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Hiding your birthday on all social media

Celebrating birthdays on social media is a mixed bag of kindness and obligation.

Friends and others are kind enough to post celebratory messages as you reach another annual milestone.

In return, those celebrating birthdays often feel obligated to reply to each message. Some feel compelled to reply with a personal “thanks,” because replying with a heart, thumbs up or smiley face emoji feels somewhat insincere.

This was my predicament three years ago. I’m blessed to have many friends, acquaintances and followers on social media, but it’s a little overwhelming to get so many birthday greetings in such a short span of time.

I spent three hours responding to every message that year.

OK. That last bit sounds a bit pretentious, I know. I can hear it now: “You should feel lucky to have so many friends who want to wish you a happy birthday.”

This is certainly true and I do feel lucky.

But I’m also cursed with the people-pleaser trait, an unending need to ensure everyone around me is happy (which is a real problem for a newspaper columnist).

Instead, many people-pleasers like me have a fear of how our social media use (or lack thereof) could be interpreted by our “friends.”

So if I don’t respond to all those wonderful birthday messages, how will others perceive me?

“Just shut off your birthday,” one friend wisely suggested. “I shut off my birthday a few years ago. No one knows except for a few random close friends. It’s like our little secret.”

I took this advice and removed my birthday from public view on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s incredibly easy to change. In Facebook’s desktop layout, go to your profile page and click “About,” then “Contact and Basic Info.” When you hover over your birthdate, an “Edit” feature will appear to the right. From there you can choose who sees the information.

On Twitter, go to your profile and select “Edit Profile,” then “Edit” next to your birth date. You have two visibility options, one for your birth year and one your birth month and day. Then choose who can view this information.

There are positive sides to publicly celebrating your birthday. Aside from the warm fuzzy feelings, we can also use the day to raise funds for favorite charities thanks to Facebook’s “donate” feature. By not sharing birthdays on Facebook, we might be missing opportunities to raise funds for favorite charities.

If you’re not sure how Facebook’s birthday fundraisers work, a message will appear in your news feed with options to create a fundraiser. You’ll see this message about two weeks before the big day.

Following Facebook’s easy-to-use tools, you’ll find more than 750,000 nonprofits in the U.S. accepting donations. If you’ve made your birthday available for everyone to see, friends will get notifications inviting them to support the cause you selected.

Hiding your birthdate isn’t always about receiving too many birthday greetings. There are many security reasons for not sharing this information online.

Privacy experts suggest hiding your birthday. You might also consider creating a fake birthdate, but one that doesn’t violate a platform’s age requirements.

Whatever you decide to do with your birthday online, remember to use it as a time to celebrate, reflect and reconnect with friends and family.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn .com.

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