Digital Friendship

Digital friendships have become indispensable. Every day, countless friendships are made on social media. A friend request on Facebook, a swipe to the right on Tinder – it’s never been easier to make contacts. But how important are digital friendships? Will it soon be possible to make friends in an app store? And how can smartphones help people overcome their loneliness?

Are you planning a 45-minute workshop on the subject “Digital friendships”? Scroll down to find helpful ideas.

You will find specific ideas and example excercises for your workshop participants.

Please find the facilitator‘s guide for this 45-min workshop here.

Other versions of the workshop are 90 min and 25 min in length.

What is friendship?

The yearning for true friendship is as old as humankind itself. But what makes up a true friendship? And how many real friends do you have? We asked several people these questions. Read their answers below.

“To me, true friends are the people I like to spend my time with and who I meet regularly.”

“I think, true friends are the people that stand by you, even when nobody else does.”

“If I count Facebook and Instagram friends, I have more than 900 friends. Most of them are not true friends, though. A true friend is there for you anywhere, anytime. You could ring their doorbell even in the dead of night and they would embrace you with open arms.”

When is a friend a friend?

Everyone defines friendship differently. Science has the following definition for friendship:

Some researchers see friendship “as a voluntary and personal relationship based not only on support and trust, but also on sympathy.”

What is digital friendship?

Digital friendship is a special kind of friendship that allows us to feel very connected to others without actually knowing them personally. Such friendships arise for example, when a connection is made exclusively through a common interest and the subsequent exchange is very intense (for example, a fan club on Facebook). Sometimes the people around us have trouble understanding why we want to interact with digital friends so often. It is easier to talk about certain topics with strangers. This gives a digital friendship a whole new quality.

A Subscription for love?

“And where is your boyfriend/girlfriend?” This question annoys many singles. To avoid it, they use apps that fake real relationships.

Examples for such digital fake friends are apps like “Invisible Girlfriend” and “Invisible Boyfriend”. The user chooses a name, age, appearance, and personality for their fake partner.

Depending on the subscription, users receive short texts, voice mails, greeting cards, flowers, and even small gifts from their virtual partner. Even if they don’t really exist, the digital fake friends look deceptively real to the outside world.

“How are you feeling today?”

The “Woebot” is a chatbot, similar to Replika. It was developed for people with depression and anxiety. Users can talk to the virtual therapist via Facebook chat. In contrast to a real therapist, the chatbot is always available to promote positive thinking, among other goals.

Friendship at first click?

One in four Germans has looked for a partner on the Internet. Dating apps and platforms play an important role here. The selection is huge. On the following pages, you will find an overview of apps, platforms, and forums for making contacts. No matter whether you’re looking for friendships, a life partner, or like-minded people – with the right apps and platforms, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Meeting new people safely

Have you had your own experiences with online dating? If you want to make contact online, like Michelle and Josh, you should follow some safety tips.

Find out more on the next page!

False digital friends

False friends exist in both the analog and the digital worlds. There are many different kinds of false friends on the Internet, ranging from cyberbullies to cyberstalkers. In this chapter, you will learn how to protect yourself from false friends on the Internet.

Digital bullying

Cyberbullying is a special kind of bullying, when someone repeatedly bullies or harasses others on social media. For the perpetrators, anonymity is the decisive advantage. They can insult their victims without revealing their own identity.

Digital stalking

Like cyberbullying, cyberstalking is a crime in which perpetrators stalk and persecute their victims on the Internet. Unlike cyberbullying, the primary aim of a cyberstalker is to get close to their victim. There are many reasons for cyberstalking, ranging from unrequited love to sheer hate.

In the video on the next page, people affected by cyberstalking tell their stories.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness – what does it mean exactly? According to Psychology Today, loneliness is the negative feeling of being separated and isolated from other people. People who are lonely often feel excluded, isolated, and unloved.

Today, people often use their smartphones to escape the feeling of loneliness. Therefore, we have to distinguish between analog and digital loneliness. You can find out more about the differences on the next page.

Analog and digital loneliness

Whether at the bus stop or in our own bedrooms – smartphones are our constant companions. We use them to make contact with other people and feel close to them despite physical separation – a phenomenon sociologists call “ambient awareness”. Critics are skeptical of this intimacy. Thanks to social media, we are constantly connected and never alone – yet we sometimes feel lonely anyway. Maximilian Dorner calls this “digital loneliness”.

Digital loneliness or digitally connected? Read the case studies on the following pages.

Impacts on our relationships

An intense digital life with lots of digital friends can make you happy, or do exactly the opposite. 
But how do digital tools and friendships impact our analog relationships? And which impact do digital friendships have on the feeling of loneliness some people are experiencing? 

Case 3:


The average smartphone user looks at their smartphone more than 200 times a day. For Tom (42), this figure is probably much higher. Even when having dinner with friends, he cannot part with his digital companion. This behavior is called “phubbing”, a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing”. By paying more attention to his smartphone than to his friends, Tom offends them with his behavior.

Tom’s girlfriend often tells him, “Put down your smartphone so you have more time for your offline friendships again.” She specifically suggests a “digital diet” (“digital detox”).

What do you think about her suggestion? What can Tom do to improve the situation?

Case 2:

Reading emotions digitally

Daniel (9) suffers from Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. People like Daniel have problems reading and interpreting the feelings of others. It is therefore difficult for them to make and maintain friendships. The “Zirkus Empathico” app consists of many different training games that help Daniel learn to recognize and name his own feelings and those of others by watching short videos. Thanks to the app, Daniel is succeeding in interpreting his own emotions and those of others better and better, enabling him to make his first real friends.

Apps like these help autistic people to participate more in social life.

I’m not lonely!

The Internet and social media can be a bridge for building friendships and social relationships. Digital connectivity has many advantages. On social media, we can share moments with people who are very far away from us. Sharing, liking, and commenting can transform loneliness into happiness. In this module, you learned about the many ways that digital media connects people. And if you follow our tips, you won’t have to fear false friends on the Internet, either.