Facebook is celebrating its 12th birthday with so-called Friends Day, and we’re all meant to take some time to reflect on our digital connections.
On average, each of us has 150 Facebook friends, and scientific estimates put the size of a typical person’s actual social circle at between 100 and 200 individuals. So we’re all pretty popular, apparently.
But do any of your Facebook friends actually care about you?
Some would say today’s festivities are ironic, arriving in the wake of a recent study that suggests most of our Facebook friends don’t give two hoots about our welfare.
According to Oxford University psychology professor Robin Dunbar, you can depend on just four of our 150 (on average) Facebook friends in “times of crisis”.
What’s more, a mere 14 pals would offer sympathy during an “emotional crisis”, according to Dunbar’s research.
Dunbar says this is because social media promotes “promiscuous ‘friending’ of individuals who often have very tenuous links”.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and friends
That’s no surprise; even Facebook admits the entire planet is connected to each other at an unprecedented pace.
The company revealed that the degrees of separation – how many people it takes to connect a typical pair of Facebook users – has dropped to 3.57. That’s down from 3.74 in 2011, and a stark contrast to the six degrees of separation popularised by author Frigyes Karinthy in 1929.
“Over the past five years, the global Facebook community has more than doubled in size,” Facebook reveals. “This is a significant reflection of how closely connected the world has become.”
And it’s not like the platform offers a small sample size either; the social network has around 1.6 billion monthly active users right now, far beyond any other competitor.
But it’s that monstrous scale that makes it tough for other services to connect us, because everyone relies so heavily on Facebook – and Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram, too.
Don’t forget that early social network Friend’s Reunited – which predates Facebook – shuttered operations last month after failing to dent Zuckerberg’s incredible monopoly on friendship.
1999 – 2016, R.I.P
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But Facebook is adamant that it’s a force for good when it comes to bringing people together.
“When people connect, powerful things happen and lives are changed,” a Facebook spokesperson explains. “We see this on Facebook every day, whether it’s an exchange with an old friend that brings a smile to your face or a new connection that changes your life path, or even the world.”
“We know that people are more connected today than ever before,” the spokesperson adds.
Unfortunately, just because we’re connected doesn’t mean we’re actually happy.
Facebook getting you down?
A 2015 study showed that using Facebook can actually have a negative impact on our mental health. The University of Houston revealed a link between depressive symptoms and Facebook use.
That’s apparently because people often compare themselves to their peers through Facebook. For instance, you might get upset that your mate just bought a Lamborghini, while you’ve got cupboards stocked with nothing but own-brand spaghetti hoops.
"Facebook and other social media platforms can undermine confidence in that they can instil a notion of everyone else having a great time and a wonderful social life," Nicky Lidbetter, Chief Executive of Anxiety UK, a charity for people affected by anxiety disorders, speaking to TrustedReviews.
Lidbetter continues: "In fact, often it is the case that people exaggerate how positive their lives are when interacting online."
As such, having more Facebook friends could actually make you feel worse, because there’s more opportunity for a sports car to pop up in your News Feed.
But here’s some good news! Facebook has released two new ‘friendship’ sticker packs for Messenger to send to your friends. If only we weren't so alone…
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