‘Social media’. The first word (social) of the ‘new-not-so-new’ phenomenon could make us think that spending hours and hours on this platform will make us social gods and goddesses. We will acquire new friends, laugh and drink virtual pina coladas, in virtual sun lounges, in virtual Puerto Rico. But is this really the case? Studies are finding that actually social media may be making us isolated and anti-social (Crist 2017). So now we’re being told that in actual fact, this new media is actually causing us to regress socially?
But what if you’re an elderly person without the mobility to socialise regularly, or you’re a migrant trying to keep contact with your loved ones in your home country. Can social media still then be isolating?
Considering these two differing sides, let’s look at each case in further detail.
The Case for Causing Social Isolation
The argument that social media is causing isolation is based on the idea of social anxiety, placing importance on peer opinions and comparing oneself to others. Social anxiety is the fear of social situations and those who rely on the approval of others are more vulnerable (Davey 2016). Imagine someone who is obsessed with approval by their peers and now has access to a platform which quantifies friendships, allows instant approval in the way of ‘likes’ and is available to check on 24/7. That’s exactly what social media does. If those with a pre existing condition of social anxiety feel they have ‘failed’ on social media they can become even more anxious resulting in higher feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to Davey 2016, this becomes a cyclical process. See image below:
Social media and social anxiety. Created using bubbl.us
The question we need to ask though – does this mean that social media causes feelings of isolation, or are those with pre existing feelings of isolation more drawn and prone to overuse of social media? Studies are unsure, however, we can consider that if someone is already suffering from social anxiety they may be more easily attracted to social media as a way of obsessing over social interaction.
The Case for Causing Social Connectedness
According to Waycott (2015) older people who live alone may feel socially isolated if they have decreased mobility or inability to socialise with peers face to face. According to a report by Sensis 2017 47% of people aged over 65 access social media sites. When this percentage is compared with the previous year we can see a growth (from 40% in 2016). We can see that for those with issues of maintaining friendship groups face-to-face social media is an attractive option to share photos, be involved with interest groups and maintain active communication. In fact, a new social media tool platform called Enmesh is now being tested with older adults as the target audience and with the intention if reducing isolation amongst the group.
Another important societal group who use social media to combat isolation is migrants. Imagine you are a migrant to a country, having left behind family and friends somewhere else in the world. Social media could provide you with an easy way of keeping in touch with your loved ones, keeping up to date with news and events in your previous home area and soothe feelings of loneliness. A study by Komito & Bates 2011 revealed that the Internet, including social media plays a very large role in connecting Polish and Filipino migrants in Ireland to their relationships at home.
I guess in the case for social media use in elderly and migrants one could argue that still, social media can become excessive and possibly result in vulnerable users becoming frustrated about their lack of ‘face to face’ interactions.
It is evident that social media in fact does act as an important tool in many circumstances, allowing people to connect with others, create social circles and as a convenient use of communication with family and friends afar. However, we can also see that when there is a tendency towards feeling of social anxiety and loneliness social media can become an issue. Although it is still unknown whether social media creates a feeling of loneliness or instead magnifies these feelings for those with a predisposition. The verdict then is to consider our social media use carefully, is it increasing our happiness when we use it? Are we connecting with others in a positive way? Or, are we feeding feelings of loneliness, comparing our lives with others and seeking approval in the way of likes?
Questions to consider further are whether social media is detrimental to different societal groups such as different age groups, different income levels and different levels of access and mobility to spend time interacting with others face to face.
Crist C, 2017, On the mind: your brain on social media, Paste, <https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/02/on-the-mind-your-brain-on-social-media.html>, viewed 27 July 2017.
Davey, GCL 2016, Social Media, loneliness and anxiety in young people, Psychology today, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-we-worry/201612/social-media-loneliness-and-anxiety-in-young-people>, viewed 26 July 2017.
Waycott, J 2015, Social networking to empower older people, Pursuit by University of Melbourne, <https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/social-networking-to-empower-older-people>, viewed 27 July 2017.
The JH Text Photography, ‘Week 29/52.2012’, (license 2.0)