Facebook friends are not friends, not real friends

facebook friends
Illustrations by Het Harde Potlood / The Hard Pencil

The Hard Pencil are drawing illustrations at Winter Camp and this one refers to the plenary session from Wednesday night. Someone from the audience said that when we talk about networks and communities we need to keep in mind that our online friends are not our friends in the same sense as our offline friends.

boyd and Ellison (2007) make a clear distinction between the offline and the online when they make a clear distinction between the two and “To differentiate the articulated list of Friends on SNSs from the colloquial term “friends,” we capitalize the former.” In a reponse Beer (2008) mentions the remediation of the everyday life where Friending (online) gives a new meaning to friending (offline). The social arrangements change due to this new form and type of friendship.

What seems to be missing from both pieces is that technology, or rather, the settings within current social networking sites don’t allow for a detailed description of links. While Flickr offers the possibility to distinguish between “friends,” “famility” and “other” these are just three descriptions of links between people. Links within networks are often not clearly defined but they receive a rigid label within social networking sites.

Beer, D. D. ‘Social network(ing) sites… revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd &  Nicole Ellison.’ Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13, nr. 2 (2008): p. 516-529.

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html

20 thoughts on “Facebook friends are not friends, not real friends

  1. I recently heard a new definition of friends on Facebook: “Everyone you know and do not explicitely dislike.” (Source, anyone?) I don’t think that’s too far off.

  2. “Web 2.0 is based on a collusive tapestry of adjoining social nodes. Social Networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Orkut, Liveleak, YouTube, Twitter and Pownce aren’t prefaced on pre-set connotative connections maintained through historicized emotional depth or satisfied by biological drives. Friends aren’t friends as we have come to know them: there is no establishment of shared geophysical experiences, no cathartic or chronologically defined friendship markers evident. What’s important is [inter]action and the quantity of it – the residual volume of contact and the fact of shared connection minus a meatbody context. Identity is constructed in these friendship pathways via the idea of notations; of naming labels, of icon attribution, and of clustered info-snippets streamlined through an interface designed for momentary persona snapshots.”

    -from: http://www.furtherfield.org/displayreview.php?review_id=281

  3. @Sander I’ve been Googling for the source but have not been able to find it. I like the definition/decription though.

    @Mez Thanks a lot for the reference article. It’s really in line with my current research so I will probably get back to you :)

    1. Thank you for the boyd reference in regard to defining friends as someone you like or not actively dislike. I would rather describe the latter as ‘acquaintances.’

  4. I am new to Facebook but it seems to me that people are using anyone they ever knew (and a lot of them they did not or do not particularly like) in order to compete with each other. It is as if the number of people on the Facebook friends’ list defines the individual’s popularity. But it is a lie. People are using people in some kind of bizarre game where the most “points” (people) win. I think there are positive uses for Facebook but I think many people are using it in a destructive manner.

    1. Your reference to collecting ‘friends’ as in collecting points within a game is very interesting. The number of friends on a social networking site such as Facebook seems to point to friends as a measure of popularity. This seems to be even more the case so on Twitter, where the number of followers establishes your authority.

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  6. What I find very fascinating is that people assign so much value to Facebook that they actually spend time actively debating the “worth” or “unworth” of types of acquaintances and social associations.

    So someone has chosen to connect with everyone they knew from high school, college, or previous jobs. It’s nothing more than a modern day Rolodex – unless you assign it more value than that by endlessly arguing about who should qualify as a “real” friend and who should not.

    I debated taking time to leave this comment at all because… does a conversation of real vs. fake facebook friends really make a difference? Will everyone ever interpret what “Facebook friends” “should be” in the same way? Does it even matter?

    My response to this topic whenever it comes up is: “Who cares?”

    Not in a snippy, flippant kind of way. It’s a very real question. Is there a good reason to care about this?

    1. Thank you for deciding to take the time and comment on this issue. I think it indicates an important shift in our way of thinking about the difference between online friends and offline friends, or in other words: that the “difference” is fading. One could consider them different because of the different attributes you can assign to them in social networking sites that are not visible in ‘the real world.’ But the two worlds are melting together and that, to me, is the most important aspect of this discussion.

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