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The new rules of social media

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram each have unwritten laws of engagement

brunch Updated: Dec 30, 2017 21:07 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
social media,instagram,twitter
Instagram is the cool hangout of the iPhone aesthete.(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)

“On Facebook, you’re friends with all the people you went to college with. On Twitter, you talk to those you wish you’d gone to college with,” a college friend who favours Twitter over Facebook once said to me, perhaps quoting from a meme.

I had to agree. At least with the fact that the names on Facebook are familiar. You receive friend requests from schoolmates whom you still remember in braces, pigtails and giggles. Some have turned into aggressive cross-fitters. Some rescue bats. Others do even stranger things in finance.

Social media chameleons

Apart from the long lost “friends”, there are the everyday people in your world whose lives on Facebook are curated beyond recognition. My cousin tells me she doesn’t understand anything I post on Facebook – in real life, we’ve never had a problem communicating. That makes me a social-media chameleon, too.

Imagine being emotional on Twitter. It’s like talking about your first heartbreak to your new boss

But I quite enjoy the drama. Mothers discovering motherhood. Couples attacking singlehood. Sensitive types putting up philosophical posts, which are direct assaults on barely concealed targets. Freelancers venting about impossible clients. Artist types expressing artistic thoughts artistically. Liberals trying to engage with the frenzied right, leaving comment threads as long as queues at Aadhaar centres. Lots of sound and fury. Plenty of masala.

Putting the Twitter in outwitter

Then there’s Twitter. A collection of faceless minds, some that belong to people you know. You follow people who are famous. Or whose ideas match your own. Or who make you laugh. You also follow some people passive-aggressively, or stalkerishly. Some you follow as a matter of duty. I have an account. But everyone’s trying to be so witty at all times, it gets tiring. The character limit, in my opinion, limits the character of the engagement. Everyone’s trying to put the Twitter in outwitter. (I should post that.)

...Instagram is a comforting filter on a world gone ugly. Life here is a languorous, art directed photo shoot.

Admittedly, people are sharp, funny and incisive. But a few minutes on Twitter leave me feeling inadequate – blink and you miss something. And your funny thought ain’t so funny 15 seconds after someone else has posted it. Besides, I’m uncomfortable chatting with people I don’t know. It’s a great place for one-liners and epigrams, put-downs and comebacks. But I’d rather consume than share in this wordy fun. It’s too competitive.

Then there’s Instagram, the cool hangout of the iPhone aesthete. From abstract close-ups of dog hair to moody long shots of new lovers’ backs, from black and white skies to multicoloured seas, Instagram is a comforting filter on a world gone ugly. Life here is a languorous, art directed photo shoot. This is not a criticism. It’s made photography a daily part of people’s lives and that’s a good thing. (If more men learned to love cameras, perhaps fewer would love guns.) It’s such a direct way to make people see how you see. That’s exciting and liberating. What I can’t hack are the long trails of hashtags following posts. #Are #They #Really #Necessary?

About Snapchat, I know this much: it exists. My niece has tried hard to explain how it involves stories that disappear rapidly from one’s feed, just like my interest in this young person’s secret language.

Death by hashtag

Even from my limited experience of social media (I’m only regular on Facebook), I can tell there are unsaid rules about how to appear on which platform. Imagine being emotional on Twitter. It’s like talking about your first heartbreak to your new boss. Or wry on Facebook (“Whaaa??”) Or political on Instagram. Just doesn’t match. How about one more abstract shot of the Bandra-Worli sea link instead? #LoveBandra #GreySkies #SundayFunday #FeelingBlessed #WillYouStopWithTheInaneHastagsPleaseOrKillMeNow

Like a wise and witty jester in a royal court, the meme offers us some biting truths about our Internet-obsessed times

For all the exaggerated friendliness, Facebook gives you the option to control your friendships – something that’s impossible to do in real life. You can haughtily deny a friend request or pettily unfriend a contact, slyly hide someone’s posts from your feed or rightfully block an irritant. I recently spotted the ‘Take a Break’ option. Real life could do with all of these options.

Like a wise and witty jester in a royal court, the meme offers us some biting truths about our Internet-obsessed times. Here’s how one of them describes our heavily curated social media lives:

On Facebook – I’m so happy

On Twitter – I’m so smart

On Instagram – I’m so hot

In Real Life – I just lost my job

Typical Twitter.

From HT Brunch, December 31, 2017

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First Published: Dec 30, 2017 21:01 IST