Willson: Social media makes us lonelier

Lauren Willson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Social media can connect people from opposite sides of the globe, allowing them to engage in conversations and interactions that would have been impossible mere decades ago. To this extent, sites like Facebook and Instagram can serve as platforms for positive engagement between otherwise disparate groups.

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Unfortunately, for the majority of social media users, the impacts of the technology produce more negative, anti-social behavior than they do the opposite. As our society becomes increasingly immersed in digital spheres, we must note the ways in which these technologies can harm our social health rather than improve it.

Addiction is a common and harmful side effect of social media use. A Norwegian survey of over 23,000 people found that social media addiction was correlated with being young, single and/or female. It also showed that addictive social media use was linked with higher levels of narcissism and lower self-esteem.

Although conducted in Scandinavia, this study’s findings parallel observable trends in our own country. An Instagram scroll reveals narcissistic selfies, while self-deprecating Tweets and Facebook posts might be seen as an indicator of lower self-esteem. 

Depression and diminished sense of well-being have also been associated with social media use. Facebook use is related to decreases in both satisfaction with daily life and contentedness on a moment-to-moment basis, according to a 2013 University of Michigan study. I have 436 “friends” on Facebook. Want to guess how many I speak to on a weekly basis? Probably no more than four.

My colleague Leta McWilliams argues that social media, among other benefits, has personally brought her closer to friends. However, research shows that social media can create an illusion of online companions so convincing that it leads to isolation from real-world friends. A 2017 cross-sectional survey published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine assessed 1,787 young adults to analyze associations between social media use (SMU) and perceived social isolation (PSI).

The study looked at SMU of 11 different platforms including Facebook, Snapchat and Reddit. Their conclusion: the higher one’s SMU, the higher their PSI. This study suggests that as we engage more with social media, we feel significantly isolated from one another.

At its most extreme, social media can incite anti-social and/or illegal behavior. A 2011 review in Scientific World Journal investigated the links between internet addiction and anti-social online behavior amongst adolescents. Although the study scrutinized Chinese adolescents, its findings of negative online action can be seen regularly in our own nation.

as we engage more with social media, we feel significantly isolated from one another, according to a 2017 study in the american journal of preventive medicine.

The research identifies five anti-social, potentially criminal internet behaviors: illegal downloading, pornographic or “aggressive information,” cyberbullying, cheating (i.e. dishonest) behavior and online gambling. Certainly most internet users can admit they have either witnessed, been victim to or personally participated in one or more of these behaviors.

Despite everything I’ve described in this article so far, there are some benefits to social media. It may give us a sense of connection with those thousands of miles away. It keeps us updated on global events. It provides distraction and enjoyment in an often disconcerting world.

Social media may even shed light on mental health issues. A study tracking suicide risk factors via Twitter suggests that the site may be useful for identifying at-risk individuals. It even found that the location of such Twitter users aligned with regional data on suicide rates.

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If we can detect those who are struggling, hurting, or feeling isolated through social media, perhaps we can redesign it to be a healthier online space. Until then, however, it appears that social media is making us more anti-social than ever.

Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online via Twitter @WillsonLauren