The forward-face you put forth on Facebook is highly customizable. An acquaintance of mine is recently divorced. Their Facebook profile has been cleansed of any mention of their ex of many years, including the “defriending” of aunts, uncles, and all extended family of the remaining children. “This is who I am. Nothing has a hold on me.”, they seem to say with it. Except of course these things very much have a hold on their identity. The spouse still has joint custody. They don’t live very far away. They’ve left church to avoid confrontation regarding the divorce. Their (presently) lucrative career appears to be the anchor of their life. Their online persona has been cleansed of roots and history. Only the beautiful tree-top is seen, above ground, with the camera angled up at the sky. But of course they must be hurting and afraid and stressed out. Some remaining close friends know the depth of this I’m sure. But nobody at an online distance does – nor could they even guess if they were a new lurking acquaintance. If you interact with this person online, how much of it is the “real” them? If you knew them from earlier, then the interaction is naturally more substantial – an extension of your previous years along-side them. But for a new friend? They would be starting with considerably little indeed and that very cherry-picked.
I’m not pointing fingers. My own online persona is similarly cleansed. That is how they are set up to function from the get-go! Unless someone wanted to draw attention to their victim-hood (which is popular to do with certain topics), it is standard practice to sweep our failures under the rug. Social sites on the internet serve as effective gatekeepers to make sure those blemishes STAY under the rug and we can more easily believe the story we tell about ourselves. Offline though, amongst people in close proximity at church or work or on the same street, all sorts of uncontrolled nuance is revealed. THIS is the person who must be loved and forgiven, by God and by others. The cleaned-up avatar is a handy but limited substitute.
Update: Much more on this here.