Photo by Hans Vivek via Unsplash

Followers are not friends

(Disclaimer: I am grateful for my followers.)

Real friendship takes work, not just a ‘like’. At the very least, it takes knowing each other’s names. But these days, social media account users throw around the ‘friend’ word while concealing their own face or location.

No wonder people love social media so much: it’s easy! Because they are your ‘friend’ or follower, people expect responses and personal information from you, without having actually interacted with you in public. They are entertained by your posts without having to share anything about themselves. Worse yet, they passive-aggressively unleash their opinion on you and then avoid the response by ignoring your response messages or blocking. If someone was following you home from the park, would you be expected to talk to them? (This happened to me.) No way. So why do I have to communicate with someone who is typing to me from their computer at home?

An awesome person on a social media account told me that ‘we’re friends,’ while she crops her face out of photos and leaves location information blank. How could we truly be friends when I don’t know what she looks like or where she lives?

Someone else wrote on my Facebook wall that she’s ‘glad we’re friends’, after she had added me only two weeks before. Were we real friends? No. It’s actually unfair to claim a friendship with someone, without coming through on the real responsibilities of the relationship: listening to people’s problems, attending their social events, etc.

The problem is social media has veered from its original purpose. Facebook was originally started for college students (who physically went to college together), so the term ‘friend’ actually applied. But now, anyone who’s ever shared oxygen with you, or has glimpsed your photo online wants to add you as a friend. But these are not friendships anymore. We’re letting an antisocial app define relationships for us. At best, these types of online Facebook relationships should be called ‘acquaintances.’ I use the ‘acquaintance’ friend category on Facebook for people I have not (yet) met in person, and I think it should show up publicly on the site.

Similarly, Twitter originated as a way for celebrities to share what was going on in their lives (think Puff Daddy). That makes sense, because millions of people know them and they do extraordinary work. Their tweets were (and still are) about donating a million dollars to charity, etc. Now, everyone is on Twitter, sharing their everyday accomplishments like a celebrity. Even if you don’t want it, people laud you. The more followers you have on Twitter, the cooler you are. But would it be cool if someone followed you to the mailbox every day? (That’s happened to me a couple of times.)

I support social media users and accounts who, like me, garner followers for their professional brand. It becomes tricky when people you have added for networking purposes (to share your projects) expect a personal relationship with you. Social media is lucrative, and legitimate for a creative career like writing, and that’s why I’m present on it. I try to make every post have deep meaning and sure intention, but of course I occasionally get caught up in showing off new outfits. I hesitate to post photos of myself, but I do, because it develops my brand recognition and portrays hijabis positively. When you do business with someone, it’s fair for them to know your name and location. That being said, it would be nice to go under the radar. (I joined Instagram as a low-key way to admire celeb fashion and enter giveaways, but Facebook alerted my friends.)

Honestly, for an antisocial and introverted person like me, social media is harmful: it encourages my antisocial tendencies when I need to be engaging with others. I don’t need another reason to look down while I walk around with other people, messaging someone 3000 miles away when my friends are all around me. I continuously think of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) saying about being kind to neighbors, so I’ve been looking up from my phone notifications whilst walking around to interact with people. The first time I stopped to talk I got a free Sprinkles cupcake, and the second time I got a free Tai Chi session. Although I’ve also benefited from my online connections: a book publication, free cat café entry, etc, the positive energy I get from real-life smiles, laughs and hugs is priceless!