The faux intimacy of social media friendships

July 10, 2017

social-media-friendshipsSocial media friendships are a special kind of relationship. We may not have ever met in person, but we know them through what they post about their lives, their families, their thoughts, their dreams. Some people develop quite intimate friendships solely via social media. I know I have.

But do we really know them? How intimate can our friendship become if limited by lack of in-person contacts? Is it real? or is it faux intimacy?

On social media, we only see limited dimensions of a person’s life.  We don’t see them interact in person. We may see representations of how they live, but we don’t see how they live.

What’s behind the image

We might see photos of a happy family life. But maybe we don’t see the husband cracking the wife’s head against the kitchen wall.

We might see Instagram posts of lovely vacation photos. But maybe we don’t see that they went into deep debt to take that trip.

Maybe our Twitter friend is always present online. Maybe we don’t realize that she’s taking time from her family to do that and the kids feel neglected. Or her job has taken lower priority.

Maybe it looks like someone’s got an awesome life.  But we really don’t know, do we? Assumptions are dangerous because social media can’t help but involve a good bit of image management.

What’s not shared

While there are people who share their trauma, heartbreak and challenges online, many do not. Many keep their private journeys just that, private.

Now for me, I like knowing what my social media friends are up against. I have been super-inspired by the courage some display and have learned from others.

But I don’t share much of my own dark stuff. It’s just not my way. But it’s there. As it is for most of us. Even if we don’t share it.

If we don’t know the entirety of their lives, we can never know what someone else is carrying. Particularly true of social media friends.

How about you? What do you share on social media?

46 comments on “The faux intimacy of social media friendships
  1. That’s the thing with social media isn’t it Carol – we all share the highlights and then have our happiness sucked out of us by comparing our not so fabulous normal lives with everyone else’s razzle dazzle. I’ve unfollowed so many people to save my soul – they aren’t doing it to hurt me but I need to know my limits and protect myself. I guess it’s something we all deal with on some level these days.

  2. Donna says:

    I am who I am everywhere I go. Social media has been a wonderful place for me to practise writing and communication skills. The people I am close to online have the same qualities as the folks near me in real life. And I have benefitted from the relationships I have made.
    I don’t think we know very many people well at all. We assume we do (back to why the 4 agreements are so important to me). I found this out first hand when I was leading a group of 180 women several years ago. Their lives werent different after I accepted that calling than before for anyone but me. Suddenly I was in the most private parts of their lives and it was painful sometimes….but it was also inspiring. It was inspiring because I was able to see what incredible things they accomplished when they thought no one was looking. The acts of kindness, the secret things they did…..just because. I was there when babies were born and when they died…I was there for separations and for weddings…horrific diagnosis and miraculous cures. I saw people pay off bills for other people anonymously…..I watched acts of service at Christmas that went far beyond a few books and a coat. When you get to know people, really get to know them it is a honor, because I have discovered most people are amazing. My cyber friendships have been just like that. Some have manifested into great everyday friendships and some have not. Some people have blocked me because they assume I am something I am not, I have been misunderstood just like in real life, and I have been lifted to stations I also do not deserve…but all in all I still love people very much and I will continue to reach out to people because it is what I do

    • Ohhh how wonderfully precious, Donna. Brought me to tears…I am like Carol in not revealing the deeper and darker struggles, though I’ve recently been writing other changing events. I may never meet in person some oamazing social media friends, but I’d like to. Our worlds expand and a “community” of like minds is what I am finding and loving! ????

  3. Jennifer says:

    So true, you don’t see all sides of a person online. But that can also be true in person. We only see what the other person is willing to let us see. I shared my raw, emotional insides when my sister and my brother died. But those were the “big” moments in my life, my everyday routine doesn’t get as much air time.

  4. I think my cyber friendships are different than my in-person friendships. Since my social media is public to folks I often don’t even know, I do not share in the same way that I do with friends that I call or meet for lunch to chat and support each other with life. I enjoy both my cyber friends and my in -person friendships!

  5. Rena says:

    I’m a very private person and don’t post intimate things although I have written about my struggles as an Alz caregiver. I feel very strongly about my online relationships, but I also realize that nobody really knows anyone else. It’s just like a neighborhood. You decorate the outside make it inviting to guests and to the other neighbors, but people really don’t know what happens when they close their front door.

  6. Marysa says:

    Social media isn’t usually an accurate representation of people’s lives. I guess some people are a little more ‘fake’ than others. While I don’t usually post about the ‘dark side’ of things, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.. but I think we all know kids have their tantrums, house is messy, etc.

  7. Sarah says:

    I have such mixed feelings when it comes to social media. People my age are all about it, but sometimes I wish it didn’t exist! LOL. You go to concerts or other special events and everyone is on their phone trying to record or take pictures and they really don’t get the full experience, they miss so much of that personal experience because they’re too busy behind a smart phone. It’s not the most ideal way to keep in touch with people either, as we can pick and choose what we share and you end up hiding a lot of yourself.

  8. What I love about my Social Media friends is that these are people I would never have met, but for Social Media. I truly hope to meet many of you one day, like you Carol, because ‘getting to know you’ this way has given our internet friendship a foundation for wanting to make it continue. I guess it’s very much like the pen pals of yore, but we get so much more because we can communicate through our postings on a very regular basis, in real time to talk about things that are happening now. As a humorist, I like to make my posts funny to keep the world laughing, but I’m pretty sure that by engaging with all these wonderful people on their social media turf, that they know a bit more of me than the funny. Great question to pose and love all these fabulous responses!

  9. Barbara says:

    My life is pretty much an open book. I’ve never tried to be something I’m not and that’s a quality I prefer in others, as well. Everyone has a few ‘secrets’ they prefer not to talk about, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s hiding your true identity. I’m more likely to reveal something very personal to a friend I’m speaking to face to face, rather than in a post, but if someone were to ask me a personal question I would probably respond with my true feelings. I think the fact that I don’t respond to a friend request unless I have looked at someone’s posts and feel we are simpatico makes it easier.

  10. Jeni says:

    I have mixed feelings about social media and posting every minute of every day. People always are comparing their lives…who drives the nicest car, who’s kids behave the best, etc. It seems like the friendship aspect of social media doesn’t really exist and it becomes more like an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians or something. Social media is a great tool, but it definitely has it’s downside.

  11. Joely Smith says:

    I for one stay away from other’s drama and do not share my own. If I do see someone in need of support, help I can offer etc I prefer to send that personally via private message if I do not have their contact info off of social media.

  12. Marcie W. says:

    For me, the people I interact with on social media are acquaintances. I care about them, I enjoy sharing (a small part of) my life with them, but that is where the connection ends for me. My true friends belong to a very small circle of people that I have a personal relationship with outside of social media.

  13. Thought-provoking post as usual, Carol. I think social media opens the door to the possibility of friendship, and we’re able to make connections in certain areas of our lives/around certain interests, but it will never take the place of relationships forged and sustained IRL.

  14. Amber Myers says:

    Oh yeah, I always remind myself that people who constantly post happy stuff are only choosing to share that. But there is always unhappy stuff going on in the background. Or when people post photos of immaculate homes–you know they have a junk corner somewhere!

  15. robin rue says:

    I don’t know…I have made some REALLY GOOD real life friends through the blogging community. I get that some are fake, but so are some real life people,

  16. Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    Social media can either be boon or bane. I am sometimes guilty of sharing a negative status post, especially if I am too upset. It is my form of release.It is true that we only see probably a tenth of who a person really is if we were to judge what they post on social media.

  17. I think I might be what is termed an ‘over sharer’ Carol 🙂 Some things I do keep private and prefer to share the positive side of my life. There have been occasions such as when my brother died where I shared my feelings. I had not spoken to him for 30 years and was able to reconnect just before he passed away. It was a lot to process and I reached out at that time to everyone. My daughter on the other hand does not share her personal life. She is not one to put up photos of her son every moment and I respect her way. You are right though we don’t always know what is happening behind the person that we connect with in the cyberworld. We can write what we want but usually our faces give our true feelings. I really enjoyed this and have shared on FB. Have a great day Carol!

  18. I like to keep things fun and occasionally give glimpses into the darker parts of my life. I guess I’m not into whining about it and have a more half full mentality than half empty overall. I love all the incredible people I’ve met online who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

  19. My Teen Guide says:

    There is so much truth in this post. I do have some friends who flood my social media feed with so many wide smile selfies. I don’t mind though, because that is just who they are. But to have a new selfie every 5-10 minutes is too much! Personally, I keep my private life private, although there are times that I am so upset that I blurt out my feelings on social media. Not often, maybe once or twice a month. (Is that bad?) Anyway, I think social media is a great way to connect with friends, but I should not expect to know every little detail of their lives. If they say they are happy, then I guess they are.

  20. I think that because there are so many private Facebook groups, people get to know each other on different levels. I might not share on a grief support group the same things I share on a cooking group, etc.I like to think I’m good at gravitating toward what is genuine.

  21. I think, in general, most of us tend to show only the good things on a public page because there are so many people seeing it from all areas. In the smaller, private groups – or in a blog post – I would be more likely to share the more intimate details. All that being said, a number of my online friends have turned into my best real life friends!

  22. Renee says:

    I share too much probably…but thats me. I always have even before social media….

  23. Claudia Krusch says:

    I have some really good friends I have met using social media. I try to be my authentic self online. You always have to remember that some people might not really be who they say they are. I have been lucky to be able to meet a lot of my fellow bloggers in person at a few conferences.

  24. I agree that social media can be a fake place. Who wants to post all the negative things? People use it to build themselves up and put their best foot forward.

  25. I only have social media accounts for my website so I rarely share anything personal. I just like to share recipes and things like that.

  26. ricci says:

    This is such a great post. I think that people usually only share the good things in their life on social media. I have met some of my very best friends on social media and I know that they have both good days and bad days just like everyone else. I wish more people (myself included) would put “real” images out there!!

  27. Mary Edwards says:

    Being a blogger, most of my friends are online. I eventually meet MOST of them on blog trips, but there are a few that are online only. I have two BEST friends that I met through my blog that i have not met in person yet. I do share mORE with them then I do with people I have met!!

  28. I rarely share personal stuff on social media. Outside of beauty blogging I spend a lot of time with my son, and I don’t want him shown on my blog or social media. He’s a kid and I’m not comfortable splashing his face all over the place. But because I’m with him a lot, I don’t go into those details online

  29. Dogvills says:

    That’s what’s not good about social media, people can only choose to post the good stuff. Not that I would want them to post the bad stuff. It’s faux intimacy for me unless you personally the person.

  30. Nadalie says:

    Really good questions. I want to be more open and real with people on social, but I just find that I don’t’ really have the time. Like posting real, spur of the minute reflections and real-time updates just takes so much time. Right now everything runs on autopilot and I find that I can only be unfiltered on my Facebook profile. Perhaps I should try and sprinkle that honestly on my professional page and other accounts.

  31. kelly reci says:

    I dont usually share my personal things on social media! mostly are food, or what I have cooked. Im posting recipes!

  32. Czjai says:

    My rule is not to air my dirty laundry on social media. I may vent and rant about stuff on my social media pages from time to time, but nothing too personal.

  33. Honestly, I don’t like sharing personal stuff online. Even rants are limited or you won’t see anything at all especially on twitter or facebook. I just thing it’s not the place for that. It’s good to see people having a great time on vacations and all that, because I’m sure they deserve it especially since we don’t really know what they’re going through in real life.

  34. Kathy says:

    I try not to share to much on social media. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about you. I just try to keep certain things to myself, but I love sharing a lot too.

  35. Social media has pros and cons. I’s always nice to meet new people online and make friends. I love keeping touch with people I know and say hi to them even we are miles and miles apart. But there are some who uses social media in a bad way like gossiping and bashing other human being. So sad.

  36. I think this can be true both on and off screen. Most of us don’t let all the ugliness in our life be shown. I share about the good times and experiences in our life on my social media channels and sometimes share about the negative personal experiences on my blog.

  37. Rosey says:

    You find new dimensions even in F2F friendships. I’m still learning things about my closest friend I didn’t know, and we have been friends for 28 years. 🙂

  38. I feel like all my friends on Facebook think my life is perfect and sunshine and roses. It’s not, but I prefer not to share the negative things in my life and focus on the positive.

  39. Eloise says:

    as for the amount of time on social media, I’ll go to that old true saying ‘Everything in Moderation.’ (some are on more than most, not to just share their stories but to WORK!) As for what people decide to share, well that’s up to them! We all are not perfect, so sharing bad and good ‘whatever the topic’ I don’t mind and I don’t judge!
    Love the concept of this post, as it is thought provoking!

  40. Mimi Green says:

    I believe in being honest, if my kids are fighting then I will share it. I just posted yesterday about my annoyance with the price to repair tires. You can share your truth without airing our your dirty laundry. I don’t believe in pretending.

  41. sara says:

    This post is so true! So many people are so different on social media than when you meet them in real life. My motto is to always be real and authentic, online, offline, always.

  42. Victoria heckstall says:

    Social media friends are not my actually my type. I don’t know why but for me, I am not comfortable to have a friends tru social media.

  43. Julie syl says:

    Maybe it’s a little good to have a friends tru social media, it makes new friends. But it’s not good to tell about your life to them.

  44. I think a lot of times we forget that there’s a side we need to keep private. It’s key to our existence. Not everyone is going to share their everyday life with you, and I rather not know too much about someone.

  45. Kiwi says:

    This post is so true. i know people who have suffered from social media depression because it seemed like everyone around them was doing well and making them feel inadaquete. Social media is a good mix between my business and personal life but I never put everything about my life online you just cant…not to portray a perfect life but to keep some of my life more personal to me because the world doesnt need to see everything either.

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