Followers vs. Friends

There's been a lot of backlash against social media lately. (I know you know what I'm talking about.) I think for the most part, it's a good thing. Social media has become a big part of our world right now, and it's not going away any time soon. It's time to get this thing in check, yo. 

All the discussion around it has got me thinking a lot, not only about myself and how I use social media (and how much I use it), but also about what to teach my kids about it. 

I know there are a lot of ways to handle social media with kids. Parents have to decide whether or not they'll let their kids use it, how old they have to be before they can use it, which apps they're allowed to use, what kind of parental controls surround that use, etc. I think those are all important things for parents to figure out, and I think it's going to look different from family to family, or even from kid to kid. (psst! If you want a lot of real talk on this topic, check out @collinkartchner on Instagram.)

It's the same with adults, really. The only difference is it's self-governed. We have to decide which social media platforms we're going to use, how often we're going to use them, and how we let them affect us. We decide who to follow, what to share, when to like, and when to comment.

The point is: the discussion about social media use is for everyone, and it's important.

As I've thought more about more about the topic, there's one thing that keeps coming back to my mind. I think it applies to everyone that uses social media, everyone that knows someone that uses social media, everyone that could use social media get the point. I think it's for adults (parents or not) and kids alike. I think it's really important. So I'm going to share it with you now.

It's this: a follower does not equal a friend.


Okay, okay. Before you get up in arms: I know that often, your followers are your friends, as in, they're people you've met and talked to in real life. That's great. In that case, that follower is your friend. But, generally speaking, a follower does not equal a friend.

Here's why I think this is important:

1) It helps manage the "popularity contest" mindset. It's easy to think that if someone has more followers than you, it means they're more popular (or cooler, or more lovable, or more stylish, etc.) than you. It's so easy to compare and be jealous of the number of followers someone has. But someone's number of followers has nothing to with their worth. It doesn't mean they're a better person than you. It doesn't mean their real-life relationships are better/easier/happier/stronger than yours. It just means that, for whatever reason, more people have chosen to follow them. Period. 

(Quick disclaimer: The number of "friends" you have doesn't affect your worth, either, but maybe that's a topic for another time.)

2) It addresses the issue of safety. When you realize a follower doesn't equal a friend, you also realize that that follower may not be safe for you to associate with in real life. Obviously, this is huge for kids and teens, but it's a good reminder for adults, too. Just because someone follows you, likes your pictures/videos, or leaves nice comments, does not mean they are a nice person in real life. If we can cement this idea in our kids' minds, we can help them avoid some seriously dangerous situations.

3) It emphasizes the importance of real-world relationships. We're humans. We crave connection. Social media tries really hard to give us that connection. And it's so easy to "connect" that way! We can "connect" with people while sitting at home alone, on the couch! But we all know it's not the same. We know that the connection you get with another human being, face-to-face, is far more powerful than the connection you get with another human being, screen-to-screen. A follower can't hand you a tissue, give you a (not virtual) hug, or bring you Ben & Jerry's. 

And when you recognize that your followers aren't (necessarily) your friends, it's easier to put your priorities in the right place. To put that another way: how many followers would you trade for one real friend? Would you give up your best friend if it meant you'd instantly have 100k followers on your social media platform of choice? 500k? A million? 

When we're social media obsessed, those numbers of followers seem pretty important. But when we recognize that those followers don't equal friends...I think it becomes a little less important. And that, dear humans, is a very good thing.

We actually had a discussion in a church lesson about social media the other day, and one thing the teacher pointed out is that this "social media thing" is fairly new, to all of us. When cars were new, most people didn't know how to drive. There weren't paved roads. There weren't traffic laws and speed limits. All those things have developed over time into the mostly smooth system we know today. And maybe, over time, we'll get there with social media, too. We'll learn how to navigate these roads safely and confidently. But for now, we're all just trying to learn how to drive.

But this little truth—a follower does not equal a friend—is, I think, a step in the right direction. It's something I can teach my kids, even now, when they're young and social media isn't really on their radar. It's something I can remember when I'm tempted to compare my accounts/feeds/profiles to those of others. And it's something that will, hopefully, help us all to remember the value of a true friend.


A follower comments. A friend converses.
A follower scrolls through. A friend stops by.
A follower is invisible. A friend is present.
A follower looks. A friend sees. 
A follower appreciates a good filter. A friend appreciates reality.
A follower "likes" you at your best. A friend loves you at your worst.