Netiquette: A loser's guide to social media - from Facebook events to dating on Tinder

Have you Snapchatted your bum? or swiped right on your cousin? Fear not: help is at hand with Rhodri Marsden's guide to netiquette…

Social media is firing too much stuff my way. I pop to the shops, come back and find a stack of information that demands to be caught up with. It's like a menial job with long hours that I can't quit and I don't even get paid for. Help!

Pose this heartfelt plea on social media, and people on social media who wouldn't dream of quitting social media will tell you to quit social media. Thanks, guys. We're encouraged to make connections, to friend and to follow, and are rewarded by having information hosed into our faces in a way that feels like we can't opt out. But the opt-out is the only weapon available to us, and we have to embrace it. It can take many forms, from the subtle (unfriending, unfollowing) to the drastic (flinging all your electronic devices into a skip). The most useful thing to remember is that we don't need to know everything. So operate on a "don't need to know" basis. Treat social media like a room at a party. If it's interesting, hang about. If it's not, go and sit in the garden, either literally or metaphorically. It's unlikely that you'll miss anything of consequence; yes, you might be desperate to catch up with information, but if information is that important, it'll catch up with you.

Someone is pretending to be me online. I think it's meant to be a joke, but it isn't particularly funny – and worse, they can't even spell. Should I ignore it or try to do something about it?

Impersonation used to be the sincerest form of flattery (unless you were pretending to be a policeman, in which case you faced criminal charges). But the internet changed all that. Today, impersonation can rank anywhere on the scale of annoyance from tedious prank to career-threatening menace, and it's usually perpetrated by anonymous cowards who are sufficiently bored with their own lives to attempt to live someone else's instead. Criminal charges can still come their way if they break laws relating to privacy, defamation or fraud, and most web services have anti-impersonation policies in place which can get their accounts terminated. Otherwise, it's a case of hoping they get bored with maintaining a web presence for another person. I mean, it's enough of a drag to maintain one's own.

There's an event listed on Facebook that I can see a bunch of my friends will be attending, but I don't appear to have been invited. I've been stewing about this for a week. Imaginary arguments play out in my head. Am I losing my mind?

You've succumbed to a bout of fomo, or fear of missing out. Is this a snub? Or a simple administrative error? That's the burning question, and your options appear to be: a) assume it's a snub and get depressed, or b) assume it's an administrative error and risk embarrassment when you turn up in elaborate fancy dress and are refused admittance by a grumpy bloke manning the door in a suit and dark glasses. These issues aren't new; they've been going on for as long as people have had parties, ie since about 1962 or so. But the internet rubs our noses in it. Remember: the notion that everyone else is having a better time than us is something that exists entirely in our own heads. (Probably.)

I have a compulsion to click on links that warn me the content I'm about to view may be harrowing. I know I'm mentally unprepared for what awaits me, but I do it anyway. How can I administer a bit of self-control?

It's one of the recreational hazards of using the internet: a small part of your mind becomes dotted with lurid images that you can't unsee. We bookmark links marked "Not Safe For Work" for viewing as soon as work is done. When we see or hear the words "You may find these images disturbing," we think, "Yeah? Are you saying I can't handle it? Bring it on!" Our curiosity thus leads us towards dubious material that traditional media wouldn't touch. If that's something you're unable to keep in check, maybe set up a video camera trained on your face while you view said material, and set up a YouTube channel for the resulting footage called "My Predictably Traumatised Reactions to Stuff". You'll be a viral sensation by Christmas.

I've heard of anonymous social-media apps such as Secret and Whisper that let you share thoughts you wouldn't dare put your name to. For years I've wanted to tell people about a dark secret of mine, and I'm thrilled about the prospect of unburdening myself. Should I post it?

Knock yourself out. Although whether you'll feel unburdened after receiving the typical response (two "likes" and three anonymous comments from a tenacious pervert) is questionable. To rid yourself of psychological torment, therapy can work wonders – although of course it's significantly more expensive.

I tried to send a direct message on Twitter, but posted it to my public timeline. This wouldn't matter, except it contained a nude picture and I'm quite well known. I explained it away by saying I'd been hacked, but no one believes me. What can I do?

Nothing. If your privacy is compromised by someone else, a wave of sympathy comes your way. Compromise your own privacy, however, and you'll be a laughing stock. A tip: take three slow, deep breaths before sending nude pictures of yourself instead of jabbing at the screen with your index finger while panting excitedly.

I 'liked' someone's Instagram photos because of their excellent composition. Now they think I fancy them and our exchanges have become awkward. What's the etiquette here?

Pressing the "like" button on Instagram can have many meanings, from "I have seen this" to "Nice view of the harbour" to "Remember me, pal? You borrowed £20 two weeks ago and haven't given it back." One Instagram behaviour in particular, however, is universally understood: posting a selfie means, "Do you fancy me?" and clicking "like" means, "Yes, I certainly do." Even if that is not the intention, it's certainly the interpretation. "Like" people's faces with extreme caution.

I was trying to find a date on Tinder, and I saw my cousin. I swiped right, just to say hello. Ten minutes later, they swiped right on me, and we registered as a match. Neither of us has said anything about it to each other. The longer we leave it, the worse it gets. The silence is excruciating. What now?

Go back to their profile and manually unmatch. Pretend it never happened. When you see them at Christmas, look them in the eye, shake them vigorously by the hand and give them a gift that couldn't possibly have any kind of misinterpreted meaning – a strimmer, perhaps? Anyone who advises you to "just have a chat and a laugh about it" doesn't understand that this is simply not the British way.

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I've tried watching 'Game of Thrones' with my husband, but he live-tweets through every episode, sniggers at all the tweeted gags and tells me them in detail. I've warned him, but he persists in doing it. What can I do? (Andy Council)

I unwisely added the flamenco-dancing woman emoji at the end of a text to my daughter, and her response was as horrified as if I'd actually greeted her with some flamenco dancing of my own. Should I be using emoji at my age?

Absolutely. They're our emoji too. Rich with hidden meaning and an endless source of playful interaction, emoji are an essential addition to written language, and anyone who disagrees deserves an emoji of a sticking-out tongue in reply. Your kids will get over it; by next Tuesday they'll have moved on to another baffling form of communication that you find impossible to decipher.

I need to cut about half my Facebook friends in order to preserve my sanity. What's the best way of doing this?

You have three options: 1) Silent efficiency. Administer the cull. Say nothing, and issue no response to those who send you messages of complaint. Lose them. They are dead to you. 2) Ingratiating apology: send each person a long, convoluted explanation of the reasons why you're removing them that involves at least one vague reference to a "personal crisis". Then, after engaging each of them in a lengthy discussion about it, apologise, re-add them and curse your impotent actions. 3) Issue a general warning beforehand that the cull is likely to take place, then, when you've done it, post a pompous message congratulating the lucky people who made the cut, even though the vast majority of them really couldn't care less one way or the other.

I recently went to see Bombay Bicycle Club and was having a great time until the guy next to me put his arm in the air and started filming the gig on his phone. When I asked him to stop, he told me to 'cock off'. Was I right to be annoyed?

Artists have started taking a stand on this recently, asking (or in some cases commanding) fans not to experience the show through the medium of a smartphone screen. We seem to have developed a behavioural impulse to comprehensively document our lives and prove that "I was there", despite the video being shaky and the audio sounding like a warthog roaring into a metal bucket. So, given that the value of said video as a memento is next to nothing, and they will never actually watch it, perhaps remind them of this by flailing about wildly within shot and screeching like a distressed pig until they stop filming out of sheer frustration.

Is there a limit to the number of pictures of a newborn child that one can post to Facebook?

Facebook issues no specific guidelines on this matter, but the general consensus appears to be that there's absolutely no limit whatsoever. Proceed with enthusiasm.

I've tried watching 'Game of Thrones' with my husband, but he live-tweets through every episode, sniggers at all the tweeted gags and tells me them in detail. I've warned him, but he persists in doing it. What can I do?

"Second-screen" content, be it live-blogging or tweet-alonging, is supposed to replicate the experience of hanging out with a large group of like-minded friends, all watching your favourite show together. Essentially, your husband has invited 800 people round to watch Game of Thrones with you, and he probably hasn't even bought in enough snacks. Your options are either to buy another TV for the spare room or get divorced. A new telly will work out cheaper.

I just Googled the person I've been dating and have discovered loads of information about them. I'm worried that I know too much stuff that they haven't told me yet. How should I proceed?

Becoming encumbered with information that betrays your curiosity in someone is a classic 21st-century problem. Some people might be flattered that you've bothered doing the research. Others will be furious that you've been delving into their past without their say-so, call you a stalker and flounce off. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing which type they are until it's too late. The only way around this is to subject them to a series of rigorous questions to which you already know the answers, and hope that they answer them without too much fuss – or, indeed, getting them wrong. (For goodness' sake, don't argue with them.)

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I hate it when people crow about their achievements on social media. How do I do so without annoying people? (Andy Council)

I had a great product idea that I mentioned to a friend of a friend a couple of years ago. I never got round to doing anything about it, but i've just noticed she's posted something suspiciously similar on Kickstarter and raised nearly all the cash. Should I be suing the treacherous bastard or applauding her entrepreneurial skill?

"I could have done that," said the man in the modern-art gallery. "Yes," said his wife, "but you didn't, did you?" That's business, sadly.

I've begun monitoring my friends and follower numbers on social media like a nervous politician monitoring opinion polls. Could you reassure me that these numbers don't matter?

Anyone who tells you that the internet isn't a popularity contest is conveniently ignoring the fact that the internet is a popularity contest. Everywhere you look, there are numbers that attest to this. When the numbers go up, we feel validated and popular; when they drop, we worry about what we could possibly have done to annoy people. But while the numbers may matter, the popularity contest really doesn't. Success is ephemeral, the sense of satisfaction fleeting. There are more important things to worry about. Maybe your plants need watering, or surfaces need dusting.

I hate it when people crow about their achievements on social media. Thing is, I've just met the partner of my dreams and now I want to crow about it. How do I do so without annoying people?

You can't. If social media is about anything, it's about showing off; annoying people is inevitable. But while outright bragging is wearily tolerated, if you try to understate your triumphs you'll be deemed to be humblebragging, which carries fearsome penalties. So if you've landed a well-paid job, received an unexpected gift, been invited to a swanky event, been kissed by Enrique Iglesias or just had a great date with someone, you may as well tell everyone. Because everyone else would.

In a moment of gin-fuelled exuberance, I took a picture of my bum in the mirror and Snapchatted it to my entire address book. Four people have sent me back pictures of their own bums in the mirror. Two of them are in relationships. What am I getting myself into?

You're using Snapchat correctly. Much guff has been written about the way it facilitates "ephemeral communication" but it's basically a forum for exchanging bum pictures. If you establish that you like each other's bums, simply use your own moral code to dictate the next move. NB: of all the cocktails that are currently in vogue, gin and smartphone is among the most dangerous.

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