i think this depends first on what you call a friend. my sister and i were discussing relationships in general, the other day, and we kind of reached a consensus that we both tend to put people in what could be described as a three-dimentional graph. one axis would be trust, another would be complicity (sharing views, preferences — or even disagreeing in those, but sharing interests etc), and finally there would be lust. any friendship Luísa and i have can be put somewhere in this graph.
lets cut the whole discussion short (Luísa and i weren’t discussing internet friends, actually, but rather different kinds of love: why some relationships burn out, why some last forever in a delicious unstable way while others you can take for granted and even then they don’t seem to burn out or anything). there’s a zone in this graph you will label “friends”. it’s different for different people. usually, we can all agree that friendship (unlike other forms of love) is completely unrelated to lust, but it’s certainly related to trust and complicity. whether it’s all about complicity, or if it’s a good mix of both; whether this “good mix” can be seen as a line or a quare or a dot dispersion in your graph is entirely up to you.
and this is part one: we have different ways of defining friendship. but there’s another important thing: we have different ways of dealing with the internet. i remember Daniel (daylight) saying he doesn’t tend to see internet people as people. he sees opinions, but almost never takes notice of the “whole person with a whole life and feelings and values etc” on the other side of the line. he just doesn’t. Siw, on the other hand, sees not just the people, but even the community. chat rooms have forms which are related to the feel they transmit. the people are all embodied, they have feelings, they react to what you say, they sit next to this or that person and have this way of moving and gesturing.
…clearly Siw is more apt to make friends over the internet (according to her definition of friendship) than Daniel does (according to his). to Daniel, as internet people are hardly people to begin with, making friends over the internet will take, arguably, the time for him to realise an individual as such. while Siw is ever open to take your life in consideration and treat you like a proper human being, rather than an aggregate of opinions coming from a given name. (do notice: that’s not to say one way is better than the other — from where i stand, Daniel has less chances of being frustrated because of some internet issue than Siw does).
some people are neither a Daniel nor a Siw, but rather someone who does consider everyone a person, but also does consider everyone a suspect. so they can hardly trust internet people, and will always be suspicious of complicity with an alias and an avatar. and so on. there are countless ways of dealing with people on the internet, just as there are countless ways of defining what a friend is (some — unlike mine and Luísa’s — might not have anything to do with trust or complicity).
that being said, i think the fact that i call people by their proper names (whenever i know them and am allowed to use them) makes it clear i lean towards a Siw way of life. and i do have contacts over the internet that i do consider to be friends — great friends, even. i don’t like the whole “best friend” deal, because (like love) this is an expression that mixes a lot of different — sometimes incompatible — conceptions. but there are even a couple of senses in which i could say some internet people are best friends of mine, and mean it.
all in all, though, it’s entirely up to you, in these two senses: both what you take a friendship to be, and how you deal with the internet.