“What are you saying about me on social media?”
In my childhood bedroom, my mom sat, her arms tight across her chest. She’d asked me to come over to discuss a parenting column I’d been writing for The Root. I hadn’t told her about it ahead of time and she was angry. Particularly since it was a column about how I parented differently from her.
“Besides this column, where else are you talking about me online? Do you talk about me on Facebook or Twitter or other places?” my mom asked.
“Of course I do,” I said. “Sometimes. But it’s not often and it’s not a big deal.”
“I don’t want you talking about me anywhere online,” my mom said. “I’m not on social media for a reason, and I have a right to my privacy.”
I fully understood how she felt about discovering The Root column on her own. I should have told her about it in advance. But I tried to explain to her that unlike my parenting column on an actual news website, random social media posts don’t live long. I explained that I had thousands of Facebook friends, but very few of them would actually see anything I wrote come across their timelines. My mom was having none of it.
“I’m sure the people who do see what you write on social media know who I am. And I don’t like it—at all. I don’t want you writing about me online. Period.”
I thought about the dozens of posts and photos of my mom that were already online, posted by me, my siblings and other relatives. On Mother’s Day, for example, lots of people, myself included, post tributes with photos of their mothers, even when they are not on Facebook and we know they won’t see them.
Holiday celebrations are always social media friendly for most of my family. Last Easter, for fun, all the women in our family did our own version of Beyoncé’s “7-11” video. I showed the finished video to my mom and she loved it. I sent her a link so she could show her friends. But then I posted it to Facebook, and my mom didn’t even realize the video was out there. Should I have asked her first before I posted it? It never even dawned on me to ask.
When she retired after 25 years of teaching, dozens of her former students gathered to honor her. They almost all posted on their own Facebook pages with photos of themselves with my mom and special memories and sweet messages. Should her students have asked for permission to post the pictures first?
I think because so much of what I post about my mom is overwhelmingly positive, I assume that she won’t mind. But that’s not the point for her. She doesn’t want any attention on social media, which is understandable but still not really possible.
This whole situation reminded me of Alice Walker and her daughter, Rebecca. The writer is estranged from her daughter, partly because of the two memoirs Rebecca Walker wrote, calling out her mom as inattentive and far from a capable parent. Alice Walker wrote a blog post explaining how this made her feel, particularly when she found out that there was a Wikipedia page on her that she knew nothing about, and most of the content was populated from Rebecca’s writings.
I think my mom needs to understand that she can stay off social media. But unless she refuses to pose in family pictures and pointedly tells every friend and relative not to ever mention her, it will be almost impossible for the social media spotlight to stay completely off her.
Several years ago I learned about something called Facebook when one of my co-workers posted pictures of me, some unflattering, on the site and I heard others talking about it. I had posed for the pictures at work, not having any idea that a large outlet of people would see them. I was shocked and angry.
I’m old-school and I don’t apologize for it. I use technology when it’s useful to me. But I don’t do social media—at all. I am not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any other outlet. And if I make that decision to stay off those sites, I expect others to know that I don’t want them to put me on there either. You’re violating my privacy, period.
My colleagues began to make jokes whenever we took pictures together about how they couldn’t post a certain picture because I was in it and I didn’t want my photos on Facebook. I don’t mind the jokes, as long as they remember not to put my photos on social media, because I’m serious about that.
These days, with the evolution of camera phones, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of when my picture is taken, and I have given up trying to tell people my feelings on the issue. But that doesn’t mean I like it. I just know that in some instances I have no choice but to deal with it because I can’t control what other people do with their content.
I know that when my students held a retirement party for me, pictures were taken all night long. But since I’m not on Facebook, I didn’t see them. Would I prefer that they didn’t post them? Yes. Can I control what dozens of people at a party do with their photos? No. I can’t.
But I hold my daughter to a higher standard when it comes to respecting my wishes than I do my co-workers and my former students.
When I found out that she was writing a column about parenting styles for The Root, I was rightfully incensed. For one, she hadn’t told me about it, and to make matters worse, it seemed to me that she was using the column to demonstrate how her skills were superior to mine, therefore making her a better mother. These kinds of communications can be very dangerous to the mother-daughter dynamic.
As Aliya mentioned, Alice and Rebecca Walker don’t have a relationship partly because of the words one person wrote about the other and then put out to the public.
I know the difference between a space like this, where Aliya and I can have our say, and the looseness of social media.
I can get used to writing my thoughts on a particular topic for a specific site. But social media is another thing altogether. It’s an unyielding beast that can be difficult to rein in. I’m an exceptionally private person. Hearing that I’m being discussed on social media is like having layers of my skin peeled away to expose nerves, to expose thoughts and moments that were meant to be mine and mine alone.
And if I can expect anyone to respect that, shouldn’t I expect that of Aliya?
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at her website. Rita Moore King, mother of three grown folks, is originally from Newark, N.J., and has made East Orange, N.J., her home for the last 40 years. Prior to her recent retirement as an English teacher at East Orange Campus High School, she advised the school’s book club for 12 years. Her goal is to publish her first children's book, A Fake Moon in a Real Sky, an idea inspired by her granddaughter Emmy.