Friending is a complicated concept because it means different things to different people. Some people think of friends as a number, as in those who attempt to have as many Facebook friends as possible, but this type of friending does not rely on the intimacy that is usually shared by friends in real life. Others see social networks as a way to reconnect with old friend, or as communities in which they can make new friends. In online dating programs, friends may bond through emotional ties that are romantically involved. As we learn more about what people mean when they talk about friending, we realize that there are different definitions of the word and the concept of friend that come into play over a person’s developmental experience.
The act of friending someone online turns the word “friend” from a noun into an adjective as well as a verb. When social networking is a catalyst that allows people to reach an individual or group, the people who get the messages are called friends even when there is no emotional attachment that one usually experiences when one deems a person a “friend.” The adjectival use of the term was used by the social network Friendster, created in 2002 by Jonathan Abrams who applied the adjective to mean that friending occurred in the process of using the social network. It is interesting that the social network Friendster predated both MySpace and Facebook, but Facebook popularized the term by shifting the use of the term friend from a noun to a verb. At the 2006 meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), a scholarly group dedicated to all aspects of the social and technical uses of the Internet, David Fono and Kate Raynes-Goldie presented a paper on how the term evolved through the use of a blog called LiveJournal, which was in use in 1999. In their paper, they examined both the friending process and the defriending process and identified characteristics of online friends that were different than traditional concepts of personal face-to-face friendship.
In many ways, the term friending has, at its core, the sense of connecting to others. Sometimes the online friends one makes are ephemeral, and other times more long lasting. Communities often emerge from groups of friends who have a special purpose, and though those communities may be more short-lived than geographic communities, they serve a strong purpose for people who participate in them. Entire bodies of study have been given to the type of communities that focus on what the act of friending is in social networking and how the word is changing in contemporary society because of the increased use of social networks.
According to danah boyd (she uses lower case letters for her name) whose research has focused on teen use of social networks, many teens use friending features to build communities based on specific affiliations as well as having pride in the number of friends they have online. The expectations for intimacy with those unknown, or not-well-known, friends is lower than for those whom one might have in a special category of friend. boyd also writes about the decisions teens make and the rules they seem to operate by in creating a shared practice of friending on a social network. The importance of being liked and of having a quantitative measure of “like(s)” is a measure of one’s popularity—rather than any measure of true emotional connection ( boyd 2010 , 78–115).
What online friending has in common with real-world friending is that the concept of what a friend is and what one hopes to find in a friend changes as one matures. What constitutes friendship changes over one’s lifetime, and it appears that online friendships also fulfill different needs in one’s life. For example, Page 180 | Top of Articlerenewing old friendships from high school or a former neighborhood is a very desirable activity for older people who use social networks for finding old friends, as is carrying on new online friendships that are not burdened by geographic space.
One’s idea of online friendship and the role a friend can play in a social network is often related to how much time someone spends on social networks. Internet addicts seem to lose the balance between thinking of online personas and real people more than people who are socialized in both the real world and the cyber-world. For Internet addicts, the “rules” that might be in place in real life become blurred with the “rules” of cyberspace.
For teens or adults, online friending has several potential problems. While it can help one’s social anxiety (fear of dealing with people in a face-to-face situation), the online friends and friendships can sometimes be misleading, or, in very serious cases, can lead to unbalanced power relationships among individuals. The fear of pedophilia (adults who prey on children for sexual favors) is an unfortunate outcome of how friending can go awry. Cyberbullying and using online services like social networks for demeaning others is a dysfunction of the use of social networks and turns the idea of friending on its head.
See also: Addiction ; Cyberbullying ; Dating ; Identity ; Privacy
boyd, danah. 2010. “Friendship.” In Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, edited by Mizuko Ito et al. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts of Technology Press, 78–115.
Fono, David, and Kate Raynes-Goldie. 2006. “Hyperfriends and Beyond: Friendship and Social Norms on LiveJournal.” In the Internet Research Annual, vol 4: Selected Papers, edited by Mia Consalvo and Carolyn Haythornthwaite. New York: Peter Lang.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX6485200091