How Facebook Fails Your Family

Is Facebook the right place to build a family history?

By Eric Peterschmidt

Was your dad or grandfather in World War II?

Do you have a family member who was in any war – it really does not matter, as the experience was likely horrific no matter where or when it occurred. In the winter of 1945, my 20 year old dad fought for his life in a foxhole in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge.

He dealt with a massive push by the enemy, hand-to-hand combat activity and weather that gave him severe frostbite of his feet. While he survived and lived a rich life afterwards, it was short – passing away at age 64 I think in part due to the stress that experience put on his mind and body.  

My aunt told me once that my dad left Iowa to join the Army as a kind, young man, but came home a warrior. The transition back to civilian life was slow and difficult. As the story goes, one day the family priest took my dad on a long ride out to the country. When they returned, my dad was a different person – one who was in a better place to accept life and move forward. Nobody knows what was said during that drive, but I am so thankful that it happened.

My kids never knew their grandpa

Their grandpa’s World War II experience is just one of so many stories about my mom and dad that I want them to know. But where do those stories belong? Where do we put them so that those of us who are living can build them, and those of us consuming them can do so for decades to come? 

 A couple weeks ago, a friend of a friend was showing me the Facebook family group she participates in. While I have seen and been involved in Facebook family groups before, I wanted to just observe to see what her experience was. She has a large group for a family – over 70 people. She scrolled through the posts, most made up of a single photo and some with multiple old family photos.

The photos were a mix of old and new

The old ones were usually single snapshots that someone found and shared, some of which had good conversations and stories associated with them too. There were a couple that she was looking for, but was not able to find – spending quite a bit of time going through the feed. 

As I was observing what her family had done, there were a lot of what I will call nuggets that very were good. But there is a randomness to the way things are kept in a Facebook family group.

Facebook has always been “about me” and “about now”, with things in the past really not being of significance. As a result, while there is joy in the moment to share memories from the past, where do those memories go once shared?  

Again, stepping back and observing, I had other questions too. How are they organized? How can you find them again? How can they be connected to other photos, memories or stories? Her family group was named after an uncle. But what about the other members of the family? What about other sides of the family? Would these all be in different groups? And, how are they connected to each other? What about things that bridged families – like the courtship of her mom and dad? Where would that go? Or what about the family farm that spanned generations – where would that go?

Finally, even though she was proud to show me what they had built, she expressed how she wished they did not have to use Facebook to do it. She, like so many people, doesn’t like the way Facebook uses her data and how they act as public citizens. She does not use Facebook in general because “it is full of toxic things”. But for something like this – sharing family photos and stories, it is a “necessary evil.” 

What she and her family were doing underscores something that is foundational to human nature

People want to connect with family, to share and build on their past, so they can all gain a broader understanding of who they are and who their people wereAnd it is done through conversations – whether around the fire 1000 years ago, or around the kitchen table 50 years ago. The value transcends your own generation. While your children and grandchildren may not see the value today, someday they most likely will. 

And why do they use Facebook? Well, because it is there and lots of people are on it. But does it do it well? No, it does not. 

The bottom line is this: These stories deserve something much better than Facebook.  

And how about you? Does your family deserve better? If you think so, I have a list of requirements that I believe you should consider as you look for a solution to build your family’s story..  


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