What is the meaning of friendship in today’s digitally-enhanced world?

For most of us our friendship circle doesn’t usually extend beyond a few figures. On Facebook however, it’s not uncommon for people to amass literally thousands of ‘Friends’.

According to Griffith University sessional lecturer Brady Robards, whose PhD research explores the notion of ‘friendship’ on social network sites, friendship on Facebook means different things to different people.

“Traditionally, friendship implies some sense of familiarity or intimacy with people,” he said.

“With Facebook, friends include a variety of different social relationships – family, colleagues, clients, students, long-lost school pals, lovers (past and present) and so on.”

But because of this wide cross-section of relationships, there must also be issues of privacy. Who exactly do we let into our online social spaces?

“Do we share photos and information with our family in mind, or our colleagues? And if we do it for both groups and sanitise our online identities, will our ‘regular’ friends think we’re being fake and unrealistic?”

With these questions in mind, Brady is mapping some of the strategies young people on the Gold Coast are using and developing to deal with their ‘friending’ practices.

Some of his interviewees will only friend people they consider real-world friends, to the exclusion of colleagues and families.

“Others have much looser friending practices, and will accept friend requests from just about anybody.

“Then there is an entire spectrum in-between, including people who will friend anyone they’ve had a conversation with, through to people who will friend strangers after establishing an online dialogue with them and ‘getting to know them’.”

Brady says once people start to treat friends as a sort of audience, the issue of privacy seems trivial.

“The only problem is that there is no one context or singular audience we’re sharing our information with so what may interest one of our friends might well offend another.”