Study Finds Your Facebook Friends are Fake Friends

In a pinch? Bad day? Need to borrow money? A new study from Oxford University found that only 14 out of the average 150 Facebook friends, will help you in real life. Only five of those 14 could be considered “close friends”.

The study, conducted by Professor Robin Dunbar found that age plays a huge part. The 18-24 demographic had an average of 282 “friends”, higher than the overall average of 150 pals. Dunbar said that the fact that “children are less discriminating than adults in defining friendships,” and that social networks “typically encourage promiscuous ‘friending’ of individuals who often have very tenuous links to ego (X is a friend [or friend-of-friend-of-a-friend] of Y, so would you like to befriend them?).”

Dunbar’s real world studies line up very close to his Facebook findings. “The sizes of the two inner friendship circles did not differ from those previously identified in offline samples,” he said. “Heavy users of online social media do not have larger offline social networks than casual users, even though more of these may appear online for heavy users.”

According to Dunbar, friendships have “a natural decay rate in the absence of contact, and social media may well function to slow down the rate of decay.” But don’t rely on Facebook solely to keep your friendship alive – Dunbar recommends meeting face-to-face to “reinforce” the friendship.

Given that people generally find interactions via digital media (including the phone as well as instant messaging and other text-based social media) less satisfying than face-to-face interactions, it may be that 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…into the category of acquaintances.


Distribution of (a) support clique size and (b) sympathy group size. On average, less than five people from someone’s Facebook contacts are considered close friends, while less than 15 can be counted as friends that have sympathy for the Facebook user.

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