My friends are your friends, and your friends are my friends

Facebook friends are a must nowadays when social networking opened a new era of interactions.


But, actually, who are my friends?

First, let’s go back to the ancient Greeks (remember: since the ancient Greeks – nothing new under the sun) and their friendship theory. Aristotle stated that there are three types of friendship: based on utility (remember the biological concept of “mutualism”?), based on pleasure (when you enjoy the company of another person) and based on virtue.

The last one was considered the highest form of friendship, in which the two human beings are both good, that is, they are morally virtuous individuals. Either one likes what is good in his/her own person, and what is good in his/her friend. They have a common vision of a good and fulfilling human life, and help each other in their pursuit of such a life. But such relationships require time, familiarity, confidence, mutual concern, and, of course, virtue.

Ok, with this “friendship theory” in mind, we’ve got one big question to answer: what kind of friends do I have within an online social network?

In this environment, friendships are definitely based on pleasure and utility. What about virtue as a bond? To be honest, I don’t believe it is possible to find it here. Then, why do I make friends on Facebook? Who are these friends? How many friends do I need to feel comfortable?  And, after all… are they really my friends or not?

In order to find out more about friends on social networks and human perceptions about this concept, a survey was carried out on Facebook, using a sample of 2,713 individuals (age rank: 18-65 years). Ok, don’t take this study as representative for the entire Facebook network, which is huge (from the point of view of the number of active users). Take it as a snippet of human wisdom which deals with the ‘friends’ and ‘friendship’ concepts within a social network.

The first question of the survey was about the number of friends the respondents have within the social network and who these friends are. The average number of friends was 137/user, usually colleagues and ex-colleagues (from work, school)(83%), different other friends working in the same business domain (64%) and unknown people (42%). Yes, unknown people can be your friends within a social network!

Here’s a strange form of friendly behavior: when asked if they ever ignore/disregard their friends’ messages (using the ‘hide’ Facebook option), most respondents (89%) gave an affirmative answer. So, we are friends but I don’t like yours posts, and I bury them. Obvious, isn’t it?

Why hide friends messages? Reasons will vary: “because I don’t like my friends” (32%), “because they are posting images with their children, and I cannot have children; and I’m gealous” (42%), “they are posting too many messages from different games (i.e: FarmVille, etc)” (28%), “I hide them because they are always using caps and too many exclamation signs” (18%); “they are posting too many messages” (63%).

When asked if they ever noticed that a  suspicious application might have “gone wild” on their friends’ wall (you know, posts promsing to help you find out “who saw my profile”, “how many clicks…”), an overwhelming majority of participants said yes: 87% recognized they saw this kind of messages.

But friendship has its limits, doesn’t it? Only 43% of these vigilant respondents actually warned their friends about these ‘fake’ applications. 57% didn’t. Why? First motivation: because they didn’t know that was a fake application, and, moreover, they tried it themselves (and, consequently, they spread it) (68%). Second motivation: some of them (25%) didn’t have the time to let their friends know about the trap they might fall in. Third and last motivation: some other respondents simply didn’t want to announce their friends (7%).

And thus we reach the last question of the interview: to use or not to use a security solution for Facebook ? 93% gave a negative answer (they don’t need a security solution for Facebook or they don’t know about these solutions), which means that their accounts are completely exposed.

Until the next survey, take care of your selves (the real one and your virtual persona) and… safe networking!

About the author

Sabina DATCU

Sabina Datcu, PhD has background training in Applied Informatics and Statistics, Biology and Foreign Languages and Literatures. In 2003 she obtained a master degree in Systems Ecology and in 2009 a PhD degree in Applied Informatics and Statistics.
Since 2001, she was involved in University of Bucharest's FP 5 and FP6 European projects, as researcher in Information and Knowledge Management field.

In 2009, she joined the E-Threat Analysis and Communication Team at BitDefender as technology writer and researcher, and started to write a wide range of IT&C security-related content, from malware, spam and phishing alerts to technical whitepapers and press releases.