Social media can connect us to exisiting friends and family, as well as open us up to new connections and social circles. It is therefore logical that we view ‘social media’ as a highly social tool. However, increasingly we are looking into the possibility that social media causes or increases loneliness, social isolation and overall mental health. According to Pittman & Reich (2016) the feeling of loneliness is rising in people aged 18-34 years. Can this somehow be attributed or linked to heavy social media usage by this group?
The suggestion that social media is causing isolation is based on the notion of social anxiety, placing importance on peer opinions and comparing oneself to others. Davey (2016) explains social anxiety as the fear of social situations and he explains that those who rely on the approval of others are more vulnerable to the condition. Imagine someone who relies on the approval of their peers having access to platforms which quantify friendships, allow for instant external approval in the way of ‘likes’ and are available to check 24/7. That’s exactly what social media does. If those with a preexisting condition of social anxiety feel they have ‘failed’ on social media they can become even more anxious, possibly resulting in higher feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to Davey (2016), this can become a cyclical process. See image below:
Hosie (2017) also links heavy social media use to social isolation and increased FOMO.
Collins (2017) reports that young adults who use social media are twice as likely to feel more socially isolated than those who do not use social media and those who log in to social media apps several times per day are more than 3 times as likely to feel socially isolated than those who have low social media usage.
The question we need to ask though – does this mean that social media causes feelings of isolation, or are those with preexisting feelings of isolation more prone to overuse of social media? Studies are unsure, however, we can assume 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.
Furthermore, are there groups in society who are more vulnerable to social isolation as a result of heavy social media use? Studies carried out in the USA show that social media use in college students can result in higher perceived social isolation (Willingham AJ 2017). Also, there has been a link to social isolation in youth (aged 12-15 years) as sometimes social media use is linked to bullying and the development of depression, leading very possibly to social isolation (Lloyd A 2014).
However, according to Lloyd (2014) social media actually helps to combat social isolation in migrant youth or youth living with a disability as they are given the opportunity to connect with others who may be facing similar challenges to their own. Also, social media has seen to be a positive social tool for the aged as some individuals may lack mobility or are restricted socially due to their health. An app developed specifically for the aged, called Enmesh, is now being trialed in Australia (Waycott 2015). Follow the tweet below for more information about both the case for and against social media causing social isolation.
Clearly it is not an easy question to answer. Yes, there are links between social media and social isolation in youth and young adults. However, it is unclear if Social Media actually causes social isolation or if those already suffering from social isolation are more drawn to the platforms. Also, we can see that for some minority groups social media can actually act as an import tool to combating social isolation and providing social guidance.
Are you worried about social media and it’s impact on your feelings of isolation? Check out my tips below.
Cambridge Dictionary, 2017, ‘Meaning of FOMO in English Dictionary’, retrieved 3 August 2017, <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fomo>.
Collins, F 2017, ‘It’s Not Your Imagination: Social Media Is Making Us Lonelier’, retrieved 1 August 2017, MasterFILE Premier.
Davey, GCL 2016, ‘Social Media, loneliness and anxiety in young people’, Psychology today, weblog post,15 December, retrieved 26 July 2017, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-we-worry/201612/social-media-loneliness-and-anxiety-in-young-people>.
Lloyd, A 2014 ‘Social Media Help or Hinderance: What role does social media play in young people’s mental health?’ Psychatria Danubina, vol.26, no.1, pp.340-346, retrieved 1 August 2017,<http://www.hdbp.org/psychiatria_danubina/pdf/dnb_vol26_sup1/dnb_vol26_sup1_340.pdf>.
Pittman, M & Reich, B 2016 ‘Social media and loneliness: Why an Instagram picture may be worth more than a thousand Twitter words’, Computers in Human Behaviour, vol.62, pp. 155-167, Science Direct Database,retrieved 1 August 2017, <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.03.084>.
Waycott, J 2015, ‘Connecting online can help prevent social isolation in older people’, The Conversation, 19 November, retrieved 27 July 2017, <https://theconversation.com/connecting-online-can-help-prevent-social-isolation-in-older-people-50314>.
Willingham, AJ 2017, ‘Study links social media use to isolation in young adults,’ CNN Wire, 6 March, retrieved 1 August 2017. <http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/06/health/social-media-isolation-study-trnd/index.html>.