Does Social Media Make Us Less Social?

Yes, studies have shown that social media tends to contribute to social isolation and loneliness. This is especially true when social media is used to compare oneself to others.

In the age of social media, we are more connected than ever before, but are we really more social? It seems that we may be sacrificing real-life connections for the convenience of online communication. While some argue that we are becoming more social, others believe that we are becoming anti-social and glued to our devices. So, which is it? Is social media making us less social? Let's dive into the research.

Studies have shown that social media can contribute to social isolation and loneliness, especially when used to compare oneself to others. In fact, frequent users of social media tend to experience higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of well-being. However, social media can also be used to connect with others and combat loneliness.

Research conducted in 1998, when the internet was first becoming popular, found that greater use of the internet was associated with declines in communication with family members and increases in depression and loneliness. This trend continued in a 2004 study, which found that the internet can decrease social well-being despite being used as a communication tool.

More recent studies, such as one conducted in 2014, have found that excessive and unhealthy internet use can increase feelings of loneliness over time. Jean Twenge's book iGen also highlights the high rates of mental health issues and isolation among those born after 1994. Despite the enhanced interconnectivity of the internet, young adults may be lonelier than other age groups, making the current generation the loneliest ever.

However, not all social media platforms are created equal. A 2016 study found that image-based social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat may be able to decrease loneliness because of the higher levels of intimacy they provide. Another study from the same year found that the way the platform is used matters more than the platform itself. Students who used Instagram to connect with others meaningfully had lower levels of social comparison orientation, which refers to comparing oneself to others on social media and feeling like everyone has it better than you.

Using the internet as a communication tool can also decrease loneliness, according to a 2008 study on internet use among older adults. Chatting online has been found to decrease loneliness and depression significantly, while perceived social support and self-esteem increase significantly. Even posting more frequently on social media can reduce loneliness if it helps users feel more connected to their friends on a daily basis.

In conclusion, the way we use social media can impact our social connections and feelings of loneliness. Using social media in a way that connects us with others can make us less lonely and more social, but using it to compare ourselves to others and sacrificing in-person interaction can increase the likelihood of experiencing social isolation. By understanding the psychology of social media likes and using social media in a healthier way, we can harness the power of social media to connect with others and combat loneliness.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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