The myth of “faux friends”

The Chronicle Review has another article about how Facebook destroys real friendship. William Deresiewicz argues that Facebook encourages people to broadcast narcissistic minutia to their networks of over 500 faux friends. He provides an interesting treatise on the history of the concept of friendship and intimacy, but precious little data to support his central argument that “If we have 768 “friends,” in what sense do we have any?”

The truth is that most Facebook users have something close to 120 friends (not 500, and not 768). In other words, people’s Facebook networks fall well within Dunbar’s number — which is “a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.”

Research also shows that people are real on Facebook.

Finally, the Pew Research Center’s report on Social Isolation and New Technology also contradicts the “faux friends” myth:

This Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community survey finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.

Can we please finally kill this myth?
If you don’t like Facebook (or MySpace, or Twitter, or FriendFeed or whatever), then don’t join. But please stop accusing those of us who do use them of being isolated, narcissistic, and having “faux friends”, because the data show otherwise.

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