Alone Together: The Reality of Social Network Friendship

The one you call friend is someone you spent time with, someone you trust and have affection for, someone who can stand by you when you need them most.  

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are changing the way people make friends today. The average number of friends people have is on the increase, with some people befriending hundreds of persons each month. Online social networks have produced very helpful friends for certain individuals. Some virtual friendships have even broken through the barrier of space and distance, extending to more interesting level of physical intimacy leading to lasting relationships.

Sounds good! You wish the above is the common case and altogether true. Sadly, the reality is largely different. Online social network friendship is an illusion.

Traditionally, making new friends can be costly. It involves an investment by committing time and energy to another person in the hope that they would return the favour in the future. This might not be a very romantic view of friendship but it holds true. Friendship through online social networks seems to promise an easy way out; all it takes is just a click of a button.

The Wordweb dictionary defines a friend as “a person you know well and regard with AFFECTION and TRUST”. How much of your trust and affection are you willing to give just at the cost of a click? I believe your answer is not far from what I have in mind.

A thousand and (n)one friends

How many friends do you have?

Pretend that this is a serious question and think about your answer sincerely, hold the answer in your mind. Now tell me, does your answer takes into account your numerous online ‘friends’? Chances are that it didn’t.

Despite the fact that the topic of this article suggests clue to where the question is headed, you still didn’t fine the need to include your online ‘friend’ in the count. Perhaps it came to your mind but you simply felt (maybe subconsciously) that those aren’t worthy to be called friends. Maybe you simply forgot and in which case it only proves that your online contacts don’t count as your friends. Even though the Facebook ‘friend’ concept is really just that – a concept, many have taken it literally. They wrongly apply the same believe to all the contacts and connections made on other social media platforms.

Certainly, your answer to the above question embraces people you know well in person and sometimes spent time physically with. I may be right then to say that of the thousand and one online ‘friends’ you have, none is truly your friend that you didn’t include in your answer to the question asked earlier. The one you call friend is someone you spent time with, someone you trust and have affection for, someone who can stand by you when you need them most. The rest people on your network are, well, simply not your friends. And if they aren’t your friends, then who are they? The answer comes soon.

Social networking defined

The definition of social network as presented by Google is “a network of social interactions and personal relationships”. From this definition, it is obvious that social networking sites are platforms that simply make social interaction possible. Your connecting with people on any of these media doesn’t automatically qualify you as their friends. When a connection is someone you already know, let’s say a friend, family member or relative, you must bear in mind that it is not the connection by itself that defines your relationship with the person. It simply ‘connects’ you to them, bridging the gap created by geographic distance.

Being global platforms, these sites equally give you the opportunity to connect with those you hardly know, and those you want to get to know better or make friends with. Once you establish contact with someone, this is when the work of building a relationship begins. For a relationship to be truly established, you must go beyond the frontier of social network messaging to physical communication.

Some people maintain strict policy of ‘befriending’ on Facebook only people they already know or have physically met before. Others accept just about any ‘friend’ request to increase their reach for marketing, businesses or other none personal purposes. They hardly consider their connections as friends in the real sense.

The majority of people however, have no social network strategy. This is especially true for teenagers. They accept just about any friend request without clear purpose. They pride themselves in the number of ‘friends’ they have on social networks without noticing the possible risks. Sometimes such people erroneously or maybe unconsciously build their perception of self base on the opinions of their so called friends.

They invest so much time in preparing posts only to gather validation or Likes from people who hardly know them. Sadly, these likely insincere Likes shape major decisions in their lives regarding, for example, what to wear to the next major event. Sometimes the content so posted are information that should ordinary be shared with only true friends. Such people live under the false impression that their Facebook ‘friends’ are truly their friends. They may only realize that they are alone together with the many people in their friends list when they can’t find a single person other than those they have personal relationship, to help them in time of need.

Making true friends online

I have already established that social networking sites gets you connected to friends and family members, including people you want to get to know better. You can make new friends on social networks. But a simple friend request doesn’t guarantee that. It only avails you the opportunity to connect to the person you so wish to make friend with. Once the connection is made, you can then begin to explore the possibility of true friendship.

As noted earlier, the key component of true friendship is affection and trust. These characteristics cannot be earned overnight. To make a friend of your new ‘friend’, you must begin the work of building trust in the online person. I strongly advise that you take precautions to avoid developing affection for someone you have never met in person. Ideally, you would want to make friend with someone you already know, maybe through another friend or acquaintance, and not with a total stranger.

Affection and trust, the key ingredient for friendship, often requires physical attention. Once you feel this person can be trusted, try and get to know them in person before you consider them your friend. There is a lot that can be achieved through physical communication that online medium would not permit. Meeting regularly outside Facebook and other social media would solidify (or even dissolve) the trust you have so far built for the person.

There, in the meeting stage, also lies a risk that you must consider. People can take on any personality on social media. It is possible that the person you thought you know so well is nothing close to what you think in real life. This possibility accounts for crimes of kidnapping, rape, killings and other vices with social network origin.

You should  be able to clearly distinguish between people you have personal relationship with, those you want to know better and those who are just your ‘friends’ for the sake of what you have to share or sale. Once you do this, you are certain to use social networks safely with minimal risk to your personal life, career and family.

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