The Difference Between "Facebook Friends” and Real Friends

I had my first Facebook stalker last month.  He wasn’t really a threat, just a really overanxious person desperate to talk to me.  Although I didn’t know him personally, I accepted him as a “friend” on Facebook some time ago.  Later, he apparently tried to contact me through the instant message feature, but I didn’t respond.  (Heck – I’m just figuring this thing out.)  So frustrated, he called my office  demanding to get through to me.  He told my staff that he was a friend of mine and that I would want to talk to him.  He also mentioned that he was a “genius.”  Fortunately, my team has had plenty of experience with self-proclaimed geniuses, so they didn’t let him through.  That unleashed a few rather ugly tirades
to me through the Facebook instant messaging.  (Why do some people think ripping someone makes them want to be your friend?).  So the bottom line is that I finally “un-friended” him.

After that, he sent a very apologetic, groveling note (it reminded me of how an abuser is really nice after he beats up his wife).  He really wanted to be my “friend” again.  But I had enough.

It was really harmless.  More of a twenty-something looking for work (as a musician if I’m not mistaken), and after reading my blog was convinced I should help.  But he needs to learn a little more about manners, networking, and professionalism first.

The more I thought about it – and this may be an age thing – the more I realized that there’s a generation growing up out there that believes “Facebook” friendship is the same thing as “personal” friendship.  They believe that even though you’ve never actually met, that by being friends in Facebook or Myspace, you should open up and reveal all – just like someone you’ve known for years.

Research already indicates the millennial generation likes their “digital space” more than their “people space” and my recent experience confirms there are deep implications.   Will there be more and more shifting relationship patterns as we spend more time online?  I spoke at Yale University last year and after my lecture, a student actually asked me, “Back when you were in college, how in the world did you make friends without Facebook?”

She was serious.  There’s an interesting implicit expectation of what Facebook friendship should be.  But I’m not sure if I’m ready for it.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I actually refuse to go on Facebook which actually pees off a few people who want to be my 'friend'…


    My wife is on it and she has nearly 250 or something friends. Some she reconected with and others???

  • Evan Logan

    Interesting comments.

    Any thoughts on how Facebook is now reaching across generational lines and whether or not that's always a good thing?

    For instance, I myself am part of the generation that started Facebook when it was strictly for college students with university email accounts about 5 or so years ago. The more it became open to other generations the more I tended to give a little snarl. First it was high schoolers, then open to the public.

    Now today, there are times that I resent this fact because there's always one of my old friend's moms that gets on because she wants to "be cool" and get involved in her kids lives. And I'm just thinking "ya know, we can say hey at church, but I don't really want you keeping tabs on my relationships, status updates and pictures and then writing some corny comment about them. it's not that I have anything to hide necessarily, but the fact is, you act different when you're around your own age group and people that understand where you come from. You interact in a way that reflects your personality as your friends know you without worrying that your coworker, pastor or mom might see a post and get the wrong impression.


    Or maybe the question isn't about generation spanning as much as it is about some sort of etiquette of when it's appropriate to befriend or not befriend someone. My friend always says he wishes that there wasn't just an "ignore" button, but also a "no I don't want to be your friend" button. Because some people just don't get the hint sometimes.

  • Good thoughts.  (By the way, you are a tough facebook friend to find as there are several pages of phil cooke or philip cookes around the world)  Someone definitely has to know you or share a common friend. :)

    I think facebook will eventually be replaced in the cycle of cyber networking.  Myspace is already losing its appeal as has other forms such as Xanga.  The youth will look for a more private place to hangout where adults are less likely to venture.

    As for me, it has been a great way to re-connect with friends and associates I had lost contact with over the years.  Many in their 40-50s are just learning how to use it and will probably drive the younger crowd elsewhere.  It is the closest mixed-generational social networking site I have seen where most families don't mind intermixing conversations of kids and parents.








  • Phil,

    Interesting (and somewhat disturbing) story.  

    I’ve recently developed a facebook application that attempts to grade your friends based on how well they know you.  It is more of a game than an actual utility…..but I’d love to hear your feedback.  

    Here is a link: 





  • I have mixed feelings on the subject, it certainly isn’t nearly as great a way to develop friendships as sitting down somewhere for dinner or tea, long face to face conversations, and other sorts of things where you are actually together doing something.

    On the other hand people have been forming long distance friendships ever since the letter was invented. I won’t deny that I’ve formed a few friendships online with some wonderful people. An online friend can be just as much a friend as an offline one, but there is certainly complications involved, and caution is wise. It should be the exception rather then the rule to form really close friendships long distance.

    My thoughts,


  • I consider some of my online friends to be more dependable than my "real life " friends. I don’t think there is a huge different really.

  • Juliana


    Interesting that you mention the case of Facebook.  I generally admire what you do…but on this occasion Iwouldn’t have sold out the person who admired you.  You have made a great impact on the Christian media.  I have attended your National Religious Broadcasters Conferences…and know the platform that you present.  This young man could obviously relate to your message.  You tell fellow Christians that it is important to share Christ through whatever gifts we havebeen given.  I think you could have given this person some dignity. He was obviously eager to get your feedback.  He probably would have been happy to get a virtual pat on the back.  You could explain that youaren’t able to take the place of….inorder to find him a job.  But… you could let him know that he must persevere in order to find those open doors and the perfect plan that God has laid out.  Instead of becoming another statistic of what not to be…this young man has decided to follow the narrow road…and serve the Lord. 

    No man is an island.  We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  You got a little admiration from a soul who hoped you would lift him up…rather than cast him out.  While it is true that we get to know each other today through cyberspace…more than face to face… technology can be used for His glory…as well as the enemy’sevil. 

    The old saying that you’re going to meet the same people on your way down applies. Maybe you’ve heard…be nice toyour secretary…because in a few years she’ll be your boss.

    I only pray that the impact on this “stalker/job seeker” is not one of despair.  If a brother in Christ is ready to cast you aside…what can you expect  from those in the world.  He  approached you in a spirit of  friendshipand admiration. Why would  you be insulted by that?  The  scriptures tell usto go to our brother in  private to express our disagreements.   A response to him individually would  do the trick.  Exposing the situation in  your blog might make for a few  laughs.  But…I would ask what  WWJD.  I believe He and the disciples  befriended those they didn’t know.  In  your case…I have a feeling that Jesus  would tell you just to turn off the  computer if a cyber chat was too  much to ask.

    Can you imagine if God abandoned us in our times of need?  This was not my  favorite article. The celebrity  attitude…without gratitude doesn’t  bode well.  Your first Facebook  stalker, huh.  As a Christian, I’m  ashamed to read this.

     By the way…I met you face to face…a few years back.   I was the stalker  who wanted to speak to you…following a talk at the NRB Conference in Orlando.  I’m glad I got to see your true colors.

    While we do have to practice caution on the internet and through all our communications…were you really afraid of this person…or afraid to lend a helping hand?   You could have written a brief response to him….in less time than it took to write your blog.

    I think I’ll turn my computer off, now.  Maybe a cyber chat is too much to ask…in some cases at least.

  • Phil

    What you don’t know – because of your quick rush to judgment, is that I did respond to him, 3 times.  But he wanted to meet face to face, and wanted me to hear his music personally, because he was a "genius" and was entitled to it.  When I told him my schedule wouldn’t allow that he went off on me, calling me a liar and hypocrite.  His email to me was filled with nasty stuff.  How not responding to that is "selling him out" is beyond me.  The truth is, I get about 20-30 scripts, reels, DVD’s, books, and more a week in our office, all asking me to finance their idea, sell their movie, evaluate their screenplay, and more (all for free by the way).  If I dropped everything to follow your advice, I would be out of business in a week – plus, and perhaps more important, I wouldn’t be doing what I believe God has called me to do.  If you called any number of ministry leaders and asked to see them personally it would be doubtful they would have the time.  I doubt you’d judge them in the same way you’ve judged me here…    

  • John

    how do you speak at yale, let alone anywhere, with such an aimless abyss of a point? with all assumed respect, what’s the point of your article? that you spoke at yale about facebook, or that there’s an inherent flaw within social networking underpinned by a frenzy of online friendship? it seems, from your article, that your more concerned about conflating facebook with yale than with any real drawback this social phenomena creates.

    go out and grab substance, not some catchy one-lined bullshit.

  • Flahbajabanoongha

    does this guy even know u? He sounds like a person who thinks facebook is their life or something. But i disagree with the fact that facebook friends are not real friends because facebook can be a way to keep in touch with proper friends

    • Woooopygoldburg

      i agree wif dis guy it is a gwd way 2 keep in contact with other friends but u can also make a new friend or even relatioships wif people u barely eva knew

  • TH

    Not actually real friends but can make people who far away more closer – update social network and sharing their lifestyle. Real friends should have should cry on!!,right?

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  • sibichen

    The excitement over increased friendship requests, vicarious satisfaction by seeing the profiles and snapshots, and obligation free contacts cannot bring in the warmth of a well-nurtured friend or relative,  living in the vicinity. Please see

  • ginabaccaro

    Oh I couldn’t agree more, Phil. It appears though that the disease has afflicted some of the more socially immature baby boomers with narcissistic tendencies. To me, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned phone call or a visit to discern real friends from Facebook friends.