What it means to have a “friend” was forever changed on Feb. 4, 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook.
Giving users the ability to stay up-to-date with hundreds of acquaintances has caused overuse of the word “friend” and diluted the meaning.
“It’s odd that people will have ‘friends’ on Facebook that they really don’t know in person,” said Castleton College Junior Peter Kazakis. “Everyone says the main reason they have Facebook is to keep in touch with their close friends and family, but people just check their newsfeed every day to see dumb stuff that’s not really relevant to their life.”
Sophomore Jon Giffen doesn’t even bother adding people he doesn’t talk to regularly.
“I add people I actually know, not random people I see on campus. If you put me in a room with people who I don’t talk to then it would just be awkward,” Giffen said.
Freshman Alex Derosia used the same word to explain friendships that never go beyond the screen.
“It’s awkward if you’ve never talked to them, but you added them because they go to your school,” said Derosia, who added that she has only two or three close friends on campus even though she’s Facebook friends with hundreds more.
Junior Jade Blodgett admits that the amount she knows about different people is distorted because of social media.
“I know more about random teen moms from my high school than I do about my best friends,” Blodgett said, commenting on how much people post publicly about their lives.
Some longtime Facebook users see the damage done to real-life relationships when they put so much effort into maintain online ones. Junior Julia McIntyre deleted her Facebook for this reason, among others.
“I think it makes your real-life personal friendships shallower and not as personable,” McIntyre said. “Instead of having conversations with people to catch up, it’s like, ‘oh looks like they had a good summer’ based on their photos. I just wasn’t connecting with people as much as I’d like to be.”
She found herself judging people she hardly knew, in ways she wouldn’t if she didn’t see their day-to-day activities.
Many students do, however, admit that keeping friends on Facebook isn’t entirely harmful, and can actually strengthen long-distance friendships.
“You can see the friends that your friends make while they’re at school and the things they do at school because they share pictures, and statuses, and relationship statuses,” said freshman Kiley Baran.
Derosia and Giffen agree.
“You can keep up with people you used to hang out with when you’re not near them,” Derosia added.
“I’ve actually strengthened my connection with a friend because of Facebook because I don’t use my phone much,” Giffen said, explaining that both friends have to put in equal effort to keep the connection strong.
Communication professor Robert Wuagneux uses Facebook to inspire those who follow him online.
“I post because I want the world to be a better place. I spread messages that are positive,” said Wuagneux of his uplifting posts. “I look at Facebook as a way to cultivate thinking.”
He joined Facebook when it first took off years ago.
“It’s a personal glimpse at who I am,” he added, emphasizing how what you expose yourself to, and spend your time looking at on social media, can be either benefit or harm you.
Despite the benefits, many people are joining McIntyre in deleting Facebook altogether. While this may not be right for everyone, it certainly has its benefits.
“It made me realize who the most important people in my life are and who doesn’t care,” McIntyre said. “You see how much time you waste thinking of people who you aren’t connected with any more.”