Roxanne Tellier – Facebook Friends

rox lolas May 2014 3

Social media is a terrific thing for isolated people like me. Carless in Scarberia, often suburb-bound for months at a time, Facebook allows me to connect electronically with people of all walks of life and interests, from all over the globe, without ever leaving my home.

facebook-friends grid

But how weird is it that I know so many intimate details about other people’s lives, people whom I may have never actually met in ‘real life?’

facebook friends funeral

There’s a term for that feeling of knowing someone only vicariously on social media: Facebook Familiarity. It’s the false intimacy you feel because you’ve seen that person’s photos, alone or interacting with their friends, and read their statuses (whether banal or intimate.) The person has become “Facebook Familiar.”

you looked better on facebookIt’s also a known psychological oddity, called “Exposure Effect,” aka the “familiarity breeds liking” effect. Basically it’s the phenomenon in which the more often a person is seen by someone the more attractive and intelligent that person appears to be.

When you meet someone in person whom you’ve only ever conversed with before on Facebook, and the first thing you hit them with is, “so  … how did your cat’s colonoscopy shake out?” you may not realize that you’re freaking them out. In that split second they’re trying to simultaneously place your face, process your name, and make a snap decision on whether you’ve ever met or if they’ve just encountered a stalker.

Some people are more amenable to this kind of interaction, especially those who value social media for its opportunity to share thoughts or to gather potential like-minded colleagues. When I recently met singer/songwriter Arlene Bishop for the first time, at a club where she was performing, she had the perfect response to my greeting.  “Didn’t we meet at that place, that time, you know, when that thing happened?” She was acknowledging a vague recognition of the Facebook me, while throwing the conversational ball back into my hands, where I could then expand upon our real life connections.


That encounter ended happily. But there are other, uglier sides to the equation – beyond the obvious.

Facebook has the potential to do both good and evil. Those of us who spend time browsing its pages every day have become comfortable with ‘sharing’ our lives with unseen and sometimes unknown others through our home computer or phone. Rather than meet by chance or design at a restaurant or community centre, we convene ‘neath the light of our faintly glowing screens.  We generally assume that our time online will be companionable and pleasant.

facebook-friends types

That is, until one of your quickly typed statuses hits a nerve in another Facebook user.  Or maybe you ‘liked’ or ‘shared’ a meme that resonated with your own beliefs, but viscerally discomforts someone else’s. Suddenly, tsunamis of vile and nasty responses pour in, and you are left shaken and astounded at the attack.

kim jong il facebookI would like to believe that I don’t know anyone who signed up for Facebook in the hopes of picking fights with others who don’t share their personal biases. But occasionally I am knocked aback by venomous trolls who desperately want me to embrace their own personal ‘Jesus.” (speaking metaphorically.)

Is it the ability to self-publish and promote our deepest, and sometimes, most sub-human secret desires? Or has a lack of journalistic integrity and civility in mainstream media seeped into the electrons?

From the status of Michael Lynch, of Finland: My FB experience has slowly become filled with conspiracy theories, prophecies of doom, proponents of the “truth”, judgmental religious fanatics and propaganda machinery of the lowest calibre, created by self-published and unverifiable sources then forwarded by the dim, narrow-minded and opinionated. It’s depressing and alarming how FB has become a vile instrument of gossip and hatred.”

Or this status from Wiley Cousins: I’ve been wrestling with that same problem, Mike. The spread of hurtful propaganda seems to have taken hold of facebook just as surely as it has taken hold of the rest of media. Friends that I thought I knew have been twisted into unrecognizable shapes by this. It bothers me a lot. I have tried to drop hints that I can’t tolerate propaganda, but some still have persisted to the point where I’ve had to block them. I just facebook-friend-disagrees-with-you-memecouldn’t deal with the fact that I was leaving the house each day furious. Even when I would point out the absurdities in their posts, they still continued down that line until I had no choice but to block them.”

Yep – blocking or unfriending. The ultimate Facebook dis.

I struggle terribly with having to cut a friend out of my social media circle. It’s not a decision I take lightly, as I am well aware that so many of us rely on these interactions, and may just have been having a bad day when they said something unkind or impossibly apathetic to the feelings of others. None the less, there are times when there is no other option.


Sadly, we often learn the hard way that not all Facebook friends are created equal. We may have a friend list a mile long, but the days of “ got ’em, need ’em , want ‘em, gotta get ‘em all!” are gone. As of 2014, there are 1,310,000,000 active Facebook users around the world. It’s unrealistic to think that there aren’t a few rotten apples in the barrel.

the day we become silentWhen we’ve been bombarded with negative feedback, we may choose to disengage from online discourse. From long-time friend Sharon Swift“I keep most of my political associations on political pages. The response of some people to hate though, drives me crazy. I don’t know how social media developed such a case of hatred and bullying, but since I started FB on 2008, I have seen the decline of civility and it really packs a punch, especially when I think of my children and their children. Lately I haven’t been posting, just reading a bit and shaking my head.” 

slot machine cherriesBut it’s hard not to be active on social media, if you’ve had a strong presence, or rely on almost instantaneous feedback to your words. A lot of us get a little antsy when cut off from the internet for more than a day or two. Despite a positive or negative feedback, we fall into the addict’s habit of loathing the habit, but being unable to stop. We put our quarter into the slot, and pull the lever, hoping that this time the comments will come back with a win.

How we present ourselves in social media can also be problematic when you consider the impact of the corporate world in which we live. Your current or future employee may well be watching what you’re doing when you’re not on the company clock.  A wild and well documented social life just might be detrimental to future career aspirations. Nothing – not even your private messages – is ever deleted completely from Facebook. What looks like a good idea now, may come back to haunt you when you’ve moved on to more mature pursuits.

Meanwhile, we’re also opening ourselves to data mining. Every time you click on one of those ads or cute Buzzfeed quizzes, you’re actually allowing companies to create a solid image of your likes and dislikes, in order to better manipulate and sell you their products.  You’ve found out which Beatles song best represents you, but they’ve just grabbed a lot of psychological data that, in the past, they would have had to gather physically, and with paid subjects.

And those photos of you and your friends out partying? Of course you’ll tag ‘em!

Through specific design functionalities, Facebook has created a powerful affect of familiarity that has resulted in a deeply ingrained trusting of the media. Most Facebook users don’t think twice when they upload a number of pictures and Facebook responds with this interface:

Facebook’s technology that makes this functionality possible, DeepFace, is a facial recognition software, similar to that of the United States military software, that uses layering technology to create a 3D model of a 2D image and matches it to a wide database of facial structures linked to profiles and is immediately able to identify the subject of the photo with an accuracy rate of 97.25%. While massive facial recognition databases used by government agencies are criticized heavily and are a cause for moral panic and public fear of privacy infringement, Facebook has managed to slip by through the excessively comforting design of the social network and the powerful affect of the familiar. Fuller and Goffery claim, “When combined with the tools of cognitive science and psychology, software-based media forms offer a powerful set of devices for translating a range of background practices of everyday life into the new but deceptively familiar world of pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping, cutting and pasting” (57). Facebook’s deceptive familiarity has been successful in collecting a massive amount of personal information and creating extensive social databases with the endless possibilities for evil manipulation.”

internet-access-basic-human-rightNow that’s scary stuff … and completely under our normal radar, due to our dependence on social media. Just how dependent are we? In 2011, the United Nations stipulated that disconnecting people from the internet is a human rights violation and against international law.    “The (United Nations) Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”     (

Having used this form of communication since the days of Bulletin Board Systems in the early ‘90’s, I can’t imagine not having access to online conversation. We not only have a need to connect with others, and the means to do so via the Internet, we’ve developed a sense of entitlement to our daily hit of news and commentary.

i could be on the internet


But as they say, familiarity may breed contempt. The better we know a thing or person, the more we want to find fault with it or them. We don’t recognize what a good thing (or person) we have because we see it (or he/her) every day. There is no end to the online complaints about Facebook, and the constant tinkering with its interface, from the very users who keep the site alive. We have a love/hate relationship with change in our lives, no matter how small.

hates christchurch

On the other hand, our need for human interaction runs deep, even if clad in the form of 0‘s and 1’s and replete with a battery of online advertisements. We may find ourselves gladly handing over the details of our private lives to the internet maw, in exchange for chats and the possibility of being understood by another, despite our own confusions or self-doubts. Sometimes, familiarity may also breed a sense of comfort and content.

Our right to internet access comes with a price. It’s up to each one of us to decide how high that cost will be.

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.           E. O. Wilson


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

Contact us at

DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

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