Redefining Friendship in an Online World

I've taken an unofficial poll on Facebook. Only two questions, but I think I'm good to write this post now. Granted, my poll combines answers of about 2 dozen people, obviously sampled from my Friends List which consists of a small percentage of Facebook users.

I had a "friend" decide that we weren't really "friends" and she "unfriended me" on Facebook (FB). Now, this in and of itself isn't a problem. We all do it. The FB world is a place where mere acquaintances become labeled as "friends" because it's our only option for keeping track of our connections online. Now, as nice as it is to think that FB would create an "acquaintance" option, it's likely not going to happen, because there just isn't any point to complicating matters that way.

However, if you do as I have done, there are many options in privacy levels by creating groups and allowing only certain parts of your profile to be seen by particular groups of people. It takes time to set up your groups and their settings, but you can get as specific or as general as you want to and customize it to your needs. (As a side note: I have no idea why everyone gets up-in-arms over FB privacy all the time; if your settings are set, you're safe.)

Granted, this can also create problems in relationships, particularly if you do something stupid which messes up your settings and you end up not allowing family members to see your profile at all. Oops & sorry! Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

Back to this "friend." We met on Twitter, in part of a local network. We've met in person, shared some very personal information, and we've even gone away for a weekend with a bunch of other online friends. And this is why her "unfriendship" hurt so much. I thought we were friends ~ actual friends. She decided to spend more time focusing on her "real" friends, and I respect her decision, but I was a bit baffled as to how it happened that I wasn't included in that category.

And, since I know this will be asked: Yes, I do make a lot of friends online and, yes, I have many online friends that I've never met in person. I don't use Facebook to meet people; I don't friend random people. I have, however, met a lot of locals whom I now consider friends (many whom I've met in person), and I have met several people in various online forums or games, whom I also now consider friends.

It's no different than making an acquaintance in any social setting. Sometimes an acquaintance becomes a friendship, sometimes it turns into an anti-friendship (I don't have enemies). And sometimes, an acquaintance is just an acquaintance.

A lot of people I know, this "friend" included (by her own admission) use social media as just a game. It's not. There are real people on the other side of the wire(less), with real feelings.

I use FB to "organize" the people I know, to bring together people I know from all different aspects of my life (both on and offline) and keep communication lines open. As I see it, this is the point. Not to be the end of all relationships, but to facilitate social networking and ultimately open communication.

Sadly, too many people use social media to avoid personal conversation. People say things, directly or indirectly, to people online that they would NEVER dream of saying in person. Because the computer is a convenient place to hide from actual conflict resolution.

So the irony: friends who aren't friends, and a vehicle meant to improve relationships that serves to divide people in a lot of cases. I've learned all of this the hard way, and I'll be the first to admit I've allowed and contributed to this problem. I've lost several relationships by not remembering this simple rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do to you, both on and offline.

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