By Tafi Mhaka
Do you like that girl you went to primary school with? She found you on Facebook after 12 years. She did not quite disappear from your thoughts after you separated. She was after all the first girl you crushed on. She was the first girl who gave you her phone number. She was the first and only girl you danced with at primary school. And she probably was the first girl to ever smile at you.
Now she is back in your life at the click of a button or the touch of a small screen. She has added you as a friend on Facebook. It feels good to see her again and so you confirm her as a friend. All is fine and dandy in this world of yours. She is back in your life as a friend on Facebook. But is she truly a friend of yours? Because the next few days and weeks will test this virtual reunion.
First: you discover, much to your dismay, that she is a serial poster of note. She does not just post pictures of her and bae out and about town every four minutes; she posts traffic updates; weather updates; news updates; facial updates; fashion updates; work updates; BFF updates; cute baby girl updates; updates of her cosy apartment; and she posts close-ups of lunch; not her lunch dates or anything; but you get timely updates of what she has had for breakfast, lunch and supper. Any tasty snacks in between her regular meals also make it Facebook and Instagram. So does her daily lunchtime workout at the gym. She also thinks she is quite the political and economic expert; so she has a view on the Springbok loss to Italy, Nicolas Sarkozy, Syria, Brexit, Gucci handbags, Trump, Angela Merkel etc.; and you soon realise you just cannot escape the long reach of her vast social media presence.
But as you have just become reacquainted once again you make it a point to adhere to Facebook etiquette and click the like button on a number of her posts and add a comment or two to the post about her having a tablespoon of peanut butter for lunch or something until you decide you cannot and will not keep up with her. But she is your friend is she not? What are friends for if they do not like the pictures or updates you post on Facebook?
Social media has indeed amplified the fickleness of friendships or acquaintanceships. I have observed from the relative anonymity of my smartphone and notebook a lot of startling things about the manner in which people interact and show a liking for certain people or matters on social media.
The big time celebrities do get massive responses to posts. Kim Kardashian, who has a staggering 29 584 227 fans liking her page on Facebook, does pretty well in the like stakes. A post of her walking alongside her sister Kourtney; just walking and doing nothing else got her 172 000 likes.
But she does not come close to Cristiano Ronaldo. He has the most likes in the world. The 30-year-old Real Madrid star now has 107,096,356 likes compared to 107,087,100 for Colombian singer Shakira who is in second place.
But how well do our friends with big Facebook pages do? You know the social media darlings or superstars in the making. That is the guys and girls who have five thousand friends or so. Strangely enough: their posts do not seem to be wildly popular. Most struggle to gather a decent number of comments whenever they post anything and it really appears rather weird you know. How do five thousand people see a post – a fairly straightforward question addressed to all of them for instance like “Good morning. How are you?” – and say absolutely nothing? OK chances are two or three people might respond.
I find this low level of engagement most fascinating. For why should the silent majority add someone as a friend when they have no discernible interest in the things their friend says or does in life? I do my best to like the post friends put up. But I tend to hold back when they do not return the love I show for them.
Hey, maybe it is just me, but I have seen so many people who love to post and get reactions from their friends, but do not do the same for many other people in return. I do not know why. Is it because they believe their lives are really so interesting and so damn good we click like on their posts involuntarily?
Sometimes it is rather easy to tell who clicks like on what when you have plenty of mutual friends among your friends. I often marvel at the way people get nasty with their clicks.
When do you click like on a post? Do you click like on a post because your friend has just graduated from university with a degree in civil engineering? Or do you click like because they have just entered the departure lounge at OR Tambo Airport to a destination that has nothing to do with you? Do you click like because they have welcomed another baby daughter to their family? Or do you click like because they say they are having lunch at Tiffany’s in London? Do you click like because your friend is pictured standing next to a two-door red coupe that might be theirs? Or do you click like because your friend has a new hairdo?
The politics of pressing like on Facebook is an art in itself. Do you post stuff because you want to share stuff? Or do you go fishing for likes for your posts? Do you feel better or happier if you get more likes? Is the the number of likes on your post a reflection of the quality of your post? Is it essential to get that reaffirmation that people like you; they like your style and love your lifestyle?
But let us say you post a selfie of you and Scarlett Johansson in BFF mode in a restaurant in Manhattan. You do not know her like that of course. She is not a friend by any stretch of your ever-active imagination. But you get a selfie from her. Correction: you get not one or two, but three selfies from the star of Lucy and post them on Facebook.
The post garners a gazillion likes from friends you last heard from when Barack Obama first became president of the USA. Suddenly, you are the man on Facebook. Friends blow up your inbox for some reason to say hi. They inadvertently lost your number and need it again apparently. Some friends promise to call you on the weekend. Other friends invite you to a get-together at the weekend. Hey, now you are back in the inner circle of friends again. All because of Scarlett Johansson.
Some friends remember you when it is time for the new football season to begin. Some will remember you when they need a favour – a small loan mostly. Some will remember you when you they might be passing through your neighbourhood. So you might be there on Facebook but you are not really there at all.
But Facebook is such a big part of life. The vanity of humanity is the lifeblood of the social media revolution and the skittishness of relationships fuels it. You can like and unlike a post or add or defriend a so-called friend in the split of a second and without battling an eye lid.
Then there are the debates on Facebook about topical matters of the day that everybody appears to like; like politics; like politics; like politics. Everything is political in some way by the way. Whether it is the cost of the latest phone, the news or the price of potatoes in 2017; everything is political in some way.
Seldom are these political-like debates conducted in a friendly-like manner. Unless all the participants in the debate support the same party and support the same leaders in that party and support the same policy and live in the same neighbourhood or wear the same fashion labels or support the same causes through Greenpeace and drive the same cars, friendly debates are never cordial in reality.
I have witnessed debates degenerate into thinly-veiled disputes about money, cars and jobs and low IQs in a matter of a few short hours. So I stay out of debates even if they sound interesting; even when I have a reasonably sound view to share. Why should I honestly debate anything with you if I agree with you? It sounds like an exercise in futility to me. But the idea of losing a debate appears much too humiliating for some friends. I am sure you know the kind of people I’m talking about.
It is often after a heated debate that getting likes from a certain friend or a clique of friends becomes a thing of the past. For them: you are there but you are not really there.
I have seen friends post stories and pictures about losing family or friends. I myself lost a friend at a time I was highly active on Facebook some seven years ago. But he had never had a Facebook account. I announced his passing to my friends on Facebook. Many of them knew him pretty well and remembered him from our days at school. His passing on really affected me. But I looked backed on this post of mine two or so years ago with great introspection and examined whether I had done the right thing. I say this because it is not easy (for me anyway) to comment on such matters when other people post sad news. Sometimes I do not know what to say. When somebody posts about their father, brother or sister who died 14 years ago, I do not know what to say, especially when I did not know the person. I feel a sense of guilt for their loss. I feel I’m being intrusive for I have wandered into a space that is so personal in nature. Do I express my regret at his loss? Sometimes it is difficult to muster a reaction to a post when just a few friends react to a tragedy. Other people call in person perhaps and do not say anything on Facebook. I can never tell, but what should I do in such a situation?
Sometimes a friend will defriend you without any warning. This might be because you said something they did not agree with or they felt you did not act as a friend should on Facebook. They never say why you have fallen out favour though and never make public the break up. You never find out until Facebook suggests you add them as a friend again.
And just who do you get to like and add as a friend on Facebook? It can be a tricky affair. I have sent request to friends I ostensibly regarded as close to me only to find out this was not the case. Some are people I know very well in fact. I have known them for a long time but they chose to spurn my offer of friendship on Facebook.
I have seen relatives on Facebook and not sent them a request as I am afraid they might feel a sense of discomfort seeing or reading some of the things I post or like. There are conversations I have with friends and conversations I simply do not have with my uncles and aunts on or off Facebook.
Facebook appropriated the word friend and this muddles social media interactions. Are there really friends of yours out there you have forgotten about and need to reconnect with? If they are your friends, then why have you forgotten about them in the first place? Does everyone you went to primary or high school with really need to know what your profession is or where you work or whether you bought a 61 inch screen HDTV on Saturday morning? I do not know, you know. How many of your friends on your Facebook page would you invite home for supper?
Then there is the “It’s Lionel Messi’s birthday today” type messages. You get a reminder urging you to send a friend a birthday message. I hate to say it but most birthday messages I have seen look and sound so generic I cringe at the sight of them.
The birthday messages do remind me that everything we like on Facebook appears so manufactured for us to like.
Who do you like?