Taking a straw poll among my Facebook 'friends', I gave them the following options:
who are your Facebook 'friends'?
a) People you've actually met
b) 'a', plus people you've had a lot of online interaction with
c) anyone who asks you
'a' seems to be the overwhelming favourite, with a few b's thrown in. I tend strongly towards a, plus a bit of b. I've had a number of 'friend' requests from people who I've not met, but had some online correspondence & exchanges with, and it's sometimes hard to know which side of the line we're on. Is an e-friend the same as a pen friend?
The Twitter notion of 'followers' is much more straightforward: block pornographers and people who want to sell you stuff, and everyone else can join the party.
In both mediums, it seems to be more personal stuff which moves people to respond. Tweet about cricket, and nobody cares. Mention a suspected hernia, and suddenly several people have offered encouragement and prayer. I even had a go at planning a school assembly via Twitter this morning, and it worked quite well!
On the blogosphere, the same thing seems to happen. Two blogs I regularly visit have had posts about personal suffering in the last few weeks. The comments threads are bursting with good wishes, and shared humanity seems to transcend whether the commenters normally agree with the blogger or not.
In one case, the blogger posts under an assumed name, and blogs 'in character'. Working out how to pray for them has been a bit weird, and though the commenters have rallied round in scores, there's a real sense of powerlessness. If this was someone in the 'real world' who we knew, then there would be phone calls, and concrete offers of support. As it's a virtual persona, all we can do is leave comments, and hope that someone, somewhere, knows the guy for real and knows what he's going through.
I'm not even sure on the etiquette of linking to them, whether that will promote 'grief tourism', or promote some heartening examples of support and grace on the blogosphere. It's an area where the 'rules of engagement' are still evolving: in face to face encounters, we've been honing our sense of etiquette and what's acceptable for centuries, online we're starting from scratch, with the added problem that words aren't anything like so effective as communication in person.