Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers Friends ?

picture: Social Media Humor on Pinterest | 23 Pins

I have written a number of times about my PLN and how lucky I am to have such a supportive PLN and how I consider many of them more than just a PLN but friends.

However what level of Friendship are we talking about really?
I have over 4,000 twitter follower and 400 Facebook friends not to mention LinkedIN. By some standards I have a small amount of followers and few Facebook Friends. At the same time there are some on hose Social media sites whom even though I have never met I am very close with and have been true friends and have been there for me during difficult times.  I will also admit that I am a friendly guy and I enjoy meeting new people and chatting, and I know that not for everyone so finding a balance is also important but without seeing the person face, body language, and hearing their tone, at times finding that balance, at least for me has been difficult.

For me I can divide my online friends into these categories

1. Family and good friends who I have been friends with for years and just happen to be friends on Social media sites as  well.

2. People who I have met and I am friendly with and know them personally

3. Friends who I have met on social media,but have never met them in person but through sharing common goals and  interests ( in education, religion, and politics)  we have developed a real friendship and they have been there for me as true friends.

4. Friends who are fellow educators or share similar interests and they are more acquaintances who became friends to broaden my professional networking and base.

I do not know how many of "friends" are in each group and these classifications are just generalizations but there are friends who I would have thought I had little in common with but later learned that we are very much alike and became good friends.

Lately this idea of how much to open up and have friends on Social media and finding that balance I mentioned earlier has been on my mind. So I was curious as to what others think so I did  google search and came across the following article:  "The Limits of Friendship"  Here are some excerpts of the article. This article was not found in any science magazine but the ideas mentioned resonated with me and it is definitely food for thought

     "Robin Dunbar came up with his eponymous number almost by accident. The University of Oxford anthropologist and psychologist (then at University College London) was trying to solve the problem of why primates devote so much time and effort to grooming. In the process of figuring out the solution, he chanced upon a potentially far more intriguing application for his research. At the time, in the nineteen-eighties, the Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis (now known as the Social Brain Hypothesis) had just been introduced into anthropological and primatology discourse. It held that primates have large brains because they live in socially complex societies: the larger the group, the larger the brain. Thus, from the size of an animal’s neocortex, the frontal lobe in particular, you could theoretically predict the group size for that animal.

Looking at his grooming data, Dunbar made the mental leap to humans. “We also had humans in our data set so it occurred to me to look to see what size group that relationship might predict for humans,” he told me recently. Dunbar did the math, using a ratio of neurotically volume to total brain volume and mean group size, and came up with a number. Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty. Anything beyond that would be too complicated to handle at optimal processing levels............

As constant use of social media has become the new normal, however, people have started challenging the continued relevance of Dunbar’s number: Isn’t it easier to have more friends when we have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help us to cultivate and maintain them? Some, like the University of California, Berkeley, professor Morten Hansen, have pointed out that social media has facilitated more effective collaborations. Our real-world friends tend to know the same people that we do, but, in the online world, we can expand our networks strategically, leading to better business outcomes. Yet, when researchers tried to determine whether virtual networks increase our strong ties as well as our weak ones (the ones that Hansen had focused on), they found that, for now, the essential Dunbar number, a hundred and fifty, has remained constant. When Bruno Gonçalves and his colleagues at Indiana University at Bloomington looked at whether Twitter had changed the number of relationships that users could maintain over a six-month period, they found that, despite the relative ease of Twitter connections as opposed to face-to-face one, the individuals that they followed could only manage between one and two hundred stable connections. When the Michigan State University researcher Nicole Ellison surveyed a random sample of undergraduates about their Facebook use, she found, while that their median number of Facebook friends was three hundred, they only counted an average of seventy-five as actual friends.......

“What Facebook does and why it’s been so successful in so many ways is it allows you to keep track of people who would otherwise effectively disappear,” he said. But one of the things that keeps face-to-face friendships strong is the nature of shared experience: you laugh together; you dance together; you gape at the hot-dog eaters on Coney Island together. We do have a social-media equivalent—sharing, liking, knowing that all of your friends have looked at the same cat video on YouTube as you did—but it lacks the synchronicity of shared experience. It’s like a comedy that you watch by yourself: you won’t laugh as loudly or as often, even if you’re fully aware that all your friends think it’s hysterical. We’ve seen the same movie, but we can’t bond over it in the same way.........

With social media, we can easily keep up with the lives and interests of far more than a hundred and fifty people. But without investing the face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections to them, and the time we invest in superficial relationships comes at the expense of more profound ones. We may widen our network to two, three, or four hundred people that we see as friends, not just acquaintances, but keeping up an actual friendship requires resources. “The amount of social capital you have is pretty fixed,” Dunbar said. “It involves time investment. If you garner connections with more people, you end up distributing your fixed amount of social capital more thinly so the average capital per person is lower.” If we’re busy putting in the effort, however minimal, to “like” and comment and interact with an ever-widening network, we have less time and capacity left for our closer groups. Traditionally, it’s a sixty-forty split of attention: we spend sixty per cent of our time with our core groups of fifty, fifteen, and five, and forty with the larger spheres. Social networks may be growing our base, and, in the process, reversing that balance.

On an even deeper level, there may be a physiological aspect of friendship that virtual connections can never replace. This wouldn’t surprise Dunbar, who discovered his number when he was studying the social bonding that occurs among primates through grooming. Over the past few years, Dunbar and his colleagues have been looking at the importance of touch in sparking the sort of neurological and physiological responses that, in turn, lead to bonding and friendship. “We underestimate how important touch is in the social world,” he said. With a light brush on the shoulder, a pat, or a squeeze of the arm or hand, we can communicate a deeper bond than through speaking alone. “Words are easy. But the way someone touches you, even casually, tells you more about what they’re thinking of you.”


  1. I have been thinking and thinking about this for the last couple of years... started to blog about it, but wasn't sure where I was going with it.

    The way you break down the descriptions of friendships is similar to mine as well. The problem I have with the number of "friends" I currently have... there are too many. I can't keep up with them all regularly (as you well know), and then I feel like a bad friend.

    Such a delicate balance, right?

    I've chatted with you before about maintaining a good balance between my online and offline time, how much time I spend working, how much effort I put into my professional vs personal life, etc. It's DIFFICULT. In the end, I know I have to put my family ahead of everyone else, and I think I'm doing better at that. But I also know that there are times when it will be days or months between chats with my friends. My GOOD friends. That part is something I have had to just let go.

    Thanks for writing about this. I still struggle.

    1. I think we all struggle. As you said your good friends know and understand. I do understand. My problem is finding that balance as well and not being a pain to my friends as I mentioned in the post. So we struggle together my friend :)
      Thanks for sharing

  2. Perfectly put and a very good post. Things can also get misconstrued and confused when just reading someones words. It really can't replace all the other information you can get from actually talking to someone and getting to know them. I have a small group of friends that are my "core" friends. We meet face to face about twice a month. People online are more of a network for me. We organize, bounce ideas off and sometimes do great things together. It can be very powerful. However, humans are social animals and no amount of technology will change that. I wish the best for you. Your blog is wonderful.