Social Media Advice: When To Wish Happy Birthday?

Social media experts Baratunde Thurston and Deanna Zandt answer questions about how to behave in the digital age. This week's topic: When a person has hundreds, perhaps even thousands of friends on Facebook, what's the rule for wishing them a happy birthday?

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Finally in All Tech, we turn to our social media gurus for a bit of advice. Returning this week are Baratunde Thurston, former digital director at The Onion and author of the book "How to Be Black," and Deanna Zandt. She is author of "Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking." Today's topic...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRTHDAY")

THE BEATLES: (singing) You say it's your birthday.

BLOCK: Birthdays, they only come once a year. But if you have hundreds, perhaps, even thousands of friends on Facebook, chances are it's someone's birthday every day. So what's the rule for telling all your friends?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRTHDAY")

BEATLES: (singing) I'm glad it's your birthday. Happy birthday to you.

DEANNA ZANDT: It's so crazy. And actually, the first time that Baratunde wished me a happy birthday on Facebook after we became friends, he left with a message, happy day, your wall becomes unusable. You know...

(LAUGHTER)

BARATUNDE THURSTON: That's right. I did.

ZANDT: ...have a good time.

THURSTON: Yeah.

ZANDT: And that's actually one of the things that happens. But I feel people have this tremendous peer pressure to leave sort of inauthentic messages for one another, like happy B-day, you know?

THURSTON: Well, it's a form - I mean, you see these criticism on the Internet when it comes to political activism, clicktivism(ph). It's like, oh, it's - I like these causes. I don't do anything, but I feel really good having pressed the like button on like stopping child trafficking or some other worthy thing. And the birthday, because a lot of these Facebook friends aren't real friends, we don't actually keep track of people's birthday that way. Facebook is essentially a birthday reminder service masquerading as a social network.

(LAUGHTER)

ZANDT: Yes. What I actually use Facebook's birthday reminder service, as it may be called, is to text message people that I am actually close with. I am not going to sit there and leave the same message also over and over - it just feels inauthentic to me.

THURSTON: Well, and it is. I mean, Facebook's made it very easy to look like you're someone's friend. And that's what - I mean, the friend button - we don't need a button to solidify our friendships, and Facebook did that to us in the birthday reminder service like, you might as well just write an app that automatically wishes...

ZANDT: Exactly.

THURSTON: ...all your friends happy birthday on the days that it happens.

ZANDT: Now that my mom is on Facebook and people know that she is my mom, people will actually leave her nice messages on my birthday...

THURSTON: Oh, they're like, good work?

ZANDT: ...by saying, like, hey, thanks for your work.

(LAUGHTER)

ZANDT: Thanks for that day.

THURSTON: And that's nice because they're crediting the author, you know, and...

ZANDT: Yeah. You know, they are going back to the original source...

THURSTON: Yeah.

ZANDT: ...my awesome mom.

THURSTON: Well, good. And that the Internet can allow us to be more honorable in citing our sources.

(LAUGHTER)

THURSTON: That's a good thing. So thank you, in part, Facebook, for that.

BLOCK: That's Baratunde Thurston and Deanna Zandt. Have a question for our experts? You can email it to alltech@npr.org.

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