A new study published by the UK’s Royal Society indicates that there may be lots of issues with having too many social media friends.
The study titled “Do online social media cut through the constraints that limit the size of offline social networks?” challenges the idea that active use of social media can enable children and teens to grow their circle of friends in a constructive way beyond what would be possible using on real world contacts. The study used adult data to draw conclusions about the teen experience.
The answer, it appears, is “no”.
Many teens, and to a lesser extent pre teens (who are less likely to be active on social media), appear to be operating under the assumption that more (online) friends is better. A study by Pew Research found that among teens who use Facebook:
- 71% have more than 150 Facebook friends
- 44% have more than 300 friends
- 20% have more than 600 friends
We call the last group “Facebook Friend Collectors”. From what we’ve seen, the data for Instagram are similar, and in many cases the number of followers is bigger.
The Royal Society study concludes that while it is possible to have more friends by using social media effectively, it is probably not possible to have more high quality friends. We’re not talking about the quality of the person, but rather the quality of the relationship. The reasons:
- The younger the social media user, the worse that person is likely to be at judging other people. Nonexistent, superficial or downright bad friendships can result
- There is a natural limit, online and offline, to how many people you can actively keep up interactions with
In order to consider the teen implications, the study polled over 3,300 adult Facebook users and found that on average, they had around 170 friends. When asked how many of those were close or genuine friends, respondents offered that around 27% were close friends.
It seems likely that many teen friend collectors are not really accomplishing anything. In addition, there is a downside to admitting friends to your network who are not real friends:
- You’ve granted them access to send you private messages, and there’s the possibility that they’re a cyberbully
- There’s a chance that they share something you’ve posted (possibly from your private account) that casts you in a bad light
- A casual observer might conclude that since you’re online friends, you somehow support their views and posts
We consistently advise parents to encourage teens to keep a small, well-curated group of online friends. It prevents needless effort and helps steer clear of some unfortunate situations. That extra Like isn’t worth it.
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