Beth’s got a problem. She’s friends with her mom Terri on Facebook, though that isn’t the issue — Beth and her mom are actually very close. It’s how Terri interacts with Beth’s friends.
No, Terri isn’t sharing embarrassing stories about Beth or trying to act her daughter’s age by using slang. Instead, she’s acting like the English teacher she used to be.
“She corrects everyone’s spelling and grammar on Facebook,” Beth says. “She’s even correcting my friends on my Facebook comments.”
Beth still loves her mom, of course, but she’s embarrassed by Terri’s habit. She says Terri is actually cool in real life, but the way she comes across on Facebook makes her seem annoying. “How do I get her to stop?” she asks.
It’s not an uncommon dilemma, consider the schism between people in real life and their online behavior and personae.
Plenty of people we know, like or love often have weird social media tics: dads who post status updates about their prostate exams and colonoscopies, boyfriends who upload pictures of their girlfriends when they just woken up in the morning, new parents who livetweet their child’s birth, right down to the afterbirth.
I canvassed my Facebook friends about the annoying things they’ve seen online — social media crimes being committed by the people they love.
Surprisingly — or not — the question inspired much feedback. Clearly people bite their tongues a lot when it comes to these faux pas, since giving them a casual forum to vent inspired such vehement replies.
This list is an unscientific, highly biased but honest compendium of the most passionate and common responses. To be clear, these aren’t the types of annoying friends that plague you on Facebook, like the relentless self-promoters or the humblebraggers.
These are your real friends and family — people you like and love. They just do a few annoying things on social media that makes them come across differently than in real life.
You’d be doing them a favor by helping them out. At least, that’s what you can tell yourself if you decide to try to help them break these habits. Habits, though, can be hard to break…
The “Creative” Writer
My friend Rhett is one of the smartest people I know. He speaks seven languages, has a Ph.D in art history, is well-traveled, runs a small art book press and boasts an enviable resume.
Yet all of my friends thinks he’s weird because he insists on writing everything in all caps on Facebook.
He says it’s a distinguishing tick in a field full of professional weirdos and eccentrics. A former punk, Rhett thinks all caps is confrontational and anarchic.
I think it makes him sound deranged. “No one likes to feel shouted at on Facebook,” I argue.
“I’M NOT SHOUTING, IMA JUST DOING ME,” he replies, quoting both hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and rap star Kanye West.
All caps is just one strange writing style tic you see on Facebook. Some people take a Picasso-like approach to using punctuation marks, using commas and apostrophes willy-nilly. I’ve seen others capitalize every word in all their sentences, as if their every thought was a title of a book.
The reasons why people can be so eccentric in their use of punctuation, capitalization and other markers of language use are as varied as the styles. Some people like Rhett see it as funny.
Others don’t know better, or see it differently. My mother, for instance, often used all caps in the early days of e-mail. When my sisters and I explained that all caps implied shouting, she explained using all caps made it easier to see what she was writing, since she was short-sighted.
My friend Katie dated a French man who left a space at the end of his sentences before inserting a period, question mark or exclamation point. But that’s how they learn to end their sentences in Western Europe, she learned.
Another friend Jenn studied post-modern poetry in Berkeley, California. She experimented with line breaks and spacing in all her social media comments, making them all look like poems.
People’s writing styles are intimately connected to how they see the world and what they’re conditioned to doing, so often correcting this odd habit can be futile. Whether or not you choose to have an intervention depends on how close you are, and whether or not it affects their effectiveness in communication.
It helps to understand the motives behind the eccentric habit, as with my mother. Once we realized she wanted to see what she was typing more easily, we adjusted the text size settings on her computer and she stopped using all caps.
But my poet friend was left alone. She was basically writing normal sentences with unusual line breaks, revealing a sophisticated use of language and thought. Someone like her would know, for example, not to post like that in different social settings.
But Rhett continue to post on Facebook in all caps. He pointed out that Facebook wasn’t work and he used the network to have fun and be himself. It was hard to argue with that.
“FINE,” I wrote back.
He sent his reply within an hour. “ARE YOU MAD AT ME? WHY ARE YOU YELLING?”
Grammar Police and Gung-Ho Fact Checkers
On the other end of the spectrum are the so-called “grammar police.” Take Beth’s mother, Terri.
Used “they’re” instead of “their”? Autocorrect gone haywire? Grammar monitors like Terri will let you know right there in front of everyone that you got something wrong. So will other related types, like fact checkers who like to correct other users over statistics, years and other niggling details.
“My friend Mario is a fellow music critic, and overall music critics love to discuss records and bands over social media,” my music critic friend Jeff tells me. “You can always count on Mario to chime in when someone’s got a record release date wrong or if a band played the Fireside Bowl — and not the Metro — in Chicago on their 1993 tour.”
“Normally music geeks live for this stuff,” Jeff continues. “But Mario’s comments never really add to the conversation. They just come across as annoying.”
Grammar police and fact checkers — or anyone with a zealous relish for accuracy on Facebook — see themselves doing a public service when they correct others in public on a social network. They believe they’re boosting public knowledge or helping someone sound more intelligent, articulate and respectable.
They don’t realize, however, that they come across as killjoys, know-it-alls or teacher’s pets. And because they can interact with so many people in a network — as well as leave a record of their public service in action — they can gain a rep for being annoying.
“I began to inwardly cringe I saw the notification that Mom commented on my post in Facebook,” Beth says. “Like, here we go again.”
Part of the solution is helping them realize that Facebook or other social media isn’t the workplace or the classroom. The nature of communication is casual and looser than in real life, so little errors of spelling and grammar can slide. Facts can be corrected, but fact checkers need to add to discussions in other ways.
How you point this out depends on your relationship with the grammar stickler, and your assessment of their motives.
Some of the grammar police and fact checking army genuinely want to help, but others needle for accuracy as a way to feel superior or win an argument by default by making others look stupid.
Joe, for example, knows Mario only through Facebook and thinks Mario just wants to show off his grasp of arcane knowledge.
“So we just ignore him,” Joe says. “My theory is, you can’t stop a blowhard.”
Beth handled her grammar-loving mom differently, taking a more straightforward approach.
“I talk with my mom a lot so I told her straight up that, though she means well, correcting everyone’s spelling and grammar in comments on my Facebook posts was going too far,” Beth reports. “I had to point out people were posting fast on phones with touch screens and it always wasn’t going to be accurate. People make mistakes all the time. If they’re still understandable, let it slide.”
The Cluster Poster
For some, it’s now how or what they write but the very act of posting that makes their social media friends grit their teeth.
My photographer friend Rebecca follows a lot of fellow image makers on Facebook and Instagram. One illustrator drives her crazy.
“When she posts her work on Instagram, she’ll post, like, 25 posts in a row,” Rebecca reports. “It’s basically scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll. It’s like she’s hogging my feed!”
The problem is less acute on Facebook, since the algorithm for the home page mixes up the posts of someone’s social network. But for those on linear, real-time networks, a “cluster poster” can grate.
“You see cluster posters on Twitter,” Rebecca says. “I use my Twitter as a feed but it’s annoying when someone decide to take 20 tweets to live tweet their meal or give their opinion. It’s like, write a blog post!”
Some cluster posters post this way out of passion — they’re so enthusiastic that they just can’t edit themselves. Or they’re indecisive, and figure they’ll just post 10+ pictures of their meal on Instagram instead of picking one or two to accurately capture it.
Technology can help when dealing with a cluster poster. Facebook’s mysterious news feed algorithm can work to your advantage here: Rebecca, for instance, decided to follow her cluster poster artist friends on Facebook instead of on Instagram.
“You only see one post a day from most people on it,” she notes. “If I’m interested, I’ll go visit their page to see the whole series of pictures.”
If that’s not an option, you can try adjusting your settings so that the poster in question pops up less often — or block them altogether and simply visit their profile on the Web when you’re curious about what they’ve been up to lately.
Or, if you’ve got a friendly rapport with a cluster poster, you can mention something to them. Rebecca says she made a joke to her friend Delia about her habit of cluster posting, ribbing her about creating a “Delia hour” on Instagram.
She noticed Delia cut down the number of posts a few days later. She still posts multiple pictures, just not as many. The problem still exists, but it’s much more manageable.
Brooklyn-based Yuka’s boyfriend Greg is a graphic novelist and comic book aficionado, so it’s a natural that he loves texting her with a liberal use of emoji.
“I have a theory that the visually inclined gravitate towards emoji,” she says. “And also, I’m Japanese, so he probably thinks it’s my part of my native heritage or something!”
Lately, though, he’s overdoing it. He used to just end his regular texts to Yuka with a kissing face or winking emoji, but then he began to add more. He swapped out words like “ride” with a car, or “date” with a wineglass and couple emojis. Soon he began texting her with just emoji.
“Sometimes I don’t understand him at all,” Yuka complains. “He doesn’t even text ‘I love you’ anymore, just a heart and a kiss and a heart-eyes emoji. At first it was kind of cute, but now I’m annoyed. It’s like trying to read hieroglyphics.”
It’s hard to find fault with such a cute habit. Emojis are a rare combination of fun and actually useful — it’s easy to say more difficult things, for example, when you soften it with a winking emoji.
But too many of them can turn people off, whether it’s a date who overuses them or a partner who never seems to take anything seriously. And using them with the wrong person can make you seem uneducated, weird or unprofessional.
“My boss is a goofy guy and uses emoji when he texts me on my work phone,” my friend Shala tells me. “I can’t say anything, but I do kind of think he comes across as less smart when he does it, especially when he uses that poop emoji for any reason.”
There are a few different strands of emoji abuse, which dictates if and how to intervene. Inappropriate usage — like the poop-emoji boss — is a faux pas where pointing out a mistake may actually have a positive impact on their reputation and prevent them from looking silly.
Shala, for example, didn’t want to tell her boss directly that his emoji use was making him look bad. She did, however, ask her boss’s supervisor about it, who then talked to her boss.
Caitlin mentions her mother mistook the poop emoji for a Hershey’s kiss, and often would text her with a kissing emoji and a poop one. “I laughed so hard the first time she did it,” she says. “I mean, why was my mom telling me to kiss poop?”
After laughing about it to herself for the first few times, Caitlin then mentioned it to her mother. Her mother was mortified, but glad to know her mistake to keep from making it with someone else.
“Maybe we should just get rid of that poop emoji once and for all,” Caitlin observes. “It seems to cause a lot of problems.”
Then there are those who overuse emojis, like Yuka’s boyfriend Greg. Yuka tells me she finally just had to sit Greg down and tell him to stop.
“It wasn’t a serious talk, I played it like I was teasing him,” she says. “You know, start joke-y, then get serious a little, and then you end with a laugh and a kiss. Kind of like how we use emojis in the first place. How ironic!”
The biggest irony of all, however, may just be that how networks that supposedly bring people together can cause so much angst in some relationships. Small things that are easier to overlook in real life become bigger, more permanent and magnified when they happen digitally.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because the digital aspect might make our gentle corrections less personal.
“After telling my mom to cool it with the English teacher routine with my friends, she said she found it ironic that helping people sound more intelligent was actually annoying,” Beth says. “But it actually made it easier because there was concrete evidence I could point to online when I said every comment she makes was criticizing my friends’ use of proper English.”
But Beth says Terri ultimately understood, but though she still winces whenever she sees bad spelling and grammar, saying it made the commenter look uneducated.
“I had to tell her that was part of the purpose of social media,” Beth says. “To figure out who the idiots are.” ♦