Don’t Confuse Friend With Friendly

Beware of deceptive social media boundaries.

By Kevin RR Williams

BEHAVIOR By calling followers "friends," Facebook redefined a time-honored relationship. The very nature of membership that siphons personal contacts to enlist familiar followers or friends eased the transition into the new definition of friendship. Ask many people today how many friends they have and they will rush to check their latest social media statistics. A surge of friends can result from a risqué avatar, viral video or informative blog post. Those virtual friends are not the same as true friends.

Virtual Acquaintances, Business Associate or True Friend?

Oxford Dictionaries define friend as, "A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or familial relations." Wise King Solomon said, "A true friend shows love at all times, and is a brother who is born for times of distress." Obviously, persons we have never actually met do not fit the definition of a friend. In fact, most social media contacts barely meet the qualifications of a virtual acquaintance: "A person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend."

Twitter is a massive multi-media social platform. For all its millions of accounts, only one tenth are actively engaged — following others and sending tweets — according to a 2013 year-end Pew Research study. Slightly less than this follow others — occasionally view their timeline but do not send tweets. So it's safe to say that only a small fraction of virtual "friends" even read what you have to say. What about the people that occasionally leave friendly remarks or retweet? Unless you've met them in person, had telephone conversations or interact regularly in some similar fashion, they might simply be friendly followers.

Presuming that a virtual acquaintance is a close friend can become problematic. A "friendly" individual might be found standing outside a van near a public park offering candy to children who would help look for a lost puppy. So don't confuse friendly with friend. Persons who are drawn to violent types may even search classified advertisements to begin a pin-pal relationship with inmates. Charles Manson has a girlfriend named Star. The medical name for a paraphilia fed by danger is hybristophila.

Some psychiatrists associate inmate pin-pals with extreme fanaticism, as might be found among celebrity groupies. Baring death-row marriages and conjugal visits, celebrity fans and hybristophiliacs develop an idolization of someone they may have not personally met. Social media profiles can be embellished. Photos may be old or edited. Obviously, it is dangerous to develop extreme admiration for someone based upon such a limited view of their life.

Even if online "friends" are not malevolent, inappropriate emotional attachment can develop that may unintentionally lead to family discord. For social media to be a boon and not a bane, properly distinguish between virtual acquaintances, true friends, and business associates.

Tags: anonymity, Facebook, privacy, psychology, somed