Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In the Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask [email protected].
My best friend is pregnant and told me early on in person. A few months later, she announced the pregnancy to a small group on a locked Livejournal post (yes, we still use Livejournal, sue us). A month or so after that, she announced it semi-publicly on Facebook. Except for the first time, I keep being unsure how surprised I’m supposed to act. Obviously she’s not policing my reaction, because she knows I already know. But I worry about a more casual friend or her aunt or mother-in-law or somebody noting my lack of response on the public post and thinking… I don’t know what, that I’m jealous or unsupportive. Or if they figure out why I’m holding my tongue, they might get offended that I knew before they did. Should I be feigning surprise to keep up appearances?
For anyone who’s ever lamented the apparent pointlessness of the “like” button: This right here is the point. Liking a status update about BFF Junior allows you to add your name to the congratulatory chorus without having to be disingenuous (“My goodness, what a complete shock and surprise I had no way of foreseeing!”) or snooty (“I knew about this baby before any of you peons.”). On a public Facebook status, when you have already given your congratulations privately or in another forum, you are cleared to “like” and move on.
One would hope that nobody is actually keeping track of whether you’ve expressed the requisite enthusiasm. But if some of mom-to-be’s friends and relatives are truly that overbearing, you don’t need to give them extra opportunities to act like asses. (They probably take whatever chances they can.) Besides, it’s nice to feel that you’re joining with all of her other friends and loved ones to wish her well. You don’t need to recuse yourself from congrats just because you got advance notice.
If more than a “like” seems called for—for instance on Livejournal, which lacks a convenient thumbs-up button—or if you just want to be more voluble, you may dodge the issue by posting about something slightly tangential. Trade your “omg congratulations!” faux-shock for something concrete. Perhaps describe the fruit-shaped baby beanies you plan to knit, and ask whether Junior would rather be a strawberry or a watermelon. Make a joke about how she should name it “Carlos Danger.” (Or, you know, a better joke.) Or just say, “You’ll be a great mom.”
Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).
Photo by The Collective/Flickr