By Sally Beanery
“Are you two friends on Facebook?” he asks you and you stand perfectly still, in a shocked silence; he knows you’re not friends with his friend because you paused and so the game is up. How many of your mutual friends in the world are actually your real friends on Facebook? He knows the answer to that too: “not many of them”. You know what you have to do next of course, you have to pull out your smartphone and post something on Facebook about it in the hope that someone, anyone will acknowledge your plight and offer you the real comfort you need; validation via Facebook is the way real friends help others.
It’s a familiar story, one that affects literally millions of people who have so-called friends at work or in your social circle who, for whatever reason, don’t want to be known as a real friend to you on Facebook. Every day we have those awkward conversations that start “I’m pretty sure I added you as a friend” and end with “Oh right, well I’ll check the next time I’m on” which you know is right now, because everyone’s on Facebook right now. Sure, they’ll say good morning when they see you at work, ask how you’re doing and maybe even show feigned interest in your social life, but they don’t want to take that most important of steps; they don’t want people to see you in their friends list. You mean nothing to them, you’re little more than a piece of dog poop on their shoe but you can never, ever, say so because someone might share your post and they’ll find out you disrespected them.
But what if you had real friends, other friends those work colleagues and social friends don’t know, friends who are not mutual friends with those people? That’s right, if you really want to show these people you don’t need their fake social friendship because you have other, better, friends in the real world on Facebook? They’ll be sorry then, right? Damn right. Well, chin up, hun, you do have real friends, as many real friends as you want. All you have to do is sign up on realfriendsonfacebook.org.uk and you too can have all the real friends you will ever need.
Anjna Mistry created the ‘Real Friends On Facebook’ (RFOF) website after a close friend of hers, Nicola Banklurd, posted that eleven people had unfriended her thanks to an ill-advised drunken post in which she wrote “Just watched final episode of Game Of Thrones, season four – not as good as I’d hoped”. For the first time in months her total number of real friends dropped below 100 and Nicola was broken. “I saw what she’d written and I just did what anyone on Facebook would do, I said “chin up, hun” and gave her three kisses”, Anjna explained. It turned out to be a masterstroke; within minutes Nicola had replied “Thanks babe, that means a lot, mwah” and the crisis was over. “I thought to myself that I could do that for loads of people, if they needed it to make them feel better. Back then I had no idea it was going to change my life and that of so many others too.”
While Anjna was coming up with a plan she decided to look through all the posts her real friends were making, to see if anyone was having any problems or issues that a few soothing words of support might help. Sure enough, within just a few minutes she realised that most of her friends would write about all their problems, no matter how big or small but when other friends tried to help them with suggestions and ideas that might actually work, the reaction was usually bad. However, with just the words “Chin up, hun xxx” Anjna found that most people responded positively, even vowing to change their lives that very instant. “People just need friends, real friends, to support them when their social friends simply cannot. I knew I could do that for them, no problem, and make a little bit of spending money in the process.
Anjna’s plan was simple: she hired a professional photographer to take photos of her in a variety of outfits, with different hairstyles and make-up, in different locations, in various states of undress, with her budget smartphone camera “to give it a realistic look”. She gave each of these ‘people’ a name and a personality, age, job etc. etc. Within a few days she had created over 400 new friends, just waiting for people to add them. “It was a bit of a pain, creating all these new email addresses and Facebook profiles, but I knew that once people started signing up it would be worth it”. She enlisted some help setting up her website and decided to keep things in the family. “I got my cousin’s sister’s brother to do that for me and gave him a few quid”.
Anjna knew that the service had to be accessible, financially, to as many people as possible and she created a very simple tariff. “If you sign up to my website I become your friend for free, so you always have another friend, but I don’t reply to messages. For £1 you get a reply to a post and, if you reply, a reply to that, usually some more kisses. For £5 I’ll reply to two posts a day for a week and for £10 I’ll reply to all your posts for a week.” She put her gallery of friends/identities people could choose from on her website and to get around the problem of people realising that different people had very similar photos, users would have to create multiple accounts if they wanted multiple friends. So far only one person, a young man called “David Grainger” (not his real name, obviously) has signed up for more than one. “He’s got about 20 of my identities now, I think” Anjna told me and later added “I think he’s only got about 30 real Facebook friends in total so he’s probably very happy I do this, and that makes me happy.”
It took a little while to get it going but within three months of launching the website Anjna had over 50 customers and had made almost £200. “I couldn’t believe it!” she told me. “I was worried I’d have to get more photos done and make some more people up but luckily most of the men who joined chose “Rakhi Patel” as their new friend, with a few choosing “Anita Verma” too. I think it’s pretty obvious why; boys will be boys. For the women who signed up they were much more random although a few people have chosen “Sangita Joshi” I think.” All told, after six months, Anjna had 75 customers all spending an average of £1 every fortnight and business was very much booming. “The best thing about it was that I had enough money coming in that I could give up my part-time job at the local care home to do something that was really important and made me some money too. I didn’t have to do a lot of promotion work as I was getting new business from word-of mouth alone. Best of all I didn’t have to do much, really, so I had time to work on different messages I could leave depending on the types of problems people were having. I think it’s being versatile that has made the service so popular.” Anjna is being quite modest when she uses the word “popular” given some of the reviews she’s been getting on various online forums and indeed on her own website. “Interweb Today” magazine described Anjna’s website as “A different idea from a brand new website – one to watch” while “Disappointed iPad Pro Owners Monthly” were even more glowing in their praise, saying “Whether you’re a depressed, crying mess, an attention-seeking gay or you just want someone to love you, there’s something here for you.”
As the website approaches its one-year anniversary Anjna has promised some special birthday treats for existing customers and two brand new comments to choose from. “We all know that “Chin up, hun” and “Lots of love xx” are the go-to responses people really want but I’m introducing memes for £1.50 now as well. I have two to get the ball rolling but I hope to eventually push that up to as many as five. I don’t want to veer too far away from the formula that’s working and, more importantly, is what people expect. I did try “Don’t let the buggers grind you down, babe xxx” in March but nobody wanted it, which was a surprise given the amount of people who write about having a bad day at work. Mainly, though, people just want to be told to keep their chin up, be called ‘hun’ and given a few kisses. It’s pretty sad that nice people, people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, people who perhaps have hearts that are too big, can’t find a little love from their real friends on Facebook. Of course, if they could they would have no need for me so in a way I’m glad they’re a bit desperate otherwise I’d still be a volunteer care worker changing soiled sheets and wiping up mess for 5 hours a day, twice a week.”
While it’s been pretty much plain-sailing on Anjna’s social media cruise, she does admit there have been a few unusual requests that’s she’s either had to decline or think seriously about. “One guy, I think his name was Martin Butler (not his real name, obviously), wanted me to leave a comment his wife would see after she said he couldn’t go to the football- he wanted me to say that he could come round to mine any time he liked to watch it, but I didn’t think that was a very good idea at all. Another guy, who called himself Paul Bachelor (not his real name, obviously) wanted me to say I really enjoyed peeing on him the night before and that he was my bitch-slut and not to forget it. I had to write back and explain my business was very much about friendships and that sort of thing doesn’t happen between friends”. I did ask Anjna if she’d agreed to any unusual requests and she told me “Just the one, but it was a weird, ironic one and I won’t use that identity again; I had to retire her (Jaymini) from active friendship because of it! I’ll send you a screenshot of it. It was a one-off and I wouldn’t do it again but it was quite funny and he did pay double for me to do it.” Anjna was as good as her word; she did email a screenshot to me and I’ve put it at the end of this article for you all to enjoy.
Anjna’s story is one that really casts a little sunshine on what can be a cold and lonely place; Facebook. For many it’s a reminder that the people we meet, the people we work with and socialise with are often not the friends we think they are, while we can always rely on our true friends, our real friends on Facebook, even if it costs us just a little bit of money. For Anjna’s loyal and ever-expanding customer base her service is just as good as having those real online friends we all want, and in many ways so much better as they never say anything to us or about us that we don’t want them to. Anjna’s friends/identities are the best friends/identities money can buy!