Why Facebook Doesn’t Get You More Friends

If Facebook could sit on Santa’s knee and wish for one thing, I’ll bet that thing would be to make the world a “global village of friends.” And maybe world peace. At Facebook’s conception, it promised us not only increased social networking, but increased friendships, since distance would no longer separate.

Turns out, while Facebook has done extraordinary things for the world of social media (how did we remember co-workers’ birthdays or stalk our exes before?), it has failed to give us more friends.

According to Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist and colleague at Oxford University, Facebook actually doesn’t give us more friends. Dunbar found that active Facebook users with 500 “friends” only had 26 relationships in which there was mutual communication. Mark van Vugt, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the VU University Amsterdam, notes that friendship is communication: “You say something and they say something back.”

People with 150 “friends” had about 12 relationships involving mutual communication. That means that fewer than ten percent of Facebook relationships are close friendships.

So with the world at our fingertips, why doesn’t Facebook get us more friends?

Van Vugt suggests that our problem is “the way we communicate via internet.” Dunbar’s data suggests that we “get a lot happier” after face-to-face interaction than after a virtual exchange via email or messaging. Skype incidentally does a better job in increasing people;s happiness, because there is the face-to-face option.

As in every other area of life, men and women also differ. Men tend to get emotionally closer to those they share activities with. They play on the same community basketball team, so they are friends. Women, on the other hand, get emotionally less close with friends once they start engaging in regular activities with them. Women become close via communication.

Van Vugt concludes that it is “an illusion to think that we lead happier lives and have more satisfying relationships in the Facebook era than we did before.” While Facebook is great for maintaining contact with people when you find yourself in different places, it has not changed the way our social networks work and operate.

Do you think Facebook gets you more real friends?