In an age where the term trolling is an everyday utterance, it might come as a surprise that – rather than bullying one another – there are hundreds of thousands of people using social media to build lasting friendships.
From fashion bloggers, who lend each other support through blog comments, to the girls who first met their digital pen pals aged thirteen on a message board, over the past decade, social media has helped to fuel hundreds of relationships every day.
For many, social media has become a way of connecting with like-minded individuals who wouldn’t usually share the same spaces in real life.
Fern Richardson, a 21-year-old intern, says: “I think online it’s easier to find people with similar interests. Often in life you’re just thrown together with people due to circumstances such as work and school.”
“While I’ve made some fantastic friends offline though work, I think that online it’s definitely easier to meet like-minded people and to find a sense of ‘belonging’.”
HuffPost UK Entertainment writer Daniel Welsh, 23, echoes Richardson’s feelings: “Meeting people online is great, particularly on Twitter. You can find out what a person’s sense of humour is like straight away, as well as their interests, what their principles are, whether they’re compassionate, what gets them angry, and stuff like that.”
Richardson met her online friends through message boards at the age of 13. She tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle: “I used to love messing about with paint and Photoshop to create things and got into making websites as well.
“I stumbled across a message board and ended up finding a community of people who had the same interests as me.”
As the years went on and the internet evolved, the message boards closed down. But, the tech-savvy ladies found other ways to keep in touch. Mainly through the medium of Facebook.
“We have a Facebook group to keep in contact and chat through. There are roughly 60 girls in the group, and while I’m not close to all of them, everyone is super friendly and willing to listen.
“I’d say I’m pretty close with four or five of them, having basically grown up around these girls means I’m happy to talk to them about anything. Some of them even know more about me than friends I have offline.”
Similarly, Bee Barker, 30, met a large number of her friends on blogging platform, LiveJournal.
She tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle: “Nowadays I meet lots of people through blogging and Twitter; in fact I feel like the internet has answered that age-old question: How do you make new friends as a grown up?”
One of Barker’s online acquaintances is now so close, that she’ll be making an appearance at her wedding.
“I get married this year and one of my bridesmaids is a girl who I met online. I only met her in real life four years ago. Now she’s standing up there amongst relatives and childhood friends as one of the closest people in my life.”
Meanwhile, lifestyle blogger, Katy McPhedran, launched her blog Little Winter as a way to keep her friends and family updated with her life. She soon found that there were more people than just her nearest and dearest who were interested in reading what she had to say.
“I got a buzz from sharing things with what was almost the unknown at that point,” reveals the 26-year-old.
After receiving lovely comments from fellow bloggers, the 24-year-old was soon made aware of a completely new, and warming, aspect to blogging – the huge support network and sense of community.
“I’ve definitely got a handful of close bloggers friends, with even a few of them classed as my closest friends. It’s so strange but you just have far more in common with some bloggers than you do school friends.
“There are four girls in particular who I speak to on a weekly basis (some daily!) and I think the world of them. If social media has bought me anything – it’s friendships.”
And it’s not just bloggers who are finding friends online. Welsh met one of his best friends, Abi, on Twitter a year ago. The pair are going on holiday together in May.
“Abi and I are total over-sharers online,” says Welsh. “So we already knew loads about each other by the time we actually met meaning we became friends very quickly and easily – perhaps unhealthily so, to be honest.”
He adds that he’s made several other friends on the social media site, who have all been really supportive particularly when he first moved to London and didn’t know anyone.
Fellow Londoner, Barker, adds that the internet has been great for finding friends in such an alienating city: “Just this Saturday, I woke up in the morning knowing three women from the internet; and by lunchtime we were sat nattering in a pub. It helps make London feel like a friendlier place!”
No mean feat, as anyone living in London will testify. And while finding friends online may seem as alien a concept as online dating once did, it seems an ideal solution to plug the gaps left behind by mates who move away or sign away their social lives to have babies.
“You completely connect on a personality-level, above anything more superficial,” says Barker. “You can ease yourself into a friendship without any pressure.
“I have childhood friends who don’t use any social media and this means that if I even leave it six months without seeing them; we basically have no idea what the other is up to and have to spend ages recapping our lives.”
“With internet friends, even if you see them rarely your closeness remains the same. I see my internet friend from New York once every two years – but because I follow her life, every day, via the internet; we pick up right where we left off and are totally up to date with each other.”
Feature By: Natasha Hinde – Huffingtonpost.co.uk