Home » General » Hoarding of Friends On Facebook Is Affectation [column]

Last month, one of my Facebook friends was murdered in South Africa and I only got to know about his death after his body had been repatriated to Zimbabwe and buried at his rural home.

Though he was my friend, handina kana kukwanisa kubata maoko, and I still ask myself, was he really my friend?

If a “mutual friend” had not posted on the deceased’s wall to share the news that they had just buried him in Murambinda, I would not have known about his demise.

Facebook friendship is not about rapport but numbers, and when one physically dies you may not even know it? And even if you eventually get to know, you are not emotionally stirred because you only met on Facebook after he had requested to be your friend, and you accepted because he was a “friend” of your other “six friends.”

In the real life of Africans, when someone dies, his or her friends get to know about the death quickly because they are not given the title friend for nothing. Friends will have special memories, information and secrets about the deceased that are not shared or known by the immediate family.

This is why they are given a chance to speak at funerals because in our culture, a friend is not just another brick in the wall, he is a very special relative. As for this friend of mine who was murdered in South Africa, Facebook still counts him as one of my friends because his page is still up, but I feel very stupid about the relationship.

Besides the death of my “friend,” I have been uneasy about Facebook since Monday last week. I am getting this feeling that something bad may happen again behind my back. I am afraid of another poisoned chalice in the form of a spiked Facebook post or tag that will force me to hurriedly abandon my daily schedule in order to go online and remove tagged images, apologise to my friends and explain myself. Last week on Monday just after 7 o’clock in the morning, I got a message from my older sister to inform me that one of my Facebook friends had tagged me in some inappropriate pictures. Usually I don’t pay much attention to the social media related messages and alerts because they can be disruptive. I usually want to attend to social media when it is convenient to do so, rather than automatically. But in this case, I quickly went to a Wi-Fi spot and logged in to my Facebook account because I respect my sister, she is a voice of reason and the type that is a brother’s keeper.

When I opened my Facebook page, I was hit by two horrible pornographic images that had been tagged by one of my Facebook friends. I felt confused and very hot under the collar. I am a grown up man to be shocked by nudity and sexual images, but in this instance because I was not prepared to see such images on my Facebook wall, I was taken aback. They were images that go against all my beliefs and values as an African, professional, family man and a Christian. The incident made me realize that we are not as safe as we think we are when we plunge into the murky and infected social media waters.

It also made me understand that Facebook is not good for culturally aware and sensitive Africans like myself. I started asking myself who this “friend” really was. The truth is he was just one of my many friends that I really didn’t know outside Facebook. With shaky hands, I quickly click “unfriend” and removed the offensive images. I reported the spam to Facebook and wrote the “friend” who had tagged me to express my gest disapproval of his tags. After some minutes, the poor chap wrote back apologising and explaining that he too was a victim. Some spammers had hacked into his Facebook account and sent false links under the guise of being his trusted contacts such as friends and family. I have since tightened the settings on my account so that I don’t allow anyone to post or tag me, but I know that hackers don’t respect settings. This is why I hate this feeling of being on Facebook but knowing that I am not totally in control. I had a similar experience with my Twitter account and the result was loss of trust.

Although one social media guru and colleague once told me that the way to get the best out of Facebook and Twitter is to maintain an online presence and respond to all pokes, messages and posts, for me social media life is not practical. It needs to be purpose driven, especially when you are supposed to be productive and you value relationships that are not momentary.

Under normal circumstances, I have a number of people culturally that I should not be friends with on Facebook. My brother-in-law’s wife is my Facebook friend and that relationship is not culturally sanctioned. It is the same case when my wife was asked to be Facebook friends by our mukuwasha, my aunt’s husband. Culturally, Facebook has enabled us to do what we normally don’t do in our Shona culture. My biological children and my “other children” from the extended family are my Facebook friends. In real life they look up to me and respect me, but our being naked in the Facebook swimming pool together has redefined the cultural meanings and boundaries of our relationships.

This is why one of my aunts threw a tantrum when one of my sisters sent her wedding invitations via Facebook. Those that did not have Facebook accounts were either left out or heard through the grapevine that Nancy was wedding. The pornography tagging incident and the murder of one of my Facebook friends in South Africa got me evaluating the meaning of Facebook friendship as an African.

Culturally, your friend is part of your family. But I only started to posthumously learn a few things about my murdered “friend.”

The Facebook post told me that he left behind a 10-year old daughter. There was no mention of a wife. I have concluded that largely, friendship on Facebook is about numbers and not meaningful relationships. I only got to know about my Facebook friend’s death and burial through another Facebook friend. I also got to know that my late friend was from Murambinda, but I didn’t know his totem or why they gave him the nickname Tsuro. To me, Facebook friendships need to be redefined – because in Shona culture, husahwira hunokunda hukama.

This could be the reason why I am not a die-hard fan of social media. I believe that although the mouth sometimes stinks, it posts faster, better, cheaply, genuinely and specifically.

Mouth posts are sophisticated too. They are what real chatting is, making use of tone, pitch and emotions which are more effective and real than lol or kikiki! This is when our women will laugh and say, “Hehehede, huuu-riii!”

Social media has a tendency of puffing up our egos, while breaking and fragmenting our attention and relationships. Before I started switching off my mobile phone at night, I used to see some of my contacts online at odd hours like 2am. In most cases, these social media owls would have spent the day impulsively checking social networks. They don’t care whether they are in a room full of real people, they will at the smallest opportunity disengage in order to dive into a world of posts, likes, tags, shares, favourites, and re-tweets.

Yet as historian Bruce Hindmarsh observed, “For all of the friends we have on Facebook, this is a lonely world. Everybody is happy on Facebook. Everybody seems to have a better life than I do,” he says.

“We now have an audience-oriented sense of self. And anybody who has been on Facebook understands this. You are constantly thinking about communicating to an audience.” This means the more friends the better, but hoarding of friends on Facebook is pretentiousness. Being online is a new sign of being sophisticated and a badge of honour. Having many friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter has actually become a status symbol and creating big online constituencies helps in keeping up appearances.

Source : The Herald