UnNews:What makes for a Facebook friend?

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8 November 2010

Facebook-friends

How many Facebook friends do you need to feel popular?

WORLD WIDE WEB -- Are you on Facebook? Of course you are. Unless you live on Mars. Or you’re actually somebody important. Everybody who is a complete nobody is on Facebook. It’s the playground of the 'little people'. And in some cases, like Farmville, it’s the playground of the totally insane.

People collect real or fictitious friends who show real or fictitious pictures, and who share the same sense of worthlessness. But by having a lot of friends these people feel themselves somehow popular. So how many friends do you have on Facebook: Five hundred? A thousand? How many is too many? And more importantly, what makes a friend?

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, for one, suggests that if you've cracked a thousand, maybe it's time to start cutting some of the friends out of your life. “I see people with thousands of what they call 'friends,' which is impossible," Kimmel insisted. "You can't have a thousand real friends."

How do you tell a real friend from a Facebook friend? “Easy,” Kimmel says. “Let me give you the three-point-tests of real friendship.

“First, post a status update that says, 'I'm moving this weekend and I need help.' The people who respond, those are your friends. Everyone else isn't. Now delete those people who didn’t respond.

“Second, post a status update that says, ‘HELP! Martians are invading my bedroom. Please bring Nerf Gun. Hurry!’ The people who respond, those are your friends. Everyone else isn't. Now delete those people who didn’t respond.

“Thirdly, post a status update that says, ‘This account is deactivated.’ The people who respond, those are your friends. Everyone else isn't. Now delete those people who didn’t respond.

"Friendship is a sacred thing," said Kimmel, "and I believe Facebook is ruining it. There are scientific limits to how large your circle of Facebook friends can grow.” Facebook will cut you off at 5,000 friends — purely for "back-end" reasons, as the New York Times notes, not because site administrators think you're getting too popular.

But is it really impossible to have 1000 real friends, as Kimmel argues? Yes, it’s psychologically impossible, according to evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who writes for the London Times that, "our brains aren't big enough to allow us to have deeply meaningful relationships with more than a hundred people. In fact, 50 is the average number of people to whom most of you send Christmas cards," Dunbar says.

Of course, this whole little debate forces us to ask: What is a Facebook friend? Should you 'friend' only those who are true friends -- those people who you actually know. "There must be some personal history, not just names and numbers," as Dunbar defined friends to the Observer earlier this year.

Is Facebook simply a mixed-bag contact list of names and numbers for genuine friends and total strangers alike? An ‘ego list’ if you will? The real question being, is a Facebook friend just a point on one's make-believe popularity scale?

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