The Hard Facts: Do You Talk To Your Facebook Friends

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“A study conducted in 2009 for The Economist found that people with 500 Facebook friends had actual interaction—such as leaving comments on people’s walls or ‘liking’ their links or photos—with an average of just 17 friends for men, 26 for women. And one-on-one communication, such as individual messages or Facebook chats, was even more limited: men had two-way contact with an average of just 10 of those 500 friends, women with just 16.” (“How Many Facebook Friends Do You Need?” Newsweek, 10/15)

I have a lot of Facebook friends. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I have a lot of friends. A number of my Facebook friends are people I haven’t even met–fans of MWF Seeking BFF or this blog–and plenty of them are people from elementary school or summer camp who I haven’t seen in over 15 years. Or they are old high school classmates I never speak to, or friends of friends I met once. The point is, as you all know, just because someone is a Facebook friend doesn’t mean they’re a friend. 

When it comes to these non-friend Facebook friends, we are so not friends that I would never even think about commenting on their Facebook status or photos. It would feel weird, as if I was chiming in somewhere I didn’t belong. Which is totally weird, of course, since we are in fact connected, at least on the social network, which is why I am allowed to see said status or photo in the first place. It’s as if we’ve made an unspoken mutual agreement to look at each others pictures sometimes and get all voyeuristic, but not to actually communicate. Facebook friends, not friends.

I’ve always figured this was true of most people, and this research really drives it home. Of 500 friends, we’ll only interact online with 26 of them? And only 16 directly? That’s fairly remarkable.

Does this research apply to you? Clearly it does to me. Will you like any of your friends’ Facebook statuses or photos? Or, like me, do you comment only on the ones you feel somewhat connected to? Does it surprise you that while we can claim 1500 friends, we can still only maintain actual relationships with a small portion?

 

25 Comments

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25 responses to “The Hard Facts: Do You Talk To Your Facebook Friends

  1. Janelle

    I’m sorry, I’ve never understood friending every person you have associated with and then some (unless you’re a celebrity – Rachel!) I think I’m in the minority on this??

    My Facebook is strictly limited to close friends and family. Someone who knows me and my sometimes sick sense of humor. I also have no qualms about commenting on their posts, I wouldn’t be “friends” with them if I did!

    I don’t use my last name on Facebook because I felt bad not accepting requests. My husband despises Facebook and for good reason that I won’t get into. But that’s also another reason I don’t use my last name.

    Anyway, I keep in touch with the majority of my 98 friends/family. Some of the friends/family just don’t frequent the site enough to have direct contact with. I imagine that’s a big part of the minimal contact mentioned above.

  2. stephrogers

    What a great post! Yes I’m exactly like you (but with fewer friends). I only use private chat with a handful of close friends and only comment and post on the ones I feel I have an actual connection with. The others I look at when they come up in my feed but would never comment on anything. I have to say my stuff gets the odd random like or comment and it always makes me feel a little strange when that happens.

  3. Laura

    I’m not surprised at all! In fact, I’ve been de-friending people a lot lately because I don’t interact with them at all. The way I see it is if I don’t feel comfortable wishing you a happy birthday on Facebook, then I don’t feel comfortable having you see all of my pictures and info. It feels great de-friending these people!

  4. I’ve got a lot of friends on there that I don’t see that often, and quite often I don’t feel quite comfortable deleting them because suddenly they’ll get in touch or something! I’m more likely to comment than to talk directly – I’m really bad at proper conversations!

  5. Ellen Lederman

    I don’t like Facebook at all, but this post hits home. I have a friend who recently got a call saying a friend had died. He is not been in contact with this person for 20 years, but completely lost it, to the point of calling in sick to work the next day, contemplating going up to NY from Atlanta to find out more (details are sketchy), and even acting suicidal. I’m sorry—but if you haven’t been in touch in any way for 20 years, that person is NOT a good friend. Maybe was a good friend, but certainly not to the point of all the histrionics.

    • Amie

      This makes me wonder if the death brought up some old unresolved issue with your friend…maybe involving the person who died or maybe not related to the person who died at all. I’ve been through something similar. Not that extreme, but having a death make me wish I had better resolved something that I was not even aware that I still cared about. Not trying to be negative, just throwing out ideas. Of course some people just react in a fairly extream way because suddenly their own mortality becomes real or because they are just a high strung personality. Obviously, I have very limited info here so please take this as a curiouse wondering, not as a judgement. I also know people who are just very dramatic and I have no way of knowing this persons normal reaction to things.

  6. Amy

    FB and I have a love-hate relationship. I have nearly 400 friends and probably get up to 36 likes on a really cute pic of my baby. While that feels good, what does it really mean? The other 370 people didn’t like it? They either were afraid to click Like or they probably didn’t see it. FB is so goofy these days about who and what it decides to show you. I love staying in virtual touch with people from my past but I also go through de-friending sessions. Sometimes it’s not that I don’t like the person even, it’s that I get wary of their posts! And don’t you find yourself no longer liking people you thought you did like! Or losing “friends” over this opinion or that.

    Anyway, I once saw a humorous cartoon with the scene at a funeral home and the caption regarding I thought more people would be here, he had 1,000 facebook friends!

    • I’ve found that, with FB and seeing what your friends like and how they spend their time, I have lost some respect for my friends. You can find out more than you want to know, more than you would know if you weren’t on FB.

  7. I love Facebook! All my 389 Facebook friends are people I would like to keep in touch with. If I find someone I have little in common with, but have an obligation to be friends with, I might dim down their feed. If I find them offensive I would definitely unfriend them.
    The rest? I truly admire and would love to be better friends with, even if I haven’t had much contact with them outside of Facebook. I see our Facebook contact as a way to keep in touch and maybe find more common ground. I love it when I find out that one of my acquaintances loves the same obscure band, book or hobby as me. I would definitely comment on their status if the spirit moved me. If they don’t want me to see it or comment on it, they need to adjust their privacy settings or unfriend me. I am just being a good “friend”.

  8. YES! I loved what you said about feeling weird commenting on a post by one of these FB friends-non friends; feeling like you’re butting into what’s non of your business; totally agree!
    Facebook is a very strange concept, isn’t it?🙂

  9. Whenever anyone mentions Facebook, I must highly recommend the movie Catfish-and now there’s a TV show, too! (MTV.) It’s about Facebook friends, and the reality vs. their FB page.
    To answer your question, though, I have over 300 FB friends, and I only have meaningful back-and-forth conversations with maybe 1 or 2. A lot of my friends are stay at home moms, so FB is their only adult conversation during the day. Some are in other states. A lot of people have told me they really enjoy my updates, but few comment. I use FB mainly as a way to invite a large group of friends to a party, or to create a poetry group, or a group for people who blog a lot. I rarely take the time to read the updates on the home page.

  10. Emmie

    Last week, I just went through and deleted connections on FB (“unfriend” is such an ugly word,) with about 20 people. The experience was quite difficult and upsetting. Some do not ever really go on FB. Some do but we have nothing in common. Some, I just don’t even like. I felt terrible about it but I would like to actually be “friendly” with the people on there. I won’t sever the connection with a few others, even if we don’t connect, because I don’t want to slight them. However, there are people with whom I have a brief interaction and suddenly, they “friend request” me. Then I am getting tagged on animal rescue issues that are beyond me, and overwhelm me, and I think it’s ridiculous to have superfluous connection with a total stranger. In earlier days, I allowed a friend of a friend to be my FB friend and this guy dropped the F bomb in almost every post. I thought, “No thanks.” That was my first “unfriend.” And that was even difficult.

  11. Wairuanor

    I used to have two Facebook accounts. One just for people I really know (either in real life or as a pen friend, i.e. pen and paper pen friends) and then I had one account for my interests, e.g. to connect with fans of the same books, movies etc. These days, however, I only have my personal FB account, simply because I don’t have the time to be too involved in fan-based discussions.

  12. Olivia

    I have approx. 90 friends on facebook, I talk to 5-10 tops. I thought I was wierd or anti-social or whatever, but apparently I’m not! Thank you!

  13. I used to think the exact same way about FB “friends.” But then I realized, I wasn’t getting to enjoy the sole purpose and full experience if I didn’t start interacting with those so-called friends. Since I have come out of my shell, I have had tremendous opportunites with these “friends” of mine. So, my awkward stage died the beginning of 2012. And now I’m a social networking butterfly.

  14. I have about 300 FB friends and interact with probably about 50 of them on a regular basis. Some of the others I just don’t care about that much or they aren’t on FB very often or whatever.

  15. I’m not a friend “requester” yet I feel obligated sometimea to accept the requests from acquaintances as they come in. I’ve never really thought about how many people I actually interact with. I’m going to start paying more attention just to see if I fit in this status quo. I do know that at least half of the people on my friends list are not not active users and I wonder if this comes into play in the numbers. You can’t interact with someone who isn’t there. I come from a very small town and thus knew everyone in my high school. Those people make up the greatest majority of my list as it is. Were we “friends” back then, not so much. Are we friends now? I can say that there are a great many people whom I can say I now know better because of FB. Hmmmm. This one gets the wheels turning.

  16. Once I was stalking “non-friend Facebook friend,” a girl I hardly knew, and accidentally “liked” a few of her very old pictures, clearly showing that I had been a stalker. I felt SO embarrassed. So I try to get rid of those people…unless they’re so interesting that it’s worth the risk.

  17. Most of my FB friends are my co-workers, college friends, high school friends, and relatives. Commenting on their posts depend on the context–sometimes they post something for their friends or co-workers I don’t know, which I feel awkward to “like” or “comment.” However, if it’s just something about themselves in general or something directed toward me or someone I know well, that’s when I interact.

  18. I totally agree!!! Although I got annoyed with it all and just got rid of it. People post their drama all over, talk bout ppl etc and of course it shows up all over your news feed. But realistically just because you have someone on Facebook doesn’t make you friends, or even remotely popular if you have like 500. People even friend people they hate … For what so they can hide behind a screen and smack talk them?
    If you don’t hang out see or even talk to them can you really call them your friends?

  19. I’m 2 years late but I really relate! I have over 200 friends and a Facebook business page with more than 70 likes. My conclusion is I have a high expectation of myself. And I was under the impression that Facebook was Social Media. However, I know in reality I cannot maintain so many friends. It’s physically and mentally impossible!

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