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Can Facebook be a substitute for real life?

12 September, 2007
By Allison Orr

A study presented at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science has found that a large network of online "friends" does not equate to having friends in real life.  Will Reader, an evolutionary psychologist at Sheffield Hallam University, undertook a study of Facebook and MySpace to examine their attitudes towards friendship.  These websites are more for collecting friends in the same manner of stamps or coins rather than developing close relationships.

The study found that maintenance of a close friendship requires face to face contact and the number of friends and acquaintances collected online does not actually increase the number of close friends a person has.  Even people who had networks of hundreds or even thousands of online friends did not change the number of people they considered close friends.

This trend of collecting friends online may come at a huge cost, with ABC News reporting that a study done by SurfControl found that Facebook could cost Australian businesses as much as $5 billion in lost time and productivity if one staff member from each company spends an hour or more each day updating their Facebook page.  Logging on to the social networking site is the first activity of many people as soon as the computer is booted.  Some businesses are setting up filters to block the use of sites like these to stop employees wasting time.

Not all those logging onto Facebook are necessarily wasting time though.  According to the BBC a student protest in Britain has been successful in getting HSBC to reverse its policy change on interest-free accounts for graduates.  While the protest also had a “real life” component, with a protest at the bank’s London headquarters organized by the national Union of Students, the campaign took shape on Facebook, with members calling for a boycott of the bank.  Over the time of the protest the number who had joined the protest via Facebook reached more than 4,000.

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