How “Real” are your Facebook Friends?

Have you ever stopped to think about how real your Facebook friendships are? An article in “The Atlantic” sets out to answer that question. Real life friendships are considered a monumental and transitive event, but Facebook has recreated the experience of “friending” to be passive, with much less effort. Is this changing the way we view friendships?

The article describes a photographer named Tanja Hollander , who interested in defining friendship in the modern age. She analyzed her 626 Facebook friendships and discovered people she hadn’t spoken to in years, and people she’s never even met. Were these people truly her friends? To find out the answer, she asked every connection if she could come to their home and take their photograph. Only a few people didn’t respond to her request, and in turn, she de-friended them. She crowd-sourced $50,000 for her project— titled “Are You Really My Friend?” She traveled all over the world to photograph every single friend.

“95 percent of her Facebook friends have welcomed her into their homes and sat for a portrait, with 74 percent offering her a meal or a place to stay for the night… Hollander found that people are still extremely proud of where they live, wanting to show her their favorite museums, restaurants, and parks—the physical places that embody an identity.”

Her definition of friendship was forever changed by this project. She originally thought that you couldn’t call someone a friend until she’d been to their home. But now she knows that one sharing one’s home isn’t a defining factor in a friendship. People she’s never even met opened up their homes to her, took her on a tour of the city, and introduced her to their extended families. She now feels more of a connection with her Facebook connections, and she can truly call them all friends now.

An example of Tanja's work

Mike, Fanny, Martin, and Maya Ladd (Tanja Hollander)

Experts say that Facebook keeps people in touch, and prolong’s friendships after they would have naturally dissipated.

“Does it matter that you can see pictures of a high school acquaintance’s family even though you haven’t spoke to her in 20 years?…I would argue that, generally speaking, there are benefits to maintaining those weak ties. Social networks can provide a variety of information that our closest friends and family may lack.”

“Sociologist Mark Granovetter has shown that relatively weak ties between two individuals can act as a “crucial bridge” between “two densely knit groups of close friends.” Acquaintances, as opposed to closer connections, are more likely to move in distinct social circles and therefore have access to a wider range of social information. An acquaintance can link one group to another. Granovetter’s theory suggests that even infrequent relationships, with little emotional closeness or shared history, still play a valuable role in a person’s social existence. “


Elizabeth and Amy Munger (Tanja Hollander)

Studies have reported that Facebook users who often ask for advice and recommendations in statuses have a greater sense of social capital. Therefore, those who use the site more actively have stronger Facebook relationships.

“His research found that based on the size of an adult brain, the average human can have around 150 people in his or her social group, and that anything more than that is too complex for most of us to process…social media has only reinforced his conclusions. He explained that a recent analysis of one million Facebook pages showed that the layers of friendship (most intimate, best, good, just friends) are the same size as they are “in real life” (about 5, 15, 50, and 150). What seems to happen, Dunbar said, is that Facebook introduces “a few extra people” to the outermost layer of casual acquaintances, which can extend out to 500 individuals. Facebook confuses things by calling all of these relationships friends. But while Facebook probably slows a relationship’s “rate of decay” when you no longer meet in person, he suspects social media won’t stop a more intimate friend (say, in the 15 or 50 category) from moving into a further-out ring if there’s no longer any face-to-face contact.”

This entry was posted in Facebook, Fun, Social Media, Social Media & Psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to How “Real” are your Facebook Friends?

  1. sydhavely says:

    Please talk about this post in class, Danielle. It’s quite prescient and significant to what Facebook “friends” means and suggests in relation to sociological theory and especially the Dunbar number. Great post.

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