Editor of the New York Times Book Review Pamela Paul’s recent column “How to Be Liked By Everyone Online” describes how social media “has upended social and psychological norms” by changing some words to their opposite, or at least giving them a very different gist than they initially had. With Facebook, “to friend” has become a verb, and yet to do so, in the social-media sense, is a fairly passive act, Paul said. In real life, when a friendship ruptures, it’s a major event. But just as it’s easy to start a Facebook relationship, it’s virtually effort-free to end one. The personal investment on either side of “unfriending” somebody is infinitely lower than offline. “The whole concept of what it is to make a friend has shifted,” she explained.
For the 71 percent of Internet users now on Facebook, the word “friend” includes much more tenuous associations—old classmates, colleagues, one-night stands, in some cases, people who might otherwise be complete strangers.
Facebook places every type of social connection into a single “friend” basket. But relationship categories can serve an important function: An acquaintance versus a true friend, for example, signals different levels of trust and expectations. As 70 percent of Facebook users are on the site daily, sociologists and psychologists are examining the link between Facebook use and changes in relationship strength. Facebook may simply prolong superficial connections that would have naturally dissipated otherwise.
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