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26 January 2016

Most of your Facebook friends ar'nt real

Think you have 1000, 750, 500 or 200 friends based on your Facebook connections? Think again.

A new study has revealed that it's impossible to have more than 150 friends.

The 150 limit, known as "Dunbar's Number", was named after British professor and study author Robin Dunbar.


"The 150-layer is the important one: this defines the people you have real reciprocated relationships with, those where you feel obligations and would willingly do favours," the scientist explained to AFP.

The study also looked at the different boundaries within friends circles on the online social media site.

According to the professor, we tend to have five intimate friends, 15 best friends, 50 good friends, 150 friends, 500 acquaintances and 1500 people we can recognise on the site.

"People can [and sometimes do] have 500 or even 1000 friends on Facebook, but all they are doing is including people who we would normally call acquaintances or people we just recognise by sight but don't know very well," he said.

The study, which had a total of 3375 participants, both male and female between 18 and 65, reported that when participants were asked how many "genuine" friends they had, there was an average of 27.6 per cent. But when asked how many would be there in a crisis, the number dropped dramatically to a mere four friends.

The study also found that these numbers stayed the same regardless of the number of Facebook friends one had.

"Respondents who had unusually large networks did not increase the numbers of close friendships they had but, rather, added more loosely defined acquaintances into their friendship circle simply because most social media sites do not allow one to differentiate between these layers."

The study also made it clear to note there is a trend that younger individuals are starting to move away from Facebook and use other forms of social media instead.

"There has been a notable tendency for teenagers to move away from using Facebook as a social environment and to make use of media like Snapchat, WeChat, Vine, Flickr and Instagram," Dunbar said.

There were 86 per cent of individuals in the 18 to 29 age category on Facebook in 2013, but by 2015 this dropped to 82 per cent.

Alternatively, 2013 saw 35 per cent of those 65+ using Facebook with an increase to 48 per cent in 2015.

"What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person's decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request," reported Lead Anthropologist at the University College London, Daniel Miller.

"Mostly they feel embarrassed to even be associated with it."

With the increase of social media and its users all around the world, face-to-face communication has also decreased, leading to the decay of friendships.

Recent Facebook deactivator Nat Duncan told Fairfax how the pressure of diminishing friendships made her take a step back from the social media giant.

"I left Facebook because it made me feel lonely," she said.

"Facebook made me feel lonely because I could see many (many) 'friends' on my account who I'd like to be (or continue to be) real friends with. I'd begun to notice that the friend's I'd had in the past who'd done this sort of thing (telephone calls, coffee, dinner, even texts and emails) just had gone AWOL on the real friends activity roster.

"They had stopped doing these things because they truly believed they were playing their part in maintaining our friendship by 'liking' a post, commenting on a post, tagging me in a post or worst of all just lurking around my posts knowing what I was doing but not even interacting with the posts."

Dunbar suggests that we still keep up to date with our face-to-face social interactions to prevent these friendships slipping from the "friends" to "acquaintance" zone.

"Friendships, in particular, have a natural decay rate in the absence of contact," he said.

"Face-to-face meetings are required from time to time to prevent friendships, in particular, sliding down through the network layers and eventually slipping over the edge of the 150 layer into the category of acquaintances [the 500 layers] beyond."

So next time you come across that person with hundreds of friends on Facebook, just remember that, like you, they probably only have only a few they can rely on during a time of crisis. But make sure you keep up with face-to-face interactions so you'll still be able to turn to them in a time of need.