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Here comes the #bride: Is social media the new wedding crasher?

When it comes to weddings, people can get a little nutty trying to organize their ideal events – and surprise, social media is taking us to a whole new level of matrimony micro-management.

Formerly level-headed brides and grooms can devolve into Pinterest-obsessed perfectionists who insist on peonies and only peonies and actually start to actively like you less if you show up in an outfit that clashes with their “wedding colors,” which are a thing, apparently.

A gushing mother-in-law can steal a young couple’s thunder by prematurely congratulating them, accidentally announcing their engagement through an ill-timed Facebook post.

A paranoid newlywed can insist on a photo embargo and demand friends take down spontaneous moments they captured on Instagram or Facebook. Or an overzealous bridesmaid can post a picture of the bride in her gown and share it with the world before the groom has a chance to see her walk down the aisle. 

And if you’re attending the wedding of a couple under 35, chances are there’s a hashtag they’ve chosen so people can keep track of who’s been documenting the event on Instagram and Twitter. 

Because social media blurs the line between public and private, wedding photos are even higher-stakes than they were in a pre-Facebook world. The New York Times is publishing a “Wedding Album” full of wedding-themed Instagram photos users can submit, which could be a cool opportunity for the recently wedded to get mentioned in the “Vows” section even if they’re not fancy/rich enough to get into the more traditional announcements.

While letting guests publish un-retouched shots runs the risk the wedding won’t be captured at its best, it also turns everyone invited into an unpaid documentarian.

But for more camera-shy betrothed and their guests, public forums like “Wedding Album” are nerve-racking – what if your cousin posts a pretty cool photo of you tossing the wedding bouquet, but it’s the shot where your face looks like you just bench-pressed an anvil full of poop? Not being able to control which of your wedding photos makes it public adds another thin, stinky layer to the stress onion that is wedding planning. 

Not only are you attempting to memorialize your love and your friendships in photos that are good enough to cherish for years and show your grandchildren, now every photo must pass muster for public consumption. And the wedding photographer is no longer the primary source for pictures from the event – thanks to camera phones and social media, every guest is a potential shutterbug.

This can be stressful for engaged couples who worry that their friends will post less-than-flattering shots or pictures that stray away from the narrative of a perfect event. For every expertly framed and oh-so-adorable snapshot of grandparents moseying in a romantic waltz, there might be twenty shots tagged on Instagram and Facebook showing friends from college doing vodka shots in the bathroom.

wedding instagram selfieIt’s no longer guaranteed that the time when everyone got weird on the dance floor when “What’s Your Fantasy?” started playing will remain a private memory between wedding guests instead of something with 300 comments on Vine. The idea that every moment is a potential public picture is enough to give even the most laid-back fiancee a raging anxiety ulcer. And according to a survey from Wedding Paper Divas (which corroborates my experience as a 20-something and frequent wedding attendee), using social media during weddings is common in the U.S. – the average guest shares 22 photos, and among Twitter users, seven out of 10 will make a post while at a wedding. 

 So what should the new etiquette for sharing details and images from weddings look like? Brides and grooms who absolutely do not want social media at their wedding should be able to say so – although it may come off a little crazy, or overly controlling. Still, guests should respect what their hosts want out of the evening, and if the groom has a deep-seated hatred of location-based apps, refrain from checking into the reception on FourSquare. 

Most brides and grooms won’t insist on a tech-free wedding, though. And they may encourage specific Internet use to make sure their day gets digitally preserved. After all, even though letting guests publish un-retouched and unapproved shots runs the risk that the wedding party won’t be captured at their best, it also turns everyone invited into an unpaid documentarian – and unless you’re friends with exclusively jackasses, most guests will be reasonable and refrain from posting a picture of the bride sneaking off for a cigarette or a close-up of the mustard that fell on the groom’s shirtsleeve. As long as guests make even a modicum of amount of effort to post pictures that won’t embarrass their hosts, allowing for social media and technology use will likely enhance a wedding. 

Even though it’s only become a thing in the past few years, brides and grooms who come up with a hashtag for events are doing everyone a favor. Alix Stoicheff, a law student in British Columbia, witnessed the benefits of wedding hashtags at a friend’s event in 2012. ” I thought I’d hate it when I first heard, but it was actually nice to be able to easily show my mom photos afterwards, as she wasn’t able to attend,” Stoicheff says. Of course, the wedding party has to cede control if they’re going to encourage guests to share pictures on social media – but since they’re likely going to do it anyways, it makes sense to try and make the photos easier to discover. 

And just because people were sharing images on social sites didn’t mean they spent the whole reception staring at their phones. “What made a big difference was that very few people Instagrammed during the wedding and reception. Most waited until they got home, or the next day, to upload and edit. That way people were still very present at the event itself,” says Stoicheff.  

Even though some guests won’t bother using the hashtag, encouraging as many social media fans to affix a specific tag to their posts about your wedding will make it easier to see what’s going up, and show people a candid album from your event. 

Brides and grooms who want to go a step beyond hashtags can actually make their own wedding apps using services like Appy Couple, which is kind of like a wedding website plus a place for guests to post pictures. Or they can set up a Dropbox specifically for wedding photos. Some couples make a Facebook group so guests can chat and upload pictures, and you can set the group to open or private depending on your preferences. 

If a guest only posts pictures to Instagram and doesn’t upload them to Facebook or save them in their camera roll, brides and grooms who want to add those photos to a wedding album will have to screenshot the photo from their desktop if they want to get a copy – an annoying extra step. App makers want to simplify the process of collecting photos from myriad amateur wedding photographers, so there are tons of services like WedPics and Capsule that help guests upload pictures to one streamlined digital place. 

And relatives and loved ones who can’t make the wedding will be able to watch photos go up in real time if they keep checking hashtags, which can help them feel included. Using Google Hangouts or Skype to give long-distance friends a chance to be a virtual guest – at least until they feel awkward sitting at their computer watching the reception get going. 

 Of course, even when guests are being respectful, only posting nice pictures and using the assigned hashtag, there’s a limit to how much social media should be a part of a wedding. Brides and grooms live-tweeting their nuptials or taking selfies at the ceremony will never be OK – nor will a guest lifting up an iPad to snap a photo while vows are exchanged.