Social Media


There are times when I wonder if I am really so out-of-step with the day-to-day zeitgeist of our wonderful country.  How did it come about that everyone collectively decided that Facebook was practically the worst company in the world and that Mark Zuckerberg needed to be frogmarched to Washington and keelhauled before a couple of Congressional committees?

Like Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” the our public thinkers are supposedly shocked! shocked! that Facebook leverages our personal data for its advertisers.  But anyone who didn’t know until last month that advertisers were using our Facebook data to promote their own products is, not to put too fine a point on it, a moron.  Did they not notice that Facebook is a free service and that the only way to support all those servers and graphic designers was through advertising?  Didn’t they think it was odd that when they clicked on an ad for a particular product they were subsequently barraged with more ads for the same product?

The truth is that I don’t really care who has my personal Facebook data.  I just downloaded my file to see what was there and it was pretty dull.  It includes my name, email, age, school, job history, political leanings, marital status and Facebook friends current and former.  That is already publicly available on my page.  It also includes the Facebook sites, ads, games, quizzes and other ephemera that I clicked on over the course of the last ten years.  The fact that this might become available to strangers does give me a slight pause because maybe I don’t want people to know I once played Farmville, but there’s nothing truly embarrassing in this data.

Here is what Facebook does NOT have on me that many other online sites do:  my social security number, my credit card number, my medical history, my drug prescriptions, my income, my online shopping history, or my criminal record (which is nonexistent, by the way).

And they don’t have my search history, thank God.  If Google had been the one that was  a little sloppy with my personal data I would be REALLY pissed.  Some of that could be truly embarrassing.

If anything, my gripe with Facebook is that they don’t do a good enough job of dispensing my data.  I almost never notice the ads in my feed because they are so irrelevant to me.  If there’s a true scandal at Facebook is that they are charging advertisers good money for spots that are ineffective.

But let’s be honest, people aren’t really mad at Facebook because of privacy.  Instead this tantrum is about making it into the latest scapegoat for the election of Donald Trump.  I think most of Facebook’s critics understand that the company didn’t really do anything to swing the election.  I mean seriously, have any of these people ever even been on Facebook?  If there is any voter who decided to vote for Donald Trump because of something he saw on Facebook, I would like to meet him and commit him to the home for the dangerously naive.

Those of you who lived through the 2016 election probably remember that Facebook was a toxic place that ruined friendships; if anything the nasty posts and counter-posts only served to reinforce voters’ existing leanings, doing little to convert potential voters from one side to the other.

Facebook first came under fire in the fall of 2016 with allegations that it had allowed Russian trolls to plant “Fake News” on users’ news feed (remember those innocent days when “fake news” meant stories that were literally made up and not just news pieces that the President doesn’t like?)  No one could seriously argue that these stories had any significant effect on voting and the early grudge against Facebook slowly died away.

Then came the big revelation about Campaign Analytica.  It transpired that a conservative data firm had tricked Facebook into giving them the personal data of 87 million users, deceitfully held onto it when Facebook demanded its return, and then tried to help the Trump campaign develop targeted Facebook ads.

The interesting thing is, the Obama campaign essentially did the same in 2012 (see more on that here.) No one screamed about Facebook being careless with our personal data when the news media’s favorite candidate was playing fast and loose with our privacy.  In fact, I distinctly remember stories about what digital geniuses the Obama campaign were (here’s one New York Times story where the digital team admits to grabbing data without Facebook’s permission and not being forced to give it back once Facebook figured out what was happening.)  The Obama team even bragged about how the pulled the wool over Facebook’s eyes.  As Investors Business Daily points out:  Obama’s campaign director, Carol Davidsen, even tweeted that “Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.”

I doubt that anyone really thinks that the Data Analytica breach swayed any votes.  Among other things, the Trump campaign claims they didn’t actually use their data for targeting because the Republican National Committee’s lists were better.

Look, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to get off Facebook: 1) It ends up draining your time and hurting your concentration; 2) it makes you dislike your friends who just won’t stop popping off about politics or posting pictures of their meals; 3) it makes your life seem inadequate when you see what your friends are up to.

But you’re just kidding yourself if you think you’re making a moral stand about the 2016 election or protecting your privacy.  There are plenty of worse actors to boycott than Facebook.



people using Twitter

Like a lot of people, I’m beginning to suffer from Twitter-fatigue and wondering whether I should just dump the whole thing.  Oh, for the old days, when the biggest complaint about Twitter was that too many people were tweeting about what they ate for breakfast.  Now it’s worse, with too many people tweeting about what they were THINKING at breakfast.

Twitter hasn’t really reached its full potential as an enhancer and promoter of television either.  There was a time when I thought TV and Twitter would become inextricably linked in a kind of call and response mechanism, with people actively engaged in Twitter conversations about what they were watching on TV.

That’s not to say that Twitter and television are unconnected.  It’s just that Twitter needs TV a lot more than TV needs Twitter.  During primetime, for example, I’d bet that at least half of all tweets concern something that’s on television, whether it’s a TV show, sporting event or news development.  And of course a huge amount of Twitter activity consists of retweets of TV content, including late night skits, sports highlights, snippets from news shows, or memes from reality shows.

Twitter’s got a couple of problems when it comes to establishing TV-related connections.  First, it’s not as popular as you’d think.  Every reporter is on Twitter and seems to think everyone else is too, but less than a third of Americans have Twitter accounts and most of them are not very active.

Then there’s the problem that so much of TV is time-shifted.  You can’t be in community with other fans of a TV show if you’re watching it at a different time.

But the real problem with Twitter is that it’s so hard to find the tweets you want to see or to have your own tweets seen by the people you want to see them.  For all of Twitter’s efforts to manage this, the newsfeed is still a gush of unrelated content that frequently has little to do with your interest at the moment.

Here’s an illustrative story: last November 2 as Game Seven of the Cubs/Indians World Series reached its breathtaking climax, I posted on Facebook “Baseball is the greatest game,” and immediately got 20 “likes.” I was astonished that so many people were still watching the game at 11:00 p.m. and that so many had Facebook open at the same time. I posted something similar on Twitter but the tweet went into a void.  Did anyone see it?  Who knows?  All I know is that if I want a warm and fuzzy feeling, I go to Facebook.

There are four main categories of Twitter users.  First there are the actual newsmakers: the president, the pope, Katy Perry (100 million followers!) and other movie stars, politicians, basketball power forwards, etc.  They have tens of millions of followers but hardly follow anyone back.  For these folks Twitter is a great way to get their message out unfiltered.

A second major category are brands, including TV networks and specific programs, who use Twitter as a trendy form of marketing. Some networks are better at tweeting than others, but I’m not sure how much it really matters. One traditional video promo on a primetime show will have far more reach than any single tweet, no matter how well crafted.  The exception to this – a big one – is when a show tweets out vital content. “Carpool Karaoke,” for example, has been seen by far more people on social media than on “The Late Late Show With James Cordon” itself.

A third category of important Twitter users are the wordsmiths – comedians who make jokes, reporters who tweet all day long about the news, and other professional kibitzers.  Myself, I follow quite a few television critics.  Theoretically they could have an impact on what shows I will watch but their Twitter accounts are so mired in politics that they’ve lost a lot of credibility.

The biggest category of Twitter users is the hoi polloi – the millions of users who have one or two hundred followers and tweet occasionally or rarely – and who are the ultimate target for the other three categories of tweeters.

As a Twitter user firmly in this last category, I worry that I might be wasting a lot of my time.  I get a lot more of my new from NYT and WSJ news alerts than I do from Twitter; I’m annoyed by half the tweets I read; I don’t even know a third of the people who are following me; and among the followers I do know, only a handful seem to be reading my tweets.  And I’m just not learning very much about TV via Twitter.

I don’t want to get rid of Twitter altogether, because it’s still a good way to kill time when I’m standing in a slow-moving line, but maybe I should emulate the advice of those closet organizing gurus and stop following people who don’t give me joy.  Time for a full Twitter audit before I ditch the whole thing.



facebook cartoon

You want to lose some friends? Just let it all hang out politically on Facebook. Tell us what you REALLY think. We’re dying to hear.

We are fast approaching the third presidential election since Facebook became a massive instrument of interpersonal communication and many people have STILL not grasped the basic rules of engagement for political commentary. This core rule is that most of your friends don’t really care what you think about politics and some actively hate you for your postings.

I say that as someone who has worked on political campaigns, had political jobs in Washington, and routinely develops many uniquely interesting opinions and observations on the political scene. (And if you don’t believe that I have interesting political opinions, ask my wife.) I once dreamed of writing a political column and would love nothing more than to shoot off my mouth on Facebook every time I have a stray thought about the President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice and the major party candidates. But I try to restrain myself, especially since hardly any of my “friends” share my political inclinations.

Unfortunately I can’t say that I always follow my own best judgment.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself and react hastily. But usually I think twice and remember that if I’m annoyed at seeing posts that I disagree with, many of my friends are apt to be annoyed by mine.

Here, then, are some guidelines for posting during the political season.

  • For the love of all that is holy, don’t post too frequently. I want to find a gun and shoot a hole in my computer whenever people with whom I disagree post more than once a week (although oddly I enjoy seeing frequent posts from people I agree with).   There’s a “significant other” in our family who shares political posts FIVE or more times a day! Everyone dreads getting a friend request from that person. Don’t be that person.
  • And for God’s sake, don’t always be sharing those pre-packaged slides with someone else’s political observations gussied up with background photos of Martin Luther King or Ronald Reagan. Do you want us to think you have no thoughts of your own?
  • Don’t be nasty and snide. You may think you’re clever but if you’re saying something directly negative about a political figure, the people who like him or her will not thank you for your witticism. Hard feelings linger too. There are still people I haven’t really forgiven for their nasty Facebook posts from the LAST presidential election.
  • Try to be original. Not as easy as it sounds. If you were as insightful as you think you are, you’d already have your own New York Times op-ed column by now.   But at the very least try not to repeat the most banal and obvious comment.
  • Try to be positive. You are much less likely to offend if you say something nice about your favorite candidate than if you crap all over someone else’s. Of course this opens you up to zingers from your brutish “friends” or, worse, your friends’ friends – those swine you’ve never even met but feel free to respond to the comments of mutual friends on your wall. But if your goal is to exit the election season with all your friends intact, it’s better to be attacked than to attack.
  • Be careful with the “like” button. With the election coming up, this was probably not the best time for Facebook to introduce additional emoji responses to the “like” button — especially that “angry” sign.  Who needs to learn that people are angry about your posts?  In any event, remember that the posts you “like” can be highlighted in your own newsfeed according to Facebook’s inexplicable algorithm, thereby exposing your political beliefs for all the world to scrutinize.
  • Think twice before commenting on someone else’s post.  Better still, don’t comment at all unless you can say something intelligent and unemotionally analytical.  If you feel like you want to bring down the wrath of God on your friend, it’s better to “hide” him/her until after the election.
  • Be subtle. If you feel compelled to go negative on a particular candidate don’t engage in name calling or ad hominem attacks. Find the soft underbelly and stick the knife in with an unassailable fact that can only be answered with a “yeah but.” If you can use a stiletto with good humor all the better. Example: reminding people that Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl in 1964 at the same time that Bernie Sanders was getting arrested at civil rights demonstrations. Another example: finding and posting the video that shows Ted Cruz speaking in favor of immigration reform.
  • It’s still Open Season on Donald Trump. So many people are attacking Donald Trump that you aren’t likely to offend anyone by piling on at this stage.  And he does say so many outrageous things that you don’t have to be Mort Sahl to make a pungent political observation. Most Trump supporters are still too embarrassed to come out of the closet on Facebook. Fair warning, though: if Trump actually gets the nomination many Republicans will start coming on board and at that point, those anti-Trump comments will cease to be cost-free.

The sad thing is the election itself is still nine months away and feelings will only intensify as we get closer to November 2.  Pray for all our relationships between now and then.

When Stephen Colbert inherited the “Late Show” franchise from David Letterman, the critics generally agreed to reserve judgment until the show had had enough time to evolve into what it would eventually become.

Two months and approximately 40 shows later, it seems clear that it doesn’t need time to evolve.  It’s already pretty great, having arrived fully formed after months of planning by Colbert and his staff.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” is how similar it is to “The Colbert Report,” his previous outing on Comedy Central.  Yes, the budget is bigger, it’s twice as long, and Colbert no longer plays an airhead conservative character — but it’s the same basic show, revolving around Colbert’s humorous riffs on subjects that interest him (mostly politics and the news), his interviews with a diverse array of guests, and an eclectic mix of musical guests.

Late-night television has become so encrusted with tradition that it’s impossible to vary a talk show too much beyond the standard man-behind-the-desk format.  Colbert’s major innovation is to return the late-night format to what it was before Johnny Carson.  The joke-punchline-joke-punchline monologue is out.  The new monologue is a three-minute extended meditation on an issue of the day.  Also out are silly recurring bits — Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent or Letterman’s urban adventures with Rupert Jee Indeed, Colbert never ventures outside the studio and has not introduced any signature characters.

Perhaps the biggest throwback to the pre-Carson late-night show of Jack Paar and Steve Allen is the guest list.  There’s a sense that here you can experience the huge smorgasbord of American culture.  Yes, there are plenty of stars from CBS TV series and upcoming moves, but at least Colbert engages them intelligently.  When Carey Mulligan turned up to plug her movie “Suffragette,” the ensuing conversation focused on the actual substance of the movie — the womens’ suffrage movement in Great Britain — and not an irrelevant story about Mulligan’s latest vacation.

Colbert seems to have made a special effort to attract high tech entrepreneurs: guys like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Uber’s Travis Kalanick.  It’s an election year, so politicians have also featured heavily on the show, including five presidential candidates so far.  Colbert himself is clearly politically liberal but he’s provided a fair platform for Republican candidates too, going so far as to chide his audience when they booed an answer by Ted Cruz.  He even made Donald Trump seem human, which I would not have thought possible.  And of course he famously and sensitively interviewed Vice President Joe Biden on the death of his son Beau.

Culturally the musical guests have ranged from country (Toby Keith) to classical (Misty Copeland dancing to Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 2 with Yo-Yo Ma) to indie rock (Alabama Shakes). The show has also welcomed high-end authors like Jonathan Franzen and Stacy Schiff.

Through it all, Colbert has insisted that “Late Show” is a comedy show first, and he definitely works hard to maintain high spirits.  He enters each show to the buoyant music of his band leader Jon Batiste, sometimes high-kicking (see gif above for proof) and sometimes just waving and grinning.  I am especially inspirited by Batiste’s intro, which is the greatest thematic celebration of New York City since the early days of “Saturday Night Live.”

Another retro feature of “The Late Show” is that Colbert appears to eschew social-media clickbait.  Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have excelled at producing funny bite-sized bits that go viral on Facebook and Twitter.  Colbert either hasn’t tried or hasn’t succeeded in mastering the social media game. ListenFirst Media, which measures television-based social and digital activity through its Digital Audience Rating-TV metric, reports that with a DAR-TV of 45.9 million, Colbert was a distant fourth digitally among late-night shows during the month of October, well behind Fallon (a DAR-TV of 214.5 million) and Kimmel (a DAR-TV of 115.3 million), and even behind Conan O’Brien (a DAR-TV of 50.3 million).

Colbert is doing better in traditional ratings.  According to Nielsen, over the first seven weeks, Fallon maintained his dominant position, with an average of 3.5 million nightly viewers, while Colbert was runner-up, with 3.0 million viewers. Kimmel trailed at 2.3 million viewers.  These are live/same day numbers and don’t account for people like me who record and watch the next day or later. (By the way, what’s interesting about these Nielsen numbers is that only a third of the audience is in the 18-49 demographic, meaning that two-thirds of live late-night viewing is either from teenagers or the AARP-eligible.)

As much as I love Colbert on “The Late Show,” I worry that he might be too brainy.  When discussing memoir-writing with Elvis Costello, he casually dropped a quote from the late David Carr.  How many people in the audience could identify Carr as a New York Times media columnist, or understand the reference?  That’s a very small thing, but it shows that Colbert is operating on a much higher plane than most of us.

Frankly, I like it that Colbert doesn’t talk down to his audience and assumes we’ll enjoy listening to Yo-Yo Ma as well as Darlene Love.  Nielsen’s ratings roll in every day, so we’ll know soon enough whether this experiment in intelligent programming will pay off in the long term.

Social networking LIKE

Oh for those halcyon pre-digital days when I wasn’t constantly worried about measuring up.  Not that I didn’t comprehend my vast inadequacies back in the Dark Ages, but at least I never quantified them on an hourly basis.   How things have changed — and not for the better.  From personal experience I can tell you: self-awareness is not all it’s cracked up to be.  There’s nothing Zen about checking digital metrics twenty times a day to establish your in-the-moment performance.

Not only is the constant review of one’s personal metrics obnoxiously narcissistic, it’s also exhausting.  At a time when I should be focusing on more important things, like what’s the matter with the Red Sox, I’m worried about my pathetically low Klout Score.

Cast your mind back to the Analogue Age, back when there were only a few ways of tracking progress. As recently as the turn of the 21st Century here’s practically the full range of how you could calibrate your own performance:

  • Hop on the scales in the morning and check your weight.
  • Track the progress on your financial investments when you receive statements in the mail.
  • Make a mental note of how many times you are praised by your bosses or co-workers (usually a very easy metric to track given the rarity of these occurrences).

And that’s about it.  Maybe you could get a general sense of your popularity by throwing a party and seeing how many people attended, or by counting the number of personal notes you received in the mail, but no one except for a psycho or Upper East Side hostess would actually measure and track this.

With the advent of the digital age I am now constantly monitoring one metric or another.  Sometimes this is out of boredom; sometimes it’s anxiety; sometimes it’s because I’ve challenged myself to a goal.  Either way, it’s led to a very serious case of neurosis by numbers.

Take my financial investments.  I used to be perfectly content to review the performance of my 401k four times a year when the quarterly statements arrived in the mail.   But now that everything’s digitized, I log in and analyze the results every day.  I’ve even gotten impatient that the numbers aren’t updated until after the Market closes at 4:00 p.m.  Really?  I’ve got to wait each day to see how much money I made (or, God forbid, lost)?

What’s up with this behavior? Partly I want to make sure that the money’s still there (i.e., to confirm that identity thieves haven’t diverted it to an account in Romania), but mostly I’m tracking the horse race angle: Am I ahead? Am I behind?  In truth I’m not much better than a miser like Silas Marner who counted out his gold every night. Not a pretty sight.

Then there are the social media metrics, which really are the devil’s work.  Oh, those golden “likes” and comments on Facebook!  I’m worse than Sally Field (“You like me! You really like me!”)   I’m like a dog constantly waiting to be patted on the head.  Getting a sugar rush of satisfaction on Facebook is easy. Whenever I ever need a jolt of personal affirmation all I need to do is post a TBT 20-year-old photo of my then-baby son.  Ahhh – Can you believe how cute he was?  (like, like like)

Would that it was so easy on Twitter. Sadly, I’m a Twitter flop, hardly ever getting favorited or retweeted.  I’ve come to realize that the only way to be a success on Twitter is to already be famous or to be an amazingly prolific joke writer.  If you’re a celebrity you don’t even need to work at it.  Last spring Jimmy Fallon tweeted “Happy Easter,” which was then retweeted by three thousand followers and favorited by another two thousand.  I do not understand why someone would feel compelled to retweet “Happy Easter” from a celebrity; couldn’t you accomplish the same thing with an original tweet of your own?  In any event, such is the power of celebrity; and as a non-celebrity, I have a very meagre Twitter following and commensurately poor metrics.

I’m not doing much better on Instagram either.  I know the young people are on it, but I don’t understand how it’s different from Facebook, other than the fact that it’s NOT Facebook.  I did create an account — to keep up with the times – and do post occasionally, but my metrics are lousy and unsatisfying.

I’ve had somewhat more success with my blog, the very platform you are reading now.  WordPress has a “statistics” page where you can see the cold hard truth of how many people read each post.  WordPress also has a “like” function, but mine must be broken since so few people like my posts.  Every once in a while, though, I’ll post something that seems to generate a little approval, which causes me to check my stats hourly to see how many more people have read it in the intervening 60 minutes.

I used to get more excited about Linked-In.  There’s an interesting function that lets you who’s looking at your profile.  Just this morning I noticed that the woman who sits three desks over from me in the office had snuck a peek at my Linked-In profile.  What was that all about?  Maybe I should ask her, but I don’t really want to let her know I was snooping on who’s snooping on me.

And then there’s Reddit, which is verily the spawn of Satan for those of us who get wrapped up in metrics.  Reddit is basically a message board upon which you post observations or interesting links that you’ve  read online (in other words, you’re telling the world that you “read it”).  There are four separate ways to measure your success on Reddit.  1) People can “upvote” or “downvote” your post, with popular posts going to the top of the message board.  2) You can generate a lot of comments, some nice, some extremely snarky.  3) You can get “link Karma,” which are accumulated bonus points based on how many people like your links; and 4) You can get “comment Karma” based on how many people like your comments.

There is nothing quite as crazy as trying to build up Karma on Reddit.  I takes a lot of time to find the perfect link (and it has to be a link that no one else has already posted) while writing a catchy observation that makes it stand out from the thousands of other similar Reddit posts.  I keep promising myself not to think about Karma, but then I notice that some guy has 20,000 Karma, compared to my own 64 and I feel my own inadequacy all over again.

Social media metrics are silly.  I get that.  You’d think that medical metrics would be more serious.  And they would be if I could ever remember to take by blood pressure.  But because my blood pressure device is in the bathroom closet, I always forget to take it, and then when I do remember, the batteries are dead.  If Apple could figure out how I could check my vital signs just by pressing my iPhone against my wrist I’d be all set.  I’d be checking them ten times a day.

What I DO check ten times a day is the health app on my iPhone.  It measures the steps, distance and flights of stairs I’ve achieved throughout the day.  But to get “credit” for your ongoing exercise you’ve got to have your phone in your pants pocket, which I don’t always do.  So I’m in the ridiculous position of being annoyed at myself for not capturing steps that I know I’ve taken, but which don’t “count” in my health dashboard. If I walk up the stairs and don’t have my phone, I want to go back down stairs, grab the device and walk up a second time just to get the credit.  No one sees this dashboard but me, yet somehow it becomes important that my real performance is fully credited there.

And the single worst thing about a serious metrics addiction is that there’s no let-up.  Every day brings a fresh demand for more and better performance.  Great, I got 25 Facebook likes for a cute baby post yesterday.  So what?  That was yesterday.  What about today?  There’s no resting on your laurels just because you had ten thousand steps yesterday.

My problem with metrics addiction would be easy enough to solve.  All I need to do is to get a real job that occupies one hundred percent of my attention.  These little metric check-ins are only possible when you’ve got five or ten minutes of downtime. Instead of getting up and going for a walk (which would generate 500 much-needed steps!) it’s too easy to switch the screen to Facebook to check out my likes.  Or maybe the answer is to just chuck the digital world altogether.  Good luck with that!

Cryingmen Robin Williams

For about a week this summer, my Facebook news feed was consumed by posts on just two subjects: people pouring ice water on their heads and lamentations on the death of Robin Williams.  At one point my wife said that someone should do an ice bucket challenge for Robin Williams and totally melt down the Internet.

This is not the place for an analysis of viral philanthropy, but the social media reaction to Robin Williams’ death, combined with the more restrained response to Joan Rivers’ departure, got me wondering: In an age of social media, what is the appropriate way to mourn a personality you know only from popular culture?

Not to be a cynic, but the deluge of online grief for Robin Williams came to seem weird after a while.  Of course it was sad that he’d died “too soon” and doubly sad that he’d exited by his own hand.  But really, would Robin Williams have been 1% as sad if you’d been the one who killed yourself? The one-sidedness of the relationship between celebrity and mourner is what seems so out-of-kilter.

This is not to say this is only 21st Century phenomenon. The 1926 funeral of Rudolph Valentino was an early example of mass hysteria for a celebrity, and we all remember how Princess Diana’s  death nearly brought down the monarchy. So by historical standards, the Facebook outpouring for Robin Williams was not unique.

Certainly I understand that Robin Williams and Joan Rivers actually did seem like our friends, because they came into our living rooms on TV.  There’s a special intimacy we feel with the people we see on TV.  Sometimes we think we know them — but more often than not, as was the case with Robin Williams, it turns out we don’t know them at all.

Given the outsize role that celebrities play in our cultural imagination, I would never argue that the feelings we experience when they die are not legitimate or valid.  But I would caution that over-mourning on social media can come to seem — how to put it? — um, self-indulgent.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts about how we should conduct ourselves on social media when a TV celebrity dies.

  • Don’t be a jerk.  Don’t post nasty comments about the recently departed. That’s basic human decency.  The snarky comments about Robin Williams temporarily drove his daughter off Twitter — which shows, once again, that the Internet is always on the verge of being overrun by the morally impaired.
  • If you snooze you lose.  If you don’t have anything to say in the first five or six hours after a celebrity dies, don’t pile on after that.  It’s almost impossible at that point to say anything interesting or non-repetitive.
  • Personalizing – sometimes OK, sometimes not.  If you want to post a photo of yourself with said celebrity in happier times, that’s fine, especially on Thursdays when it can also count as a “Throw-Back Thursday” post.  Less interesting are anecdotes about how you used to watch him/her on TV when you were a little tyke and how he/she changed your life.
  • One post per celebrity death.  If you post your personal reminiscence on Day One, don’t follow-up with a link to a New York Times “appreciation” on Day Two and a YouTube clip reel on Day Three.  Enough is enough.
  • Keep a sense of proportion.  Don’t act more bereft than you did when your Uncle Al died.  Don’t publicly rend your garments.   Don’t be sadder than you’d be if the President of the United States suddenly died.
  • Don’t troll for “likes” and retweets.  We’re all guilty of this from time to time, but it seems a little unseemly to do it over someone else’s corpse.
  • Don’t act like a bigger fan than you actually were.  Am I the only one to be surprised that Robin Williams turned out to be such a beloved figure?  On the day before he died, I doubt he would have been in a list of 50 most beloved TV and film personalities (according to this IMBD list, he was the word’s 64th most beloved celebrity, in between Tim Allen and Kevin Spacey).  The next day?  There’s a collective hole in our heart, according to Facebook, and we can’t imagine a world without him.
  • Don’t post for the sake of posting — especially if you don’t have anything to add to the conversation.  As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t have anything interesting to say about the dearly departed, don’t say it on Facebook.

Look, I know we all have these feelings we just want to let out, but give it a rest on Facebook. I don’t like being turned in to a curmudgeon — but after about the 100th post about Robin Williams, my genial nature started to curdle.   Before the next TV star heads for the pearly gates, let’s try to develop a little online grief restraint.

Gary Holmes Photography Caelan-Dillon-Physique

It’s the dirty little secret of the Internet Era that sooner or later you’ll type your name into Google Search to see what comes up. You can’t help but wonder if you’re just a teensy bit famous, at least in your own little world.  And of course you’ll want to know what people are saying about you so you can drive yourself batty trying to correct the record.

I was recently interviewed by a reporter and I’ve been searching for the article to see how I’m quoted. Because I’ve been Googling my name more than usual, I can’t help but notice how many other Gary Holmeses there are in the world.  I also can’t help but notice the photos that pop up under “Images for Gary Holmes”: several pictures of a middle-aged white guy, several pictures of a young African American man and one photo of a naked woman.

It turns out that that the white dude is a remarkably successful real estate tycoon in Minnesota; he’s so rich that he endowed the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota.  The young black Gary Holmes is a football player in Florida.   And the photo of the naked woman is an example of the work done by a well-known photographer in Australia (see photo above for an example of his work.  That’s not a self-portrait, in case there is any question.)

So at best I’m the fourth most famous Gary Holmes.  I can live with that as long as that football player doesn’t become super-famous in a Tom Brady kind of way.  I’m sure there are a lot of Tom Bradys out there, all of whom, every time they are introduced are subject to raised eyebrows, smirks and idiotic questions. I once knew a lawyer in Washington named William Clinton – no joke.  His professional life was seriously complicated when Bubba came to town and sucked up all the Clinton-related oxygen.  I don’t know whatever happened to that other William Clinton because it’s impossible to Google him and not get references to the former Prez, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he started going by his middle name.

The advent of the Internet has obviously brought us a lot closer – sometimes to the point that we’re piling on top of each other.  In the early days of AOL – back when it was a legitimate email address, equivalent to what Gmail is today – I snagged the email address  It seems the previous had given it up for reasons that became clear only later.  Soon I started to get email addressed to that other Gary Holmes.  I once received a heartfelt “Dear Gary” email from his mother affirming that the family knew he was going through difficult times because he was in jail and so forth, but that they all stood by him.  It must have been a large extended family because they kept including me on mass emails for family reunions, viral jokes and community news.  I tried to get off these mailing lists but it took at least two years – probably that’s when the other Gary Holmes got out of prison.

This raises the issue of how dangerous it can be to have the name of a criminal. As I recently scrolled down the list of Gary Holmeses, I came across this extremely disturbing headline from the Huffington Post: “Gary L. Holmes Arrested For Beating, Raping Coral Springs Mom As Baby Lay Nearby.”  Another felonious Gary Holmes! (This guy was only 19 so couldn’t have been the convicted Gary Holmes who had my AOL address 15 years ago.)

We’ve all heard stories of people who can’t pass airport security or get a mortgage because someone with the same name is a suspected terrorist or jaywalking scofflaw. That’s why I’m glad the headline writer included the middle initial of the alleged rapist.  That “L” helps differentiate me from a sexual predator.  In fact, it occurs to me now that’s probably why the news media usually refer to famous assassins and mass murderers by three names (Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman, etc.) – to prevent confusion with the innocent Lee Oswalds and Mark Chapmans.

If I were younger and more concerned about my personal brand, I might deploy some search engine optimization tactics to move myself up in the Gary Holmes rankings.  Maybe I’d even write a blog!  But that seems like a lot of work just to claw myself up to the position as the third most-famous Gary Holmes.  Certainly I have more important priorities – like getting more Twitter followers or Facebook friends.