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How Fake Friendships on the Social Media Get in Your Way of Real Friendships
I created my Facebook account about 8 years ago. At that time, I have accepted (and rejected) plenty of friend requests. But I still had thousands of friends. For the first time since creating my account, I logged in last week and deleted hundreds of them. Why? Because I didn't have a friendship with any of them.I created my Facebook account about 8 years ago. At that time, I have accepted (and rejected) plenty of friend requests. But I still had thousands of friends. For the first time since creating my account, I logged in last week and deleted hundreds of them. Why? Because I didn't have a friendship with any of them.
I love that social media allows us to stay in contact with people we care about, no matter where we live or what time zone we are in. But I don't love the fake connection it can sometimes create. Just because I know someone went on a family vacation last week doesn't mean I would have cared about it if I hadn't seen their pictures in my timeline.
It felt good to purge my friend list of people I didn't truly have relationships with, but then it got a little weird…a few friends texted me asking why my friend list number had dropped. And a few of the people I deleted actually reached out asking what they had done to upset me. I was shocked; why was anyone paying attention to this? I hadn't spoken to the people I deleted in years. And yet, people were noticing. This isn't because I'm some famous internet blogger who the world wants to befriend, but rather a common phenomenon regarding social media: The average person has about double the amount of friends online as they do in real life.1 But how is that a friendship? And why do we feel connected/important to these strangers?
We unfriend, unfollow and even block people online, but to their faces, we would act like nothing in the world was wrong. So it got me thinking: perhaps we love the illusion of social media friendships because we can act as we would if (in reality) we were not afraid to confront or interact with people honestly.
We don't know anyone online. No, we really don't.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: your best friend (in real life) has just gotten off the phone with you. The two of you chatted in depth about how torn she is about her relationship and that she may want to break up with her longtime boyfriend. She's crying and it's emotional and you know she's overwhelmed. But when you hang up with her and check Facebook out of habit, you see she just posted a #TBT to a vacation the two of them took together. All the comments are about how cute they are and how happy people are for your friend's relationship to be going so well. She "likes" and replies to all the comments with "Awwww, thank you!" and "Yup, he's pretty amazing!" and you are left feeling utterly confused.
But it makes total sense! We portray the versions of ourselves that we want people to see online. While I will say I've had some social media friends clog my timeline with melodrama, for the most part it's all sunshine and butterflies. While you may know your best friend is actually checking her notifications while crying her eyes out, the rest of her friend list sees a girl who is head over heels in love.
Social media causes us to have this false feeling of intimacy and closeness with people that we actually know nothing about. Scrolling through our friend's list, we all think we know the person we are connected to online, but would that person call you if something tragic happened? Would you be on the list of phone calls at all? If I was being honest, even with my new, cleaned-up friends list, the answer would still be no.2
Beware the false sense of intimacy.
Social media wouldn't be half as fun if we knew every intimate detail about the people on our friend's list. But it is important to know who you are actually connected to, vs. who you are virtually connected to.
Think about the celebrities you follow. Maybe it's your favorite musician and you have been obsessed since before they were even popular. Following them on a social media platform can make you feel close to that person. You know where they love to eat and what their order is because you've seen it on Instagram. You know that their grandparent recently passed away, and although you had never met that person, you grieved as if you had lost a relative. We gain a sense of knowing and closeness even though we don't know one intimate detail.3
Weed out the fake friends to salvage relationships with the real ones.
One of my best friends has asked me a few time in the last year, "Am I still your best friend?" This question always surprises me because it doesn't seem like an insecurity an adult would have. But this question is usually prompted by something I have posted about another friend of mine on social media. It's caused me to think of the word "friend" and how casually I use it.
We're conditioned to refer to virtual friends as such because it's in the name: Friend list. But we've already established most of those people are not truly friends. Not to me anyway. If you're my friend, I want to trust you, confide in you, hang out with you (in real life) and hear your voice-not just see your comments. And if I have made the mistake of getting too caught up in meaningless friendships and putting my real ones on the back burner, that's a problem.
Delete your friends, not your Facebook.
Social media, in my opinion, is a necessary evil. It's fun, it's convenient and it's a great time fill when you're bored or waiting in line at a restaurant. But it should not consume you. Nor should it eliminate true relationships. You don't need to delete all social media accounts (unless of course you want to!), but you should sit down and weed out your friend list. Think of it like tossing out clothes you don't wear anymore. Have you had a real, off-line conversation with that person in 6 months? A year? If not, delete.
Don't overthink it.
After I deleted hundreds of people, only a couple actually realized and messaged me apologizing for whatever they had done. Even my case is a rarity! Don't think you will hurt someone by deleting them. If you truly aren't close (and you aren't), there's a good chance they won't even notice.
You aren't going to miss out by missing posts.
When you weed out the fake friends on social media, you may have a momentary fear of missing out. But you won't. If the people you are deleting were important enough to you to keep up with, you wouldn't need to delete them! Don't worry about missing those vacation posts or sappy tags to their significant other. Trust me, you're better off without that junk on your timeline!
You may get closer to your real friends by deleting the fakes.
Jolie Choi, an editor at Lifehack deleted about half her friend list. And you know what happened for her? She gained clarity. Not just into her own values, but into the lives of people she really did care about. Without all the people she wasn't even close to spamming her timeline, she was able to catch updates from her actual friends she didn't see as often as she would like. It no doubt gave her opportunity to reach out and catch up. Her friends list may have shrunk, but her relationships grew stronger. And isn't that so much cooler than boasting about how many "friends" you have online?
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