If Facebook would like an easy, uncontroversial privacy win, it should stop sending out status updates when someone exits a relationship. News Feed announcements when someone changes status to “in a relationship” are fine (although it would be nice to ask the user whether it’s a new relationship or one they’re just now telling Facebook about). But I think it’s a pretty safe default assumption that anyone changing status to “single” doesn’t want to blast the news to their complete list of contacts.
I’m not sure that’s true for different online communities. danah boyd’s research on MySpace, at least, suggests that younger users (high school and college age) often use the public announcement of breakups purposely to protect themselves against “he said/she said” disputes with mutual friends.
Digital natives view privacy differently than our generation does.
For the curious, here’s the danah boyd research on “Relationship Performance in Networked Publics.” I should emphasize that I’m only talking abut keeping relationship status changes from automatically entering one’s News Feed, having now heard two unrelated stories of people trying (and failing) to keep Facebook breakups private. The News Feed story of the status change is always what trips them up. The point of the tweak is that it protects those people, while keeping open all of the more expressive channels for talking about relationships.
I don’t think it’s a digital-natives vs. everyone else thing. The ways younger users use social network sites can be surprising, but I’m also confident that some of them sometimes want to break up without telling anyone else, and that older users sometimes want to break up loudly where everyone can hear. The problem with Facebook (more so than with MySpace) here is that it makes the one much harder than the other.
Automatically broadcasting the other sort of relationship status-change seems equally bad to me, albeit for different reasons. You can scuttle a nascent relationship by reifying at the wrong time; you can’t, generally, undo a breakup that has already mostly happened just by imprudently telling people about it. (Though you could have an argument after which one partner thinks they’ve been broken up with, and once they declare this on their Facebook profile it becomes true.)
I agree, but the difference is that the social network site can’t really do anything about helping people not make that mistake. Announcing a relationship too early is a problem of miscommunication and social misunderstanding, whereas broadcasting a breakup is most often about not getting the damn privacy interface to work. To the extent that the later is technical, a technical fix might work. The former is necessarily social.