Written by Esther Levy-Chehebar
I’d first come to know Aziz Ansari through his ascot popping Parks and Recreation character, Tom Haverford. And for six seasons, I’ve been jovially watching the lovable Haverford roll out his own red carpet and pioneer his own language. Forks, for example, will now forever be “food rakes” to me. Desserts will be “zerts.” And Chicken Parmesan? “Chicky chicky parm parm.”
I love the guy and so when the opportunity to meet him came a-knockin’, I opened that door faster than you can say “fry fry chicky chick.”
A friend of mine was selected to participate in a focus group led by Ansari, which would examine the effects that social media snooping has had on relationships. The catch? Attendees were forbidden to bring their partners, thus creating a safe space where one could lament about his or her significant other amid the comfort of strangers. So, I bid my husband of eight months farewell and attended the event with my best friends’ boyfriend.
Ansari began the conversation with a question:
Has anyone here ever seen anything on his or her partner’s social media platforms or e-mail that made you mad?
The women in the room sprung into action with a “Fuck yeah!” while the men remained decidedly quiet. But the dynamic changed once the lights were turned down. With darkness obscuring our faces, in-depth stories quickly materialized.
One woman, we’ll call her Pinky, told an anecdote about an ex who left his Facebook logged on to her home computer. Equal parts curious and suspicious, Pinky chose to glean his Facebook messages. This was, after all, her home turf, so she wasn’t technically “hacking.” Pinky’s suspicions were met with vulnerability when she found provocative exchanges between the moron who left his Facebook logged on and a mutual girl friend.
Another cyber-spy, a sweet man from Arkansas who I shall call Zorro, said that he and his wife openly use each other’s Facebook accounts. However, it recently came to light that Zorro’s wife had been posting nasty statuses about his mother, using Facebook’s blocking feature to hide them from him.
He was angry to find his wife posting unbecoming comments about his mother on her Facebook page, which I understood, but still it made me wonder if he had a right to be upset.
When this one Israeli solder I met in the throes of an emotionally intense Birthright trip recently messaged me on WhatsApp, I was more inclined to fall into a “flirtatious” exchange but not because I’m emotionally invested — it is simply because the service harbors my otherwise harmless words in a private space that is unaffiliated with my “real life.”
So maybe that’s the thing about social media. These virtual communication platforms encourage a code of privacy that plays by its own sets of rules.
My husband and I share a desktop computer. I know all of his passwords as he does mine, and his e-mail is always open. He doesn’t have Facebook or an Instagram account, and his Twitter account is nearly mum save for the occasional @WhatTheFFacts retweet. (Did you know that “vaginae” is the plural word for vagina?) Still, were he to see the WhatsApp exchange, would he be upset? Or would he respect my privacy and understand that the Internet alters — whether intensifying, mitigating, or even recreating one’s actual personality? And if he could understand that, where do we draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate?
Snooping with probable cause is a complicated matter, but from what I was able to cull through Ansari’s conversation, it seems like the majority of us do it. It just also seems like the question we should be asking isn’t in whether we snoop but rather in how private our virtual lives should be when considering what we share with our partners.
Or, as Tom Haverford would say, “Virty virty life life.”