Too Many 'Friends,' Too Much Stress

Facebook is like a bruise I can't stop touching, just to see if it still hurts. It serves little to no purpose, and yet, I persist, reveling sadistically in the far more enjoyable life that everyone I know even tangentially seems to have.

I should've understood from the start that a social network was a bad thing for someone with anti-social tendencies.

Don't get me wrong. I love virtual communities, and the potential they offer for information and insight. I enjoy sharing opinions and ideas and expanding the scope of my knowledge by commenting on a blog or participating in an online debate.

But I have one caveat: The discussion has to be real -- or, rather, focused on reality. And it has to have greater significance than someone's elation over a video that explains how to save a cellphone inadvertently dropped in a toilet.

Did it change my life to discover 19 percent of cellphones are contaminated with feces?

Do I care that someone I barely know made gluten-free pasta for dinner?

Do I care that everyone is living that old Sheryl Crow dream of having fun... except, apparently, me?

No. It just stresses me out, which explains why I was hardly surprised by yesterday's Pop Data News Headline. You probably heard it: the startling discovery that too many Facebook friends leads to stress.

They can lead to a lot of other things, too, like inappropriate relationships. But that's another story.

Back to the Gee I Never Would Have Guessed study about Facebook stress.... A report by the University of Edinburgh Business School has found that increasing friends -- specifically, different groups of friends -- increases the potential for stress. Including parents or employers as Facebook friends resulted in the greatest increase in anxiety, according to the report.

Huh. Who would have guessed?

In "The Pool Guy," a classic episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld, George laments the dangers of "worlds colliding." George is worried that his friend Elaine wants to get to know his girlfriend, Susan, and intuitively understands the risks of mixing people from one part of your life with those from another.

When worlds collide, anything can happen. It's not a good idea -- in life, or on Facebook.

So why do we do it?

Forget the fact that those high-school classmates who called you peabrain now have access to the C-suite executives at that company where you work so hard to cultivate an image of intellect and sophistication, not to mention competence.

Forget the fact that the relatives you rue seeing each holiday are stalking your location, your photos, and your "friends" -- and, weirdly, sometimes "friending" friends you hardly know yourself.

Forget the fact that you would feel so much better if you read something meaningful, engaged in a dialogue around a real issue or focused on something -- anything -- that would help you innovate, create, improve, or change.

My theory is that it all comes down to ego. Having more friends than your real friends is a narcissistic exercise that ostensibly confirms your alleged popularity. Friend everyone from every place you have ever lived, worked, played, or traveled, and wow -- it looks like you have hundreds and hundreds of friends.

You don't. How many of them would come if you called in the middle of the night? How many of them would not only stay mute about whatever it is you did -- but help you bury the evidence?

What's the message behind Facebook data? What can we learn from the number of friends an individual has on the social network? If you ask me, only two things: The more friends, the more likely the person is a liar. And the more likely he's stressed, rather than popular.

Noreen Seebacher,

Noreen Seebacher, the Community Editor of Investor Uprising, has been a business journalist for more than 20 years. A New York City based writer and editor, she has worked for numerous print and online publications. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the New York Post, New York’s Daily News, The Detroit News, and the Pittsburgh Press. She co-edited five newsletters for Real Estate Media’s and served as the site's technology editor.

She also championed the commercial real estate beat at The Journal News, a Gannett publication in suburban New York City, and co-founded a Website focused on personal finance. Through her own company, Stasa Media, Noreen has produced reports, whitepapers, and internal publications for a number of Fortune 500 clients. When she's not writing, editing, or Web surfing, she relaxes in an 1875 Victorian with her husband and their five kids, four formerly homeless cats, and a dog.

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My biggest FB issue
  • 12/3/2012 8:19:35 AM

My issue isn't so much stress caused by mixing friends from two different aspects of my life it's seeing the lives of fiends in a new light.  There are few thing as frustrating as a real life conversation that goes something like "I'm so tight on time I'm barely keeping up" so you help them out with some things only to see a notification that they just leveled up in a Facebook game.

Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 12/2/2012 8:51:48 PM

@kicheko, with your suggestion about not posting to FB more than 5 times a day, is there research on that that corroborates that, or is that your gut feeling? I get the same sense, but now with the way FB handles business pages, who knows how many posts your fans are even seeing??

Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 12/2/2012 12:12:42 AM

@ MDM and kicheko

The brands should realize that if people are subscribing to you, they are showing their loyalty to the brand and many are not expecting to be bombarded with messages relating to discounts, offers and other survey material. Posting less but meaningful messages can further enhance brand loyalty esp for those who subscribed.

Both the sides
  • 12/2/2012 12:08:19 AM

Love the topic. Other than the addiction of logging into facebook in a sub-concious state when starting your PC and which wastes a lot of time esp if you planned to do something important, I find facebook a great tool to re-unite with old friends. I, however, cant deny that the friends we make on facebook can impact our daily life with increasing our anxiety, stress or may be positive excitement.

Re: How true!
  • 12/1/2012 10:48:41 AM


Data Diva writes

To your point Noreen, I think virtual communities are the BEST!  It all boils down to having something in common with a person.


But then, Noreen writes

Having more friends than your real friends is a narcissistic exercise that ostensibly confirms your alleged popularity. Friend everyone from every place you have ever lived, worked, played, or traveled, and wow -- it looks like you have hundreds and hundreds of friends. ... You don't. How many of them would come if you called in the middle of the night?


To me, a real friend is a flesh-and-blood, face-to-face friend that I interact with, or have interacted with, in person, long enough to consider him or her a friend.  There's something about all this "friending" on Facebook that strikes me as very superficial and even tawdry and deceptive.

Now, I do have lots of people that I've interacted with in cyberspace, whom I'd consider allies, colleagues, acquaintances.  I manage/moderate an online Yahoo-Groups forum with several hundred transit professionals, consultants, civic leaders, advocates ... and I have never met most of them in person.  I do try to meet some of them when I travel around the country (and perhaps, someday, in the UK, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc. where some of them live).

But I'm gonna stick with my person-to-person definition of true friendship, and continue to question the authenticity of all this "friending" that seems to occur only in cyberspace.


Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 11/30/2012 9:28:02 PM

@kicheko A focus on quality not quantity would be a good start. Its a good point to note that a presence on Facebook means there is a trust with being "Facebook Friends" When it comes across as just business or too sales there are issues here.



Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 11/30/2012 8:18:53 PM


There is indeed a danger to too much information sharing. Businesses should make social media work for them, not against them. Subscribers cannot keep up with the important topics if they are bombarded with more information than they need (or can digest).

Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 11/30/2012 8:02:20 PM


"it can actually really irritate customers."

I will take your advise and I will not count that much on FB for business. Thanks for sharing!

Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 11/30/2012 7:07:28 PM

For facebook brands, i think its generally a bad idea to post more than five times a day because then subscribers begin to get tired of you and could unlike you in no time.

Re: Love doesn't necesarily mean like
  • 11/30/2012 6:56:44 PM

Absolutely. From the consumer standpoint, being selective of and limiting information is now stress enough for the user. Vice versa for the organization and its brand, being selective of the information it presents to the community is key. The organization really has the responsibility and its reputation to consider when communicating. Work to avoid too much information which create these issues.

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