A new study finds that spending time on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat won’t leave you feeling isolated
Stop blaming social media.
Spending time on social media may not be making us as lonely as previously thought, according to a new study from the University of Kansas published in the journal “Information, Communication & Society” this week.
Indeed, social media use shows no evidence of causing “social displacement” — the loss of face-to-face communication with loved ones like friends and family — as many past criticisms have claimed.
“Whether or not people are adopting social media use tells us nothing about how much they visit [with] friends and relatives, talk on the phone [with loved ones],” or engage in other social behaviors, said Jeffrey Hall, a University of Kansas professor of communication studies who authored the study. However, he concedes social media use could impact how much time we log at work or spend on recreational activities like hobbies or watching TV.
Hall and two doctoral students reviewed data that explored the amount of time that early adopters of social media used the sites, as well as the extent of contacts and interactions they had with the outside world — namely, leaving their house, visiting with friends, talking on the phone, or attending meetings or events — to compile their findings.
“What was interesting was that, during a time of really rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, you didn’t see sudden declines in people’s direct social contact,” Hall said in a statement. “If the social-displacement theory is correct, people should get out less and make fewer of those phone calls, and that just wasn’t the case.”
When the researchers followed that experiment up with a more recent study of 116 people whom they observed themselves, they once again verified that there was no relationship between using social media and diminished social interaction IRL.
Still, previous studies have found the opposite: For instance, a study out just last year from the University of Pittsburgh found that people who spent over two hours a day on social media had twice the odds of feeling social isolated, as compared to those who spent just 30 minutes a day or less.
So why did previous studies like this one find that social media led to loneliness? Hall says that many times the researchers just saw a correlation between social media use and loneliness, rather than firmly establishing causation. Consider a teenager who spends too much time alone perusing Facebook or Instagram. It could be that he was lonely to begin with and turns to social media for comfort, rather than that the social media causing his loneliness in the first place.
On the other hand, because Hall’s research didn’t show any data linking social media to lost time with friends, family, or otherwise, he concluded that it’s impossible to say that social media deprives us of these important interpersonal interactions.
Lastly, Hall told Moneyish that many of our criticisms about social media stem from the idea that we would be better making use of our time to do something productive if we weren’t wasting it on Facebook. But who’s to say that that’s really the case?
“People [compare] what they perceive as a not-great use of their time with what their ideal self would be doing,” like working or exercising or spending time with family instead of watching their friends’ Snapchat stories, Hall said. But in reality, “they’re not generally going to be doing that anyway.”
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