500 Facebook friends, 5 real friends

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Are you actually friends with everyone on your Facebook “friends” list?

According to a study recently discussed by the British Association of the Advancement of Science, on Facebook and other social networking sites you are more likely to gain superficial acquaintances than close friends.

The study revealed close friendships are forged through face-to-face contact in 90 per cent of cases. Users typically have a core group of friends of about five people, even if their online network includes hundreds or thousands of people.

Western psychology professor Lynne Zarbatany is baffled by the completely new phenomenon of Facebook and other social networking tools.

“I’ve often wondered about the need to be connected to so many people ... as if there is a fear of being out of contact with the social network,” Zarbatany said.

“Generally, a core friendship network is small ... you keep the deep stuff for a few and the superficial stuff can be broadcast.”

At a recent BAAS conference, William Reader, an evolutionary psychologist at Sheffield Hallam University, said weak ties between people around the world are rising.

Reader also noted it is easier to be deceptive when acquiring friends online versus in-person.

Sam Gosling, psychology professor at the University of Texas, found different findings from his research into Facebook.

“We’ve discovered impressions of people are pretty accurate,” Gosling said.

Although Gosling described the online personas of Facebook users as authentic, he also found people may aim to collect friends “like Air Miles” for the simple purpose of expanding their network.

These connections may be superficial, but Western students have found having a large social network is invaluable.

Justine Kilby, a third-year Ivey student, has found Facebook to be a useful tool to stay in contact with acquaintances, advertise for events, and get the word out about things going on around campus.

With over 750 friends in her network, Kilby admitted she doesn’t know everyone on her Facebook account.

“As someone that uses Facebook to get the word out about events and stuff, there is definitely reason for me to keep those ‘loose acquaintances’ around so that I can communicate opportunities to them.”

Social Science President Matt Kington, who has nearly 600 friends in his network, shared the positive sentiment.

“I think that for many Facebook users the site is a great way to store and share group photos, communicate outside of email or other online methods and set up events of groups with friends or those who shared common interests,” Kington said.

Kington also added for campus politics, Facebook is a great way to combat voter apathy and get one’s name out during a campaign.

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