How The Friended App Wants To Make Your Fake Friends Seem Real

Not to take a jaded view of how we make connections as humans in the age of social media, but it takes a lot of work. Checking in with people, commenting on their posts, noticing when someone else clicks “like” on their posts.

Yes, we know it’s all superfluous. The deeper connections we make in real life involve actual senses like touch and speech (and maybe even some eye contact). We know digital connections are temporary. They are fleeting at best.

It’s a little better from a corporate branding perspective, where social media makes perfect sense. It’s a way to trumpet the products and services of a company using the most popular medium of the day. We’re trying to reach real customers through digital methods, and there’s no pretense about any of that being real. 

That said, even though we’re talking about digital reality (humans connecting on social media, brands connecting with digital entities), there is still a problem.

When someone makes a critical comment, the pain is real.

For many people on social media, a harsh comment about how you look or what you said can feel just as hurtful (and maybe even more so) as it does in real life. There’s a record of the criticism for all to see, and you can refer back to it to experience the anguish again and again (and we do just that). Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have implemented more of a reactionary approach regarding trolls. You can block them after they drop the hammer, but that’s about it.

I admire a new app called Friended that is trying to do something about this. I tested the app over the last few days and I understand what the app is trying to do.

It’s a bit odd because the whole point is to share your thoughts in a safe environment, similar to the Whisper app. Yet, I found the messages to be refreshing and felt like the app has potential, mostly because I really, really hate being trolled.

I posted a few messages and noticed how several people chimed in with an encouraging reply (which is not public). A company representative told me the app uses a discovery engine that helps people find posts faster and easier than the algorithmic methods used by other apps. (Instagram, for example, tends to trumpet popular posts from influencers the most.) My posts were easy for others to find.

One received a handful of niceties from other, slightly anonymous users and felt like actual, real-world encouragement. You can see their age (a feature the company might remove) and scan through a few of their photos. In my case, the app used my Facebook credentials to create a login and pulled a few photos for my profile. I was a little surprised about this, and the company rep said they might also change that.

I like Friended because there’s an assumption about civility and respect. I liked how friendly everyone seemed, although I also wondered if that would last and if trolls would eventually invade and take over. To use Friended, you have to agree to be nice to everyone else, although trolls who are inherently vindictive and abusive also won’t have any problem lying about their true intentions.

And yet—here’s an app trying to address the problem of online abuse. The app interface is clean and clear, and I felt encouraged and supported. I noted how 20 people viewed one of my posts. I made a few private replies myself.

More than anything, I noticed how people would post in a more honest way. They seemed to feel safe. I wondered about whether Friended is a place for vulnerable people to reveal too much about themselves, looking for easy empathy.

Yet, it also seemed to be a release from the confines of the brutal, less than safe battleground of Twitter and Facebook. (In general, people seem to be a little more empathetic on Instagram for some reason). It gave me a little hope, if only because someone is finally addressing the problem of abusive trolling.

I hope Friended lasts, that it catches on, and that people keep feeling safe.