Defending Facebook Friends

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 7.17.28 PMWeak Ties Still Equal Strong Links

Marlene Dietrich once said, “It’s the friends you call at 4 a.m. that really matter.” Agreed. But the friends whose walls you post on at 4 a.m. matter too.

“Weak ties are your windows to the world,” wrote Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter back in 1973 in “The Strength of Weak Ties,” one of the earliest academic theories about the spread of information in social networks. Of course, he had no way of knowing back then how apropos his words would become in these days of social networking. “When you’re looking for new ideas and new connections, you don’t get them from family or close friends. It’s the weak ties that connect you to different circles and opportunities,” he wrote.

It’s also the weak ties that connect you to community.

Which is why I get so irked at all of the high falutin’ Luddites who diss communication technologies like Facebook on the grounds that they value “quality and not quantity in their friendships.”

Excuse me, but just because I enjoy connecting with people online doesn’t mean I’m holed up alone in some hovel wearing a dirty gray hoodie and mainlining Red Bull all night.

My pajamas are perfectly clean and I much prefer red wine to Red Bull, which you would know if you read my Facebook page.

Besides, people like that completely miss the point of Facebook and other social networking sites. Of course Facebook isn’t a substitute for close friends and I would have serious concerns for the psyche of anyone who chose to use it that way. For me social networking serves an entirely different function-it’s a community.

Much like going to my neighborhood coffee shop or hanging out with other parents as I wait for my son to finish soccer practice, I have a nodding “hey, how’s it going” kind of acquaintanceship with most of my Facebook friends. We share little bits and pieces of our lives-sometimes a bit too much, girl who posts endless cat pictures-but for the most part we save the nitty-gritty details for our real friends, who aren’t necessarily the ones we chat with on Facebook.

Still, I love getting these little glimpses of the day-to-day fabric of people’s lives. I like to know what’s going on in other people’s heads, even the mundane stuff. But these kind of peripheral friendships are very, very different from the deeper friendships I have.

Which isn’t to say that peripheral friendships aren’t important.

According to a 30-year long longitudinal study at Harvard, the state of our entire network (“our community”) impacts our well being. The study, of 12,000 people, found that your odds of being happy increase by 25 percent if a direct connection in your network is happy.

Got that. Happiness is contagious.

The study also found a similar effect for secondhand associations; if your friend’s friend is happy, the odds of your friend being happy increase by 15 percent-and the odds of you being happy increase by 10 percent.

So c’mon, let’s get happy.

That reminds me of a favorite Partridge Family song. I think I’ll look it up on YouTube and post it on my Facebook page.

When Leslie’s not wiling away hours on Facebook she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 5, 2010.

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