If social media hasn't changed the meaning of friendship, nothing has. Facebook especially has done its due diligence in redefining what a "friend" is; it's highly common to get "friend" requests on Facebook from not just real, honest to goodness friends, but also from people you may have met once at a networking event, concert, wedding, the scene of an accident, etc.
Because the meaning of "friend" is clearly changing in light of social media's growing influence, I've compiled a list of the 5 Types of "Friends" each of us has on Facebook. Here goes...
1. The Real Friend. This is a genuine friend or relative, someone you know and like and with whom you want to share your latest goings-on. You use social media as another means of connecting with a real friend, but you may also communicate with a real friend on the phone, via email and in person.
2. The Acquaintance. The Acquaintance is someone you know professionally or only mildly. This could be someone you met at a networking event, a co-worker or a parent of another child in your daughter's classroom. With acquaintances, we want to keep an open line of communication, but we typically have a more distant relationship than we do with real friends.
3. Professional/Co-Worker/Boss. The great thing about social media is that it breaks down barriers that have previously existed; office culture, for example, is very hierarchical. So, you may not have told your boss about your skydiving hobby or your weekend in the mountains before. But by giving our bosses access to our Facebook profiles, we give them permission to read all about the interesting people we are away from the office. We reveal ourselves in a different light--no longer are we just the suit and tie wearing accountant in the cubicle by the door. We're real people with families, friends and exciting lives.
4. The Looky-Loo. These are the people whom we accept as "friends," but know they're just keeping tabs on us. They could be people we knew from Cub Scouts, freshman year, etc. They want to know what we're up to (and perhaps vice-versa--on Facebook, you can't be a Looky-Loo without giving someone else permission to view your page).
5. The Enemy. OK, admittedly this sounds way more dramatic than it actually is. But who among us hasn't received a friend request from someone we were certain hated us? The Enemy (or former Enemy) may have grown up, matured and simply want to see how we're doing. Or the Enemy could still be evil and filled with animosity and just want to keep tabs on us. If we're doing well, we'll generally be happy to let them.
What we must remember is that each of our "friends" has access to our posts; while social media brings us all closer together and essentially tears down privacy walls, it can also bring information to the attention of others we'd rather them not know. So, when making updates, ask yourself, "Am I comfortable sharing this with a real friend? A professional associate? An enemy?"
You may be fine with your best friends seeing pictures of last Friday night's drunken escapades, but you may not want your boss or pastor to see them. It's best to live by this rule when partaking in social media: Only post updates or pictures you're comfortable having anyone see, because once it's "out there" on-line, there's a good chance that anyone could see what you've posted.
In effect, the variety of folks that find us on social media platforms is a testament to how widespread social media really is. We just have to keep in mind that everything we post is up for public judgment among "friends."