How a well-meaning wish can boomerang

Facebook has made our cardboard birthday trackers almost redundant. But those were the days when it was just a placebo because we didn’t actually need reminders for birthdays. And there were fewer ‘real’ friends to wish. Today, daily lists of birthdays on our Facebook home pages are not easy to miss when we log in. But how do we all wish our online ‘friends’? Do we really know what’s happening in their lives?

Wishing Facebook friends by the dozen has a flip side that I discovered last week. I posted what I thought was a warm “Hope you had a great day” one liner on an acquaintance’s timeline, as I had logged in pretty late and it didn’t make sense to say ‘Happy Birthday’ at the end of the day. I added the person’s name too as I didn’t want it to feel like a classic ‘cut, copy, paste’ wish. Instead of creating goodwill, it ended up getting the recipient’s goat, which, in hindsight, seemed justified.

The recipient was nursing an ailing child and was having nothing that remotely resembled what I had wished. There were many others who wished this Facebook user but their “Happy Birthday” probably didn’t appear as unwittingly insensitive as “hope you had a great day”. That I have also been contending with bouts of illnesses in the family and haven’t been reading all the timeline posts of my 3,000-plus Facebook friends may be a reason. But, to the other side, that would come across as an excuse. The option to classify your friends under various categories and to choose whose posts you would like to read on your timeline better be exercised. So, Lesson 1: Before you wish someone, remember to check their timeline posts. They could very well be going through a bad patch and your wishes may be counter productive.

The social media is constantly evolving — reason enough for the word ‘tweet’ to make a grand entry into the dictionary. Networking sites, like the fiercely competitive TV channels, are constantly trying to outsmart each other, often ending up just copying features. After aping Twitter’s ‘Verified’ accounts, Facebook has now thrown in hashtags. But why has the site stopped asking users if they know those who send friend requests, outside of Facebook? I thought that was a good move to shed light on the real friendship quotient.

On that note, I wonder if Linkedin has realised that its checks and balances against strangers sending mails to connect with professionals are not entirely, well, ‘stranger proof’. There is no way of verifying if someone is actually a friend here, although there are mandatory fields like ‘company’ for colleague or ‘we did business together’ or ‘school’ for classmate.

There are reasonably engaging elements like ‘Facebook Stories’ — from how users found their Prince Charming or Dream Girl to how estranged sisters living on different continents were brought together by a post to owners being reunited with their lost pets to even how a little boy with autism was mistreated in a salon in Michigan that caused an internet firestorm. This, in many ways, looks like the social media answer to the ‘middle’ in newspapers. The mainstream media better watch its back! That said, I’m a little surprised that the big story on a shortage of drugs to fight tuberculosis was buried in some small corner in many newspapers (The Hindu carried a detailed report prominently) and there wasn’t much of a hue and cry on twitter. Not as much as the IPL spot fixing and betting scandal.

The reservoir of wit that Facebook and Twitter have truly become, calls for a weekly award that the owners of these sites can institute. For this week, I’d unhesitatingly nominate Punkaj Sachdev’s Facebook post: “The only time the rupee goes up is during a toss!”

RELATED NEWS

Bored and abusiveJuly 5, 2013

Amazing paceJuly 19, 2013

Facebook’s verified pagesJune 7, 2013

A social media policyMay 24, 2013

Hashtag antagonism April 12, 2013

Be right, not firstApril 26, 2013

‘Minor’ issue, major questionsMay 10, 2013