Online Friendships Ain’t Real, and Why You Should Only Have 150 Facebook Friends.

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Events over the passed 24 hours have resulted in the loss of two people I thought were friends and the dissolution of a business relationship. Of course I have cried, yelled and felt sorry for myself. I struggled with how relationships built of years could just go KA-BLOO-EY over something so benign as a difference of opinion. On social media, wars are waged daily and people are forced to take sides, and often the fallout is huge swaths of “friends” lost in mere moments.

In real life, most of the friendships that I’ve made have lasted through a few bumps in the road. We disagree, maybe throw a few punches (not really) and move on. We still exchange Christmas cards and go to our parents’ funerals and cry at their weddings. Facebook is a whole other animal. Even long-time friends can easily be cut off, never to be tagged again over global issues that have little to no bearing on individuals. If you have an opinion on Ferguson that contrary to your Facebook friend, depending on that person’s mood, you might be zapped. Promising friendship? Squashed with lightening-speed expedience. By lunchtime, you can easily have eliminated 30 friends before you take that bite out of your soggy sandwich.

Facebook allows friendship to come so cheaply, that people feel next to nothing about cutting someone off. And because I’m currently struggling with such a situation, I’m curious about the dynamic, so I decided to to some research.

Apparently I was 100% wrong from the beginning. According to researchers, friendships formed on social media aren’t real friendships at all. The bonds are as virtual as Playstation. Here’s what I discovered:

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace do not help you make more genuine close friends, according to a survey by researchers who studied how the websites are changing the nature of friendship networks. Although social networking on the internet helps people to collect hundreds or even thousands of acquaintances, the researchers believe that face to face contact is nearly always necessary to form truly close friendships.

Although the numbers of friends people have on these sites can be massive, the actual number of close friends is approximately the same in the face to face real world,” said psychologist Will Reader, from Sheffield Hallam University.

Social networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace have taken off rapidly in recent years. Facebook was launched initially in 2004 for Harvard University members but has since expanded to more than 34 million users worldwide. MySpace, which was set up in 2003, has more than 200 million users and was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 2005 for $580m (£285m).

Previous research has suggested that a person’s conventional friendship group consists of around 150 people, with five very close friends but larger numbers of people whom we keep in touch with less regularly.

This figure is so consistent that scientists have suggested it is determined by the cognitive constraints of keeping up with large numbers of people.

But Dr Reader and his team have found that social networking sites do allow people to stretch this figure.

The team asked more than 200 people to fill in questionnaires about their online networking, asking for example how many online friends they had, how many of these were close friends and how many they had met face to face. The team found that although the sites allowed contact with hundreds of acquaintances, as with conventional friendship networks, people tend to have around five close friends.

Ninety per cent of contacts whom the subjects regarded as close friends were people they had met face to face. [SOURCE]

Yeah. But even when you meet folks face to face, the bonds can be tenuous. I wager that even if you meet “friends” after subsequent connections on places like Facebook, I’d bet those bonds are much loser than those acquired the traditional way. Social networks make friendships cheap and disposable. Bullying intensifies, and so to outrages and vendettas. Turns out I’ve been doing this online “friend” thing wrong all along. You can’t take anyone you meet this way seriously, so best not be shocked or hurt when your online buddy dumps and blocks you because you didn’t vote for her prized petunias in the private garden group.

Read more about the lameness of Facebook friends here.

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