From unnecessary Instagram hashtags to unflattering happy birthday selfies – the telltale signs that its all about them

It was Selena Gomez’s 26th birthday on Sunday and Taylor Swift baked her a cake to celebrate, sharing a photo of it on Instagram. Baking someone a cake is a sweet gesture but – unless Swift is sending it to her –Gomez will never eat her birthday cake, because they are thousands of miles apart. So, in effect, Swift just wrote someone else’s name on a cake and stuck it on the internet – in what may be a textbook example of performative friendship.

Swift’s birthday cake for Gomez. Photograph: taylorswift/instagram

You have seen performative friendships in action, even if you have never heard the term itself. It’s when someone tries to celebrate a friendship – usually online – but ends up making it all about them. Here are some other signs you should look out for:

Is it a photo of a gift you have given? Have you ever posted a photo of somebody holding anything you have made or bought for them? Are you The Rock posting a picture of the car you just bought your dad? This is awkward. Please don’t fight me.

Where is the poster? If they are more prominently positioned in the photo than whoever’s birthday it is, then this is a performative friendship. See Kim Kardashian’s “Happy birthday @JohnLegend!!!!” Instagram post from 2015, featuring three quarters of John Legend’s head and none of his body.

The Rock’s picture of the car he bought for his dad. Photograph: Instagram

Are there unnecessary hashtags? A birthday wish is supposed to be personal and intimate, but captioning your post with “#Happybirthday #Birthday #Birthdaygirl #BFFs #Bestfriends” simply to snag a wider audience is neither of those things.

Who does the photo flatter most? On Sunday, Paris Hilton also posted a happy birthday message to Gomez in which Hilton looked tall, kind and elegant, and Gomez is blinking. Moral: Gomez has some really terrible friends.

Do you employ your friend? Last Friday, Khloe Kardashian wished happy birthday to the makeup artist Hrush Achemyan, adding: “You are always taking my photo but we need more together.” A birthday wish and a reminder of your differing statuses? Happy birthday!

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