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by Abigail Van Buren

Spilling Virtual Beans Lands Surprised Friend in Hot Water

DEAR ABBY: A few months ago, my friend and neighbor, "Jill," told me how much she enjoyed an online mothers group she participated in, so I joined. Last week, Jill announced on the Web site that she's pregnant with her second child. I congratulated her online, then congratulated her husband in person when I ran into him in the neighborhood later that day. He was flabbergasted. Apparently, Jill hadn't told him about the baby!

Jill is now furious with me because I "spoiled her surprise" by revealing something that was supposed to be a secret. How could I have possibly known her pregnancy was secret? She posted it on the Internet! Jill claims any information exchanged in the online community should be confidential as it is never mentioned in the "real world." I think she should have told her husband before telling her online friends.

How was I supposed to know this "rule" about privacy when it's never discussed? And how do I fix our friendship? I don't think I did anything wrong. Jill thinks I hurt her on purpose. -- ONLINE MOMMY IN THE NORTHWEST

DEAR ONLINE MOMMY: An online chat group is not a 12-step meeting where members guard their anonymity as girls do their chastity. Unless a privacy warning was clearly posted on the site, there is no way you -- or anyone else -- could have known that the discussions were confidential. One apology should be enough. Jill's feelings of persecution may be hormonal and connected to her pregnancy -- so try not to take this too personally.