Close Friends or Virtual Strangers: Interrogating Young People's Conceptualisation of Online Friendships

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Katya BOZUKOVA, Royal Holloway University of London, United Kingdom
The advent of communication technologies – email, intstant messaging, social media – has given rise to a curious form of long-distance relationships: friendships where neither parties have ever met face-to-face, nor are they likely to. Despite contradicting what Andrew Sullivan (1998) considers to be a key feature of friendship: “one’s friends are simply those people with whom one spends one’s (physical) life,” there are many cases of online friendships developing to be as important, if not more so, than those one has with one’s physically accessible acquaintances. Sometimes those friendships turn into love and prompt both parties to cross great distances to be together. Others, the people involved invest a great deal of energies and resources into helping one another.

Though the dangers of online life are widely known and discussed, both in academia and outside of it – dangers such as cyber-bullying, catfishing, revenge porn, identity theft –  studies about how people (predominately young people) conceptualise their online friendships, and what they get from them, are less known. Through qualitative surveys and secondary sources, this paper aims to be an exploration of online friendship – how does it begin, how is it maintained, and why does it end? In what aspects is it similar to face-to-face friendship? Should our concept of friendship evolve to accommodate this technological advancement, or have social networks served to demonstrate what the essence of friendship actually is?