One evening when I was in my early teens, my sister created a completely random post on her Facebook page:
100 likes and Ill dye my hair purple
A million scenarios may have rushed into your head upon reading that short and rather ungrammatical sentence, but allow me to reassure you. This is not a story about an innocent young girl who does not understand the power that the internet can have, or about someone who does not realise that one of her Facebook friends is a psychopath. It was just a silly, slightly mischievous statement. Incidentally, my sister did receive one hundred little clicks of the Facebook ‘like’ button (this was back before all the other ‘reactions’ had made their debut), but she did not dye her hair, nor did anyone resent, report or threaten to sue her for not doing so.
For me, his was ground-breaking. As my sister and parents watched the likes roll in with a kind of exasperated amusement, I watched in awe, feeling as though the mysterious world of social media had been simplified to the level of 1 + 1. In one very strange sentence, which lacked an apostrophe, my popular sister had done something that, to this day, I do not understand. She made a large number of people appreciate something that was neither insightful nor funny. For my whole life I had been watching charismatic individuals do the same, and I had never understood why the most unremarkable behaviour was judged to be so excellent. Until today.
Brimming with anticipation, a short time later (whether it was hours or days, I can’t remember), I tried my own version:
100 likes and I’ll eat my shorts.
This, I thought, was brilliant. Because it had everything that my sister’s statement had had (and more), it would obviously contain within it that elusive magical formula for social media success, as well as being genuinely hilarious. Not only did it humorously refer to the earlier statement made by my sister, and not only did it incorporate a favourite catchphrase from The Simpsons (I had only just begun to understand intertextuality, and it seemed like a fantastic idea), I now had empirical proof that this was a recipe for social success. Until now, I had had no idea how my sister had managed to attract her hundreds of willing Facebook friends, whilst I had collected only a small circle made up of my few friends and a few of the friendlier girls from my school. I had no idea why she held such favour among girls of her age at school, when I was relentlessly teased and mimicked. But I knew that if I copied her, something similar would happen to me, and I also knew from my own observations that when I received an excess of one hundred marks of appreciation, I would not even be legally obligated to consume the relevant piece of clothing.
For some reason this wasn’t how it all panned out. Not only did I fail to attract any likes at all, but a girl from school who was not my Facebook friend felt obliged to very publicly point out my elusive mistake:
Thats going to be hard seeing as you only have 42 friends
This was a bit of a set-back, particularly as in the first minute around twenty people gave her the longed-for digital thumbs-up, whilst my own count stayed stubbornly at zero. I waited patiently for these people to realise they were all liking the wrong post, feeling slightly embarrassed for them, but after a while I had to conclude that it didn’t seem to be happening. Frowning at the screen, eventually I had to admit to myself that for whatever reason, it was this other girl’s comment that was attractive to my fellow Facebook users, and not mine. So, in a slightly desperate attempt to revive the humorous atmosphere of which I had hitherto been in control, I quickly tapped out a clever response:
I know. That’s why Ill never have to eat my shorts. : )
This should have been fool-proof. I had even missed one of the apostrophes (clearly this was also crucial) and included a pair of punctuation marks that combined to create an artificial smiley face of someone bending over sideways at a ninety-degree angle. But all I got was an ‘um ok’, a response that I didn’t think justified the further barrage of likes that it got. Needless to say, when I went on to not eat my shorts, it was not because in my first statement I had been lying.
My other early attempts at Facebook-related ‘socalising’ told a similar story. Aside from my cripplingly embarrassing posts (my generation would probably describe them semi-ironically as ‘cringey’), I made a point of starting conversations with every person online that I had spoken to in the past year. When a friend from my first primary school that I had not seen in nearly a decade sent me a friend request, I was deliriously excited, and then became puzzled when she did not immediately send me an ecstatic reunited-at-last-type message. After months of doing this on an almost daily basis, I finally began to suspect that I had been transgressing some invisible social rule. After that, the strange paradox of Facebook became increasingly clear to me: even though the ultra-popular social media site was buzzing with people posting opinions and over-thinking three-word sentences, no one really seemed to want to talk to anyone else, least of all to me.
But the ‘100 likes’ incident, though it produced no visible consequences in my real life, stuck with me. Despite my social shortcomings, I had always had a deadly combination of pride, curiosity and propensity to take offense that made me resolve to discover the motive behind this. However, I was not delicate enough to believe that something truly cruel had been done to me. In any case, this sort of thing was quite different from all the stories I had heard about cyber-bullying; a phenomenon that was almost as well-covered in our PSHE lessons as sex and its accompanying disasters. We would watch specially-generated videos (I say ‘generated’ rather than ‘made’ because I can only think of these programmes as having somehow appeared out of thin air) with pimply teenage actors wearing hoop earrings or baseball caps, who would rather uncreatively text things like ‘I h8 u’ to their saintly victim of choice. Alternatively, there would be harrowing dramas in which a love-struck teenage girl, against the advice of unrealistically responsible friends, would go to meet up with her internet boyfriend, before the camera ominously panned to a ‘Missing’ poster with the girl’s face on it. Therefore, I came to associate online behaviour with a kind of one-dimensional bluntness, with a clear good/evil dichotomy, that is totally uncharacteristic of the subtle and often calculated style of teenage schoolgirls loose on the internet.
This blog is an effort to document (and hopefully laugh at) some of these awkward, embarrassing moments from my past. Hope you enjoy…