…reflections on social media friendships
The first social media network I joined was Hi5, sometime in the mid-2000s.
One of my cousins who lived abroad had sent me an invitation link. I wasn’t sure what to expect: I trusted her, so I signed up. Hi5 stated that I would be able to check out people’s pictures, keep in touch with friends, meet people who shared my interests, and meet people to date.
I rediscovered old friends, many I had last seen as children in Primary school but were now adults. Some I recognised and a few others I remembered only by name. It was like going back in time whilst still in the present. Hi5, however, wasn’t the only social media network. I remember there was also MySpace, but I never signed up for that.
Back in those days, internet access was mainly available in offices and cyber cafes because the cost of connectivity was high. Mobile internet access was limited at the time, and most online activities were done on computers. I could only check my Hi5 while at work or in a cyber cafe. Now it sounds strange that one didn’t have on-demand access to social media, but it wasn’t as addictive then as it is now.
I didn’t really latch onto Hi5 and I am not sure why but once I got on Facebook, life as I knew it changed. It had a lot of features that encouraged interaction. There was the novelty of “writing on a friend’s wall” or “poking friends” (I am still in a few poking contests and I don’t intend to give up until I poke last!).
With Hi5, I didn’t connect with anyone I didn’t already know. I couldn’t be bothered as I was only interested in connecting with old friends. However, with Facebook, I became more open to connecting with strangers. I remember my first Facebook friend, Kehinde. He was the first person I didn’t know before Facebook that eventually became a real-life friend. Sadly he’s passed on now.
Kehinde and I became friends after I posted a message on my wall requesting a diary. We weren’t connected but he saw my post and reached out to me because we were both in the Lagos network (Facebook had Network pages at the time, somewhat like how Facebook Groups work now but with less privacy across profiles). I went to his office to collect the diary, and we became friends from that day.
I rarely ever go out of my way to make friends, however, this changed slightly with social media. Initially, I would only connect with people I knew, even if I knew them casually, like people I had met in school but wasn’t friends with. So when I started receiving friend requests from people I was sure I had never met, I became extra cautious. I was certainly not that adventurous and at some point, I changed my privacy settings to allow requests from only people I had mutual contacts with.
Over the years, I have become more open towards meeting new people, whether on Facebook or Instagram, or even Twitter which I find extremely too busy to adapt to. My initial reservations were centred around verifying identities and establishing trust. With social media, this trust is assumed to a certain degree because you can only depend on the information that a person provides. However, the majority put their best foot forward. In most cases, the best foot is usually in a beautiful designer shoe but who knows whether that person has athlete’s foot? We must remember that there are people who are deliberate about curating an identity that suits their intentions, whatever that is.
My approach to surmounting my inhibitions has been to seek referrals by contacting mutual friends and then asking for details about the prospective “friend”. If I am satisfied with the feedback, I accept the request or follow back.
What about those I have no mutual friends with? I observe their online activity for a while to see if we have similar interests. I believe that you can study the people who want to interact with you or who you would like to interact with, and you would be able to discern a thing or two about them. Then you can decide if you would like to be friends. I am now more liberal as I connect with people irrespective of the presence or absence of prior history. I even add random people as well, but there is always a method to that madness.
I have made the most friends on Facebook, partly because I have been on it for the longest period and I was also actively engaged for a long while. Making friends online and maintaining those friendships requires communication lines to be open, much like in an offline relationship. These could involve liking a picture, commenting on posts, sharing emojis, responding to comments, and sharing information. Having actual conversation still beats everything else though, and taking such friendships offline is probably where true friendship begins.
Meeting people online and taking the relationships offline is now commonplace, but it took a while to get used to. I remember always receiving invitations to a weekly Sunday hangout at Tarkwa bay, but I never went because I didn’t want to meet online strangers. Same me, went on a trip to Dubai with people I met on Facebook and only known for a few days! I still wonder what gave me the confidence to take that risk.
I remember in 2008 when a friend told me that he met the woman he was going to marry on Hi5, I was shocked. Making friends, I understood but dating and getting married? It seemed inconceivable at the time. Now? One can’t even count the number of available dating sites. People now even get into business relationships with people they met online and it is perfectly normal to speak of your online friends the same way as your offline friends.
Life, as we know it, already encourages dependence on online interaction to some degree. Many of us are already used to making friends online anyway so this does not present a problem. The world is a global village, and social media could reduce the degrees of separation between you and whoever you want to meet.
The most important thing is to ensure that you nurture your true friendships for a more qualitative experience; this is the way I see things today.