Industries in Depth

Why social media won't impact your social life

A woman checks her phone as passengers arrive at the Beijing Railway Station as the annual Spring Festival travel rush begins ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in central Beijing, China February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

New research shows that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on real-life interactions. Image: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Cailin Riley
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Social Media

Social media use doesn’t negatively affect our social interactions or social well-being in a significant way, a new study reports.

The adoption of new technologies, such as television, smartphones, and social media, often leads to fears of the decline of face-to-face interactions and the potential for decreased happiness.

“The current assumption is that when people spend more time on apps like Facebook and Snapchat, the quality of their in-person social interactions decreases,” says Michael Kearney, assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “However, our results suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions.”

Kearney and the research team set up two studies, one long-term and one short-term, to test the theory. The first study, which followed the social media use of individuals from 2009 to 2011, found that change in social media use was not associated with changes in direct social contact. In addition, the participants’ feelings of social well-being actually increased.

The second study, which surveyed adults and college students through text-messaging over the course of five days, found that social media use earlier in the day did not have any impact on future social interactions. However, the researchers also found that passive social media use led to lower levels of well-being if that person had been alone earlier in the day.

“People who use social media alone likely aren’t getting their face-to-face social needs met,” Kearney says. “So if they’re not having their social needs met in their life outside of social media, it makes sense that looking at social media might make them feel even lonelier.”

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The aspect of time may be an important element to consider when it comes to studying the effects of social media, Kearney says. For example, while time spent using social media sites like Facebook doesn’t take away from other social interactions, it is likely that using any type of media borrows time that could be used for face-to-face interactions.

“People are spending increased amounts of time using the internet and other media that may replace the time they could use for speaking face to face, but that doesn’t mean that they are worse for it,” Kearney says. “People must ultimately be responsible for maintaining their relationships, whether that’s through social media or other means.”

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