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Orna Mulcahy: Why am I stalking my fake Facebook friends?

Social media site a source of news but with cast of characters attached

I’m in a vortex of fake friendships with people who mean very little to me and it’s simultaneously enthralling and repelling. Photograph: Getty Images

‘F or the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better,’ Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted to Facebook earlier this week.

The occasion was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement when members of the faith seek forgiveness for wrongs done to other human beings. It’s presumed he was referring to recent criticism over Facebook’s failure to block fake news and Russian interference in the 2016 US election while simultaneously being accused of being anti-Trump by the US president. And that was before Vegas and accusations of fake accounts created to drive divisions between Republicans and Democrats.

Closer to home j’accuse Zuckerberg of landing me with a lot of people who I barely know anymore but whose lives are becoming more familiar to me by the day online.

These are my Facebook “friends”, gathered years ago, when I didn’t use or understand the site much and requested and accepted “friends” with abandon.

Now, more and more, Facebook has become a source of news but with a cast of characters attached. The people I know well and meet up with regularly never seem to post, or appear on my feed.

Those I barely know are a lot more visible. Of course I could unfriend or ignore these people. However, the former could be hurtful so shouldn’t I just ignore them? Easier said than done.

Although we don’t have anything in common anymore, there are “friends” I check in on daily to see how they are getting on or, in some cases, to marvel at the level of nonsense. I’m in a vortex of fake friendships with people who mean very little to me and it’s simultaneously enthralling and repelling.

Among my fake friends are: an acquaintance who’s on a week- long hen party in Dubai that started very nicely with drinks on the beach and now here she is wearing a massive inflatable strap-on penis; there’s a onetime colleague who recently posted about a highly personal situation and has been rewarded with a swarm of comments. We’re talking hundreds. If this is a cry for help, then help is certainly forthcoming – that is if you can count messages that say, Stay strong! Feel better! as being truly helpful. Hopefully someone showed up in person with a casserole and a bottle of wine.

Also in my feed is a friend of a friend who recently posted a new profile that prompted some unkind thoughts (mind you, who am I to talk since the byline picture above is tragically out of date).

There’s the woman who gives regular updates on meals she has eaten and her husband’s heart condition which, thanks to a great medical team, is improving fast. It was touch and go a few weeks ago but now he’s back hillwalking but going easy on the cheese.

Next, a woman who is on a crusade to rescue dogs and who posts daily to implore us not to buy designer dogs from puppy farms but to rescue one instead. This week she included shocking images of dogs all jammed into together in crates.

Bucket-list expedition

Next there’s a guy from a long time ago who has developed very strong views on Palestine; next a man who used to be married to an acquaintance, and who is now travelling the world on a kind of bucket-list expedition accompanied by a young woman, not his daughter.

Next a person who posts a lot about yoga and gizmos that you can rub around your temples to relax.

Next a woman who drives me insane with beautifully composed thoughts that turn out to be quotes from Gandhi or Seamus Heaney, but you only see that in small type when you get to the end of her posts; next a woman who documented her affair over many months on FB, and who is now embroiled in something new; next a school friend from long ago who has posted pictures of her 90-year-old mother at a very nice hotel where they have gone to celebrate.

I hover over the like button but don’t feel entitled to be part of their celebration since we haven’t met since 1980. So, you get the picture.

“Look up, look up”, my youngest says, fed up with my aimless, slack-jawed scrolling of an evening when we could be out walking the (rescue) dogs together.

For her age group, Facebook is too old school to bother with. It’s a bit creepy, she says. Which, actually, describes my own behaviour.

It is creepy to tip-toe through people’s posts and leave without a word. Why am I stalking these people, and judging them, when I could be spending the same time messaging good friends to see how they are getting on.

I’m no better than the biddies of old who would hang around post offices, greedy for gossip, or peering out from behind a net curtain.

Yes, you could say, people are sharing this information of their own volition but then again, they think they are among friends.