Many a Facebook wall has filled up with birthday wishes on the appropriate day, but David Plotz, an editor for Slate, questioned the sincerity behind most of those birthday wishes, so he created three different birthdays in July to see what would happen.
Plotz, whose actual birthday is Jan. 31, set his birthday to Monday, July 11, on the social network. He then reset it to Monday, July 25, and finally to Thursday, July 28. He found that 119 people wished him a happy birthday July 11, followed by 105 July 25, with only nine of those 105 noticing the fact that it marked his second birthday in two weeks. In fact, of the 105 birthday wishes July 25, 45 were repeats.
Some people finally started to catch on July 28, as Plotz received only 71 birthday wishes, with 16 friends noticing that something was awry. But 30 of the 71 had wished him a happy birthday on at least one of his two previous false birthdays.
Plotz said in an email from Slate’s public relations staff that he believes Facebook birthday wishes are false, automatic, and “make a mockery of everyone connected to it,” adding that he created the three fake birthdays to see how many of his friends — mostly online acquaintances through Slate, as he would only classify about 100 of the 1,557 on his list as true friends — would “earnestly and thoughtlessly” wish him a happy birthday. He wrote in the article, “The wishes have all the true sentiment of a Christmas card from your bank.”
Even so, the Facebook fake birthday experiment did end up confirming my worst fears about the network: A significant number of Facebookers clearly use the service without sentiment, attempting to build social capital — undeserved social capital — with birthday greetings that they haven’t thought about based on birthday memories of you that they don’t actually have.
Readers: How sincere do you believe Facebook birthday wishes really are?