There’s a common character who’s likely to appear in your “requests” folder on Facebook or Twitter. More often than not, it’s a young guy, usually of Indian or Pakistani descent, sporting a neatly trimmed beard and aviator sunglasses. His messages will always begin with “hii,” “hello,” or my favorite, “hello dear.” Usually, you’ll ignore him. But most of the time, he will try to continue the conversation by sending selfies, or if you’re a woman, messages declaring his undying love.
Such interactions aren’t anything new, but recently, a term has been widely used to refer to them online: Fraandships.
It’s unclear who coined the term, or for that matter, how it’s actually spelled. Some go with numerous As (e.g., “fraaaandship”), while others disregard the D entirely (e.g., “fraanship”). Either way, fraandships refer to the kind of guys who randomly add people living in the West on Facebook with an accompanying message begging you to accept their request. They slide into your DMs on Twitter or add you to a giant group chat (usually featuring celebrities, brands and/or other verified people). They send adoring emails to your work account and tag you in all of their posts, regardless of their content.
Fraandship requests have become such a joke in South Asian internet culture that there are Reddit threads about it and Facebook groups dedicated to “fraandship” culture. To this day, the 2011 Bollywood film Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge — “a film about two Indian teenagers who catfish each other on Facebook and end up falling in love with the others’ fake social media profile” — remains a cult classic among young Indians and within diaspora communities.
For the most part, fraandships aren’t deliberately creepy or threatening. Because of this, they’re an accepted part of the internet experience — one that you’ll ignore, and never think about again after you’ve blocked the latest guy who approached you unsolicited.
I decided to respond to Manish, and ask him who he was and where he lived. “I didn’t expect you to reply to me,” he says now via Skype. “I send messages to many people every day in England, America and Canada. No one responds. Or some respond with rude things, like saying, ‘Fuck off!’” Still, Manish continues messaging people he doesn’t know in different countries on a daily basis. So do most of his friends at college and at the local supermarket where he works.
Manish is currently studying information technology, and hopes to become an engineer one day. He lives in a home with his mother, father, two sisters, grandparents and aunt, all of whom share one desktop computer. (He does have his own smartphone, an old Samsung Galaxy S2.) He tells me that in his village, he and his friends had only recently gotten internet access. “My house got an internet connection two years ago. Before then, we used internet cafes and were able to afford only a few hours online each day. I have always been interested in America and England. When I got on the internet, I used to read about America on the news. Then I got on Facebook and Twitter because I wanted to talk to people. I [wanted] to know what England was like, what America was like — if they were like the films.”
But Manish says what he really wanted was to connect with people like me — people his own age, but who grew up in the Western world. He “dreamt of leaving India to live in an apartment in London or New York, just like on TV,” where he wanted to find a wife and start a family. “There’s nothing to do where I live,” he explains. “I’m not able to afford to leave now. But I’m still studying, and I hope to go one day.”
The messages then were his attempt to assemble a friend network in these cities in case he is ever able to leave Haryana.
Of course, fraandships differ significantly when you’re a woman. “I get around 10 messages like this a day,” says “Rachel,” an alias she provided for safety reasons. Rachel is a writer based in London who is fairly active on social media. Like many writers looking for tips and story ideas, her direct messages are open for anyone to message her privately. “Most of the messages are from men — not always of South Asian origin. I’ve had messages from people living in Nigeria, Ghana, China and plenty of Russians. The common thread is that they’re pretty much always men.”
Last year, Rachel was messaged by a guy who called himself Arun. According to his profile, he lived in Hyderabad, Pakistan. His profile picture featured him — a young, slim man in a white and orange polo shirt with a short, clean haircut and a moustache — standing in front of a palm tree. He started by sending her messages on a daily basis just saying “hello,” messages that Rachel routinely ignored. But one night in April, Arun sent her another message that differed in tone: “Fuck you, you fat bitch.”
Rachel was shocked and reported the account to Twitter, which swiftly deleted it. But the next week, another man slid into her DMs and began insulting her, calling her a “cow” and a “whore.” Rachel still doesn’t know if this was Arun or someone else. The experience, however, still deeply affects her. She told me she didn’t want to go into specifics, other than to say that the whole experience forced her to lock all of her social media accounts.
I more or less heard the same thing from all the other women I talked to for this story. “Some guys go straight for the kill and send me nudes or weird seductive selfies,” one tells me. Others relay tales of men repeatedly sending them messages like “sexi” and “beautiful babes,” especially if they’re white and blonde.
“I’ve had guys message me to ask to speak to my father about getting married,” Sakina, a British-Pakistani student in London, tells me over Twitter, echoing the experience of many of the women of color I spoke with. (Again, “Sakina” is an alias.) “My friends have all gotten these kind of messages, too. They aren’t in-your-face perverted. It usually starts with them saying you’re beautiful and asking if you’d be interested in getting married. Most of my friends ignore them — but that’s because if you respond by saying no, they get angry and start swearing and insulting you.”
Sakina adds that a few women have messaged her for fraandships, too, but that the interactions are always different. “They tend to present themselves as older. They’ll start messages with things like ‘hello dear,’ and so, if they’re real, they’re probably mums. The main issue is that it’s more difficult to tell if they’re real or if they’re elaborately catfishing. Often they’ll ask you to transfer funds to them, or it’ll be a typical scamming message you’d ordinarily find in your spam inbox. It’s easy to tell which men are real, because they’re incredibly direct.”
Manish is definitely aware of how he and his other fraandship-seekers are perceived by Western women. But he says, “It’s a difficult problem to solve because men speaking to women they aren’t married to — or who aren’t in their families — isn’t usually allowed.” In fact, he later tells me that he’s spoken to very few women in his life, and that the internet has finally allowed him and others like him to speak to women without being worried about their parents or family finding out.
It’s this inexperience with women that leaves them defaulting to what they know best: “What we see in movies, [especially] Western movies.”
“We think if we talk about sex, or we try to act like people we see in films, we will be like them,” Manish explains. “So then, we get [upset] and confused when we’re blocked, or when these girls don’t talk back to us.”
Still, Manish and his friends are undeterred. Blocked or not, rejected or not, they continue to spend hours on other people’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, imagining what their lives are like — and how those lives could be theirs one day. “I will still go to America, or maybe London!” he says as we finish up our Skype call. “Soon, I will go. I do not want to stay here. I want to see the world. By [talking] to you, I’m already doing that.”