Friends & Fans. Redefining The Relationship.


I probably won’t take a day off so I can walk you through a very bad day face-to-face. I probably won’t call you for help when the water heater goes out at my house and I’m 600 miles away on a bus. If I get depressed I won’t confide in you. If you die I won’t be at the funeral. If you say enough hurtful things to me I’ll delete you.

I have friends. You’re probably not one of them.

I joined Facebook long ago to better serve and connect with fans where they are. Back then all Facebook offered were personal profiles. So fans searched Facebook, found my personal profile and sent me friend requests until I hit Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit.

Then Facebook added “pages” for brands, musicians, organizations, etc. A page is like a profile except it’s “liked” not befriended. It’s for “fans,” not “friends.” I think a page is the more appropriate place to serve and communicate with fans. But some fans don’t see it that way.

That became clear this month when I began deleting “friends” from my personal profile, a few each day, and pointing them to my fan page where we can still connect. Oh, the betrayal some are feeling!

They don’t like how I’ve redefined our relationship.

Sherry Turkle has this to say about the differences between online and offline relations:

[When we] broaden the definition of community to include virtual spaces, [we] strip language of its meaning. If we start to call online spaces where we are with other people “communities,” it is easy to forget what that word used to mean. From its derivation, it literally means “to give among each other.”

Communities are constituted by physical proximity, shared concerns, real consequences, and common responsibilities. It’s members help each other in the most practical ways. On the lower east side of Manhattan, my great grandparents belonged to a block association rife with deep antagonisms. I grew up hearing stories about those times. There was envy, concern that one family was stealing from another. And yet these families took care of each other, helping each other when money was tight, when there was illness, when someone died. If one family was evicted, it boarded with a neighboring one. They buried each other. But what do we owe to each other in simulation? What real-life responsibilities do we have for those we friend [on-line]? Am I my avatar’s keeper?

Alone Together p. 238, 239

Friendship, family, community – these relationships are supposed to be more resilient, more demanding, more personal than Facebook (or any other technology) can create and facilitate. God help us if our real-life face-to-face friendships, families and communities are as intermittent, shallow, fragile and self-centered as those we’ve constructed online.

You and I probably aren’t friends. And I don’t like the word “fan.” But until Facebook creates a space for “aquaintences”, well, I’ve got a page you can “like.”