Real or Fake? Everyone Wants to be Facebook Friends

During this semester in the SNaPP Lab, I spent time playing around with R and analyzing data from Facebook. A neat, little Facebook package allowed me to see almost all of my friends’ information that is present on Facebook. It was neatly put into table, I could run a series of testing using this data. I was interested in what it means to be a close friend with someone, and could certain factors on Facebook predict that.

I started to think about what factors “allow” me to be friends with someone. We usually have mutual friends, common interests, and similar upbringings. I went through and rated all 1000+ on of my friends on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being a very close friend and 0 being not friends at all. I decided that looking at mutual friends, likes, and cluster groups on Facebook would allow me to determine if the same person I would consider a close friend offline, would be a close friend with me online.

When looking at mutual friends, this was not a big of an indicator of closeness as I would have hoped. Many of the people that I had over 250 mutual friends with were friends that I grew up with from lower to upper school (that’s what we private school kids call elementary and high school). I’m not too close with them, but it makes sense that we would have mutual friends. One among those 250+ mutual friends in common was my brother…and I suppose I would consider him a close friend!

What truly helped identify close friendships online and off, were the likes. Going through everyone’s likes was absolutely ridiculous. I sat at my computer for 5 minutes and knew there had to be a different way to do that. After talking with Meg, she told me to pick 8 to 10 words that I knew that were pages I visit often on Facebook that interested me. Of those, I picked pages with the words:
Gossip Girl
Alpha Kappa Alpha
William and Mary
Z104 (radio station in Hampton Roads)
Les Miserables

These were things that I were interested in, and (hopefully) things that my close friends would be interested in as well. After running a few tests in R, it came back that friends who like pages containing the words William and Mary and Alpha Kappa Alpha were more likely to be my close friend. This made sense because it is such a small group of people with common and specific interests.

Online social media sites such a Facebook allow us to connect with people from all over the world. Having the most connections has become somewhat of a contest between people. Having the most friends or followers gives people such a confidence boost, and a strange appreciation for what they post, even if they are not offline friends with this audience. This phenomenon is actually quite interesting and it leads me to question why people need to feel connected to those who over a computer screen? I definitely understand social networks in the environment can enhance someone’s quality of life, but social networks online can help stay connected to close friends who are far away, but can also lead to some dangers interactions with strangers. (Okay, I’m sounding like my mother right now). I guess I’m trying to say is why must we be so connected to everyone all the time? What happened to having a perfectly happy normal life without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, and all of those things? Doing this project has definitely taught me that yes social networks are good for staying connected with those around us, but it can also be damaging. I’m friends with so many people that I don’t talk to, but I won’t unfriend them. I’ve already started my social network detox. I deleted the Twitter app off my phone, and I think Facebook is next. I’m keeping Instagram because who doesn’t love a good picture?! (And I’m really nosy). The trend of social networks moving from offline to online is a movement that needs to keep being researched to see how we can use them for our benefit!