Engaging Culture

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.

Related Articles


  1. 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???

  2. 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.

  3. 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.









  4. The exciting part about Facebook, or any social networking, is that it can cut through some of the social barriers that often exist in the real world. After all, the Internet is one of the most egalitarian mediums ever created in that everyone can have a say (like me now).

    On the other hand, there are certain important barriers that the Internet makes it tempting to circumvent, as evidenced by the trend of "sexting" that's been making its way through the press of late—not to mention what you talked about. It seems like technology is always a double-edged sword: interacting with people you might not ever meet vs. removing the work of real relationship.

    It is a generational aspect in that my generation grew up lacking the same social skills that set apart previous generations. We have a lot to learn.

  5. This is something I’ve actually been thinking about alot lately. With my recent usage of Twitter I’ve been following a bunch of people whom I have not met before but I found interesting. Recently one of those people found me on Facebook and tried to friend me on there. While I’m not opposed to the idea in general, I more so see Facebook as a way to connect with people you personally know as opposed to people you’re interested in. If you’re interested in them, become a fan of their page. I don’t see Facebook friending as the best way to connect with someone you’re interested in contacting but have not met.

    It all comes down to knowing the technology out there and figuring out what is the proper usage of it.

  6. Definitely a reality these days, but there's also the other contrast. When people lock themselves in a box and don't communicate with anyone on a personal level. This is referred to as the "rock star" mentality usually. When people want to shout all they can online, but never use social tools to actually be social. Sorry to hear you had the encounter you did, and it sounds like you handled it well.

    I can speak positively for Facebook Groups, which has really built a sense of community with our podcast. Allowing them to join and comment on the group wall, while also opening the door for us to contact them at any moment (sort of like an email list). Thanks for bringing this up, but don't feel alone. This happens frequently.

  7. Hi Phil,

    I'm one of your facebook friends but think I've got a pretty realistic view of our relationship.  We've met personally, had one or two great discussions over similar passions surrounding God, the media and Hollywood, even rather awkwardly (due to technical difficulties) been interviewed on the radio together.  (Kfax-SFBay area a couple of years ago)  We have lots of mutual friends (the real kind) but I can't begin to honestly call myself a "real friend " of yours.  Maybe someday if we actually get to live in LA. 🙂 But I do appreciate our acquaintance and our facebook friendship.  It helps me stay connected with what you're thinking, what God (at least on the level you share) is doing in your life, how you are working to shape our culture, instruct the body of Christ toward love and good deeds, plus receive an occasional gentle admonishment if it fits.  As for the occasional status statement interaction, those can just be fun.  Also, for example, because I see you are traveling, I can take a second to pray for you, or check out your latest blog, and feel connected with someone I admire and respect.  Yes, its on a very superficial level.  With FB, there is a responsibility to remember what friend means , also that it implies we are friend-ly. If I ever cross that line, please "un-friend" me!

  8. Once Bell invented the telephone back in the 1800s, I'd be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts  there were people just as worried about how intimacy was threatened and no one had to actually deal with anyone anymore because of that new fangled technology, etc., etc.  It seems like every new wave of communication devices presents improved avenues of expression while completely discouraging others.  And when you're part of the generation making the transition, I think you must always feel some sort of self-righteousness in the loss, nostalgia for the communication that's served us and a whimsical begruding that the next generation is finding their own substitute means of communicating.  "We made friends in college withOUT Facebook, darnit – and we walked uphill both ways barefoot in the snow to get to school – and we LIKED it that way!"  

    But, what is more amazing to me is that no matter how alienating the technology we keep finding new ways of communicating and connecting with each other using it.  As long as we're trying to build community, we're at least moving in the right direction.

    As for your stalker, yeah – I think that guy has a virus in his motherboard – and you'd probably think so whether you met him through Facebook or standing at the end of a booksigning line.  I may be wrong, but I think most Facebook users understand the difference between genuine friendship and casual acquaintance.  I could be wrong – I mean – we're BFF – aren't we Phil?!?!?!?!!!


  9. Phil, I am also your Facebook friend but I come from a generation that, hopefully, was taught "respect." I email you maybe 1-2x a year – and only to say something relevant. Perhaps I see you in person 1-2x a year, usually at a Biola event – where we ask each other how the other is doing.

    The rest of the year? I leave you alone, figuring you are a busy man. Your blog and FB updates are enough to tell me – and others – what you’re up to. Good enough.

    P.S. I really don’t use FB for business very much. Mostly to re-connect with friends I met "before" there was email and the internet. Back then, we called it "conversation."

  10. I am not really sure if people picked up the phone just too make friends? Too many times we let things/possessions dominate us rather than us be in control – and quite frankly most of this generation of teens and youths (as well as adults who lack relationship skills and depth of emotional maturity) are relying on technology to do what they ought to do rather than making the technology work for them as it was designed to do in the first place. As time dies down we have become more and more distant from God Who is the true source of friendship and Who is love Himself and that inadvertently and directly has affected our ability to properly relate to ourselves and others and we wonder why there is so much relationship breakdown and hunger for significant, deep and unconditional love by so many people – ironically the technology if anything is showing that to be the case – people’s need to be accepted and to accept others (Facebook). But I did find this: God created people (men & women) to be virtuous/true & upright, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path/but they [men and women] have sought out many devices (or inventions)[for evil].

  11. 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,


  12. Phil,

    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 helpwanted.com….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.

  13. 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…    

  14. 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.

  15. 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

    1. 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

  16. 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?

  17. 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  http://sibi-cyberdiary.blogspot.com/2011/10/if-anybody-wants-to-see-us-you-have-to.html

  18. 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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
IS IT TIME TO CHANGE YOUR MINISTRY OR NONPROFIT’S NAME? Enter your email and get the free download “7 Signs It May Be Time to Change Your Name” now!
Thanks for signing up. Please check your email for a download link.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker