Are Online Friends ‘Real’ Friends?
If you posted a suicide note to your friends on an online social networking site, would anyone reach out to help? Are online friends ďrealĒ friends?
“Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone.”
That was the final posting of a 42 year-old woman in England who committed suicide. Sadly, the message to her 1,048 Facebook friends went largely ignored, according to an article in USA Today.
Did she have family or friends that she could call directly? Neighbors or co-workers? Was her whole world of connections contained online? Even if some of her Facebook friends were true friends who may have reached out to her, they may have simply missed the posting.
This and other similar incidents are sparking debate about the responsibilities of the social networking sites themselves as well as the dangers of online friendships.
The Ambiguity of Social Networking
Some online networking sites have reporting systems in place so that police can be notified in emergencies. For users, though, knowing someone is in trouble is not always easy.
Whether itís Facebook, Twitter, or any other only social networking site, a large number of our friends or connections may be offline when we update our status. Many will never read our latest note. Even when online, if youíve got hundreds or thousands of friends, youíre going to miss a few things. For some users, social networking is a narcissistic one-way street. Weíve all got connections who only post but never invest time in what other people have to say.
Iím often confused by the status updates of some of my younger Facebook friends. They use language I donít always understand and they like to post popular song lyrics as their status — itís their way of letting the world know they are enjoying a particular song. It is entirely possible that someday I will mistake a cry for help as a song lyric.
The trouble with brief online status updates is the true meaning is often lost in the clutter. Was a message meant seriously, humorously, or sarcastically? Sometimes itís hard to tell.
Next: Are Online Friendships Real Friendships?
Are Online Friendships Real Friendships?
Of course they can be. For people who have few other outlets, online networking sites can be a valuable tool to stay connected to others and to keep in touch with fellow human beings. Thatís a good thing!
Just as in our offline world, we can form many different levels of friendship and have an endless number of acquaintances… and just as in our offline world, sometimes we misread friendship.
Of my own online social networking friends, only a small percentage are people Iíve met personally. Among those Iíve never met, there are a few who I consider real friends anyway, in that weíve shared correspondence or phone calls outside of the social networking site and created a bond.
In difficult times, online friendships can also surprise you and become an instant support network. You think youíre alone in something and suddenly find out youíre not alone at all. It is a convenient way to connect with people all over the world that you would have otherwise never known.
The Internet is simply one more way to make friends and acquaintances… and to be disappointed or misled. I donít really fault online networking sites for being what they are. They are a great tool for connecting people to each other when used as a supplement to every day living. They cannot replace human contact.
Related reading: Why You Need Friends
Photo courtesy PhotoXpress.com
Writer Ann Pietrangelo is a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Authorís Guild. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo