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Opponents of social media and the Internet are nothing new. I personally grew up in a world where white vans were only half as creepy as Internet chat rooms. My mom has sent me many Dr. Phil episodes where victims faced cyberbullying, online predators, and identity theft. These are all very real fears, and my heart goes out to those who are hurt by the Internet, but I cannot sit through any more fear-mongering articles about social media tearing our society to pieces.
A recent poll was conducted to encourage people to meet face-to-face more often and has been gaining coverage on industry blogs. The poll asked 1,000 respondents the following question (according to VentureBeat):
Roughly what percentage of your friends on Facebook have you actually met with face-to-face within, say, the last couple of months?
The results found that 53% see fewer than 10% of their Facebook friends while 15% of respondents see 75-100% of their Facebook friends every few months. VentureBeat crunched some numbers and concluded that we see an average of 25 Facebook friends every few months.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the message that people should call up old friends and leave their couches to see people, but this study doesn’t actually prove anything significant.
Using this data to say that humans crave face-to-face interaction is untrue. It’s taking a theory and forcing data to fit it. There have been plenty of other studies that suggest society is socially worse off due to social networks because of loneliness, bullying, etc. and this one just points another finger.
Just because we don’t get to see our friends face-to-face doesn’t mean Facebook is hurting our relationships with them. I grew up in Atlanta, and while I love visiting it, I haven’t had the chance to return in “the last couple months.”(In truth, I haven’t returned in almost two years.) However, this does not make me like my Atlanta friends any less. It’s quite the opposite, really. I’ve been able to see weddings, pet adoptions and major life events through Facebook updates.
Most people who went to college in a city different from where they grew up would agree that they have close friends that they’ve stayed in contact with through Facebook. Let’s take the study a step further and compare the percent of friends you can’t see face-to-face with the percent you’ve stayed close to because of Facebook. The outlook is rosier.
According to TechCrunch, seven percent of the average Facebook user’s friends are people they’ve never met and three percent are people they’ve only met once.
It’s perfectly okay that we’re adding acquaintances and strangers; this gives us opportunities to network and share ideas. People you meet once can turn into people you see regularly after a while.
Last March, Ty Morin created the documentary “Friend Request: Accepted” which followed him across the country to meet his 788 friends face-to-face. Here’s a clip from his description of the project on KickStarter:
Chances are, at least half of those 788 people, I’ve never even spoken to…The goal of this project is to reconnect with people. No more hiding behind the screen of social media… Let’s get out there and remind people what it’s like to have a face to face conversation with someone.
His data might be skewed towards higher numbers, but adding strangers on Facebook gives us opportunities and connections that we otherwise wouldn’t have.
Jessica Gilley discussed the state of personas a few months ago. Sites like Twitter and Tumblr have grown because people can create alternate identities and truly express themselves. I might not want my co-workers to know what I do when I go home, but I can still be social by creating profiles under a different moniker.
In fact, this Facebook data is probably the highest out of the major social networks – Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, etc. – which base their successes on meeting new people from across the world. I definitely know more of my Facebook friends than my Twitter followers.
There are many things that can tear apart our society, but having Facebook friends in other states isn’t one of them. I know that I’ve picked on this one study a lot, and the creator’s intentions as a whole were good, but it paints a bigger picture about demonizing Facebook and other social networks.
I plan to cover this sensationalism and these knee-jerk reactions more in the coming weeks. Marketers already have a hard enough time getting fans to engage with their brands, they don’t need them running away for fear of societal breakdowns.