When it comes to dating, finding the right person might seem impossible — but making new friends in college can be just as daunting. In pursuit of genuine friendships, some UA students have turned to online forums, including gaming message boards and social media apps like Instagram and Bumble BFF.
Recent data shows that 90% of U.S. adults use the Internet, a 38-point increase from the 52% recorded in 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. As online interaction becomes more prevalent, virtual platforms have expanded their services to facilitate a wider variety of connections, like Facebook’s addition of Facebook Dating to facilitate romantic interactions on an app originally designed for professional and personal connections.
In a turn from their usual business model, a friendship mode was added to the dating app Bumble in March 2016, so users could connect with new friends in addition to potential partners.
With fewer opportunities for in-person socializing this school year, Erin Murabito, a freshman, has turned to Bumble BFF as a safe way to make connections with UA students during the pandemic, she said.
“It’s been hard (to make friends) because I’m trying to be safe and wear my mask and social distance and not really go out a lot,” Murabito said. “Being on an app where you can make friends and then meet up eventually makes it a lot easier to (put myself) out there.”
Out of the six friends Murabito has made on Bumble BFF, she has met two of them in person, she said.
For Rusha Blakeman, a freshman, the gaming server Discord has helped relieve some of her anxiety about making friends in college during the pandemic, she said. She uses the server to chat and play games with others in the marching band and has formed a small virtual friend group.
Meeting new people through the Discord has given her hope that people can still build relationships, even in this time of social isolation, Blakeman said.
“I love having physical, in-person contact, but now I know that friendship does not have to be just face to face,” Blakeman said. “You can still be able to have these amazing and awesome relationships with people, whether or not you see them in real life.”
Social media plays a vital role in the facilitation of modern friendships, especially among the younger generation. Nearly two-thirds of teenagers who have made a friend online did so through social media. The most commonly used sites for forming friendships are Facebook and Instagram, according to the Pew Research Center.
For Emily Fletcher and Julia Stroud, both juniors, a shared passion for photography connected them through Instagram their freshman year. Fletcher discovered Stroud’s personal and photography pages after seeing her usernames tagged in several posts from Cross Church Fayetteville, where Stroud was a photographer. She sent Stroud a direct message asking if they could be friends, and the two agreed to meet for coffee in the Arkansas Union.
Fletcher would not change anything about the way they met, because bonding online over their photography accounts solidified their friendship, she said.
“There’s not many photographers that I am genuinely friends with that also are my age and have a ton in common with me,” Fletcher said. “That’s something that is really special about (our friendship).”
Stroud is glad Fletcher reached out to her on social media because she is not sure they would have become friends otherwise, she said. Fletcher was one of Stroud’s first friends at the UofA.
“I’m thankful for Emily because she has been a huge cheerleader,” Stroud said. “She’s so good at encouraging people and loving people, and she’s very loyal and consistent. I feel like I can reach out to her at any time.”
Social media makes it easy for users to seek out friends with similar interests. Murabito found it easy to seek out friends with similar interests to her on Bumble BFF, she said. She bonded with one friend through their shared love of hiking and coffee and with another because they are both English majors.
Besides sharing the same life goals, Stroud and Fletcher discovered they share similar senses of humor and similar faiths. Fletcher said if it were not for social media, she would not have been able to form as many friendships with fellow photographers as she has.
“I think social media is a great way to form connections with people, especially if you’re using it to find people with similar interests as you,” Fletcher said. “There have been so many connections within the (photography) industry that I’ve made through social media, and I don’t think those friendships would have been as easy to find otherwise.”