Second, I can't imagine Facebook taking down pages over family disputes as there are 500 million Facebook accounts. Here is the New York Times story Prudie referred to, which aside from obvious things like child pornography, I am still unclear when the company actually chooses to remove material from a Facebook page.
What say you? How do you handle a family dispute on Facebook?