Socializing towards loneliness
In my last week’s post I focused on the world of Facebook and the way data provided by its users can be misused for marketing activities. But it is not the only reason, why social networks are in the center of a controversy. The study which was published last week shows they might be causing a social isolation to their users.
There are dozens of social media channels being used today and the number of users is constantly growing. It is estimated there would be nearly 3 billions of people in this digital spider web by 2020. “While still relatively young and certainly imperfect, our social media networks are beginning to form a new nervous system for our planet, capturing the pulse of our societies, and yes, crises, in real time.” describes Patrick Meier in the book Digital Humanitarians.
If his comparison is true, we should be prepared for a serious nervous breakdown of the virtual body. As American Journal of Preventive Medicine study shows, people who spent the most time on social media had twice the odds of having greater perceived social isolation.
The study of 1787 U.S. adults aged 19-32 assessed relation between social media use (SMU) and perceived social isolation (PSI). The researchers focused on users of 11 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit. “…social isolation, [is] a state in which an individual lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others, and fulfilling relationships, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.” the study states. Social isolation could be also associated with obesity, unnatural increases in cortisol patterns, which can disrupt sleep, immune function, and cognition, vascular and mental health – researchers found out.
Researchers agree the social media are a great tool for connecting people and certain groups of the population can truly benefit from the usage. But for other groups (see the table below) there are more cons than pros, which can make people feel excluded from the society: “Instead of accurately representing reality, social media feeds are in fact highly curated by their owners. Exposure to such highly idealized representations of peers’ lives may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives, which may increase PSI,” the study explains. Researchers suggest the people who feel isolated by the social media should be identified and should be connected to in-person networks.
I am personally not a big supporter of any kind of such a big interventions, but I can imagine a situation when timely action can save life — or even lives. The way, how social media feed is constructed means, it is showing the user what the algorithm thinks they might like. And when users focus too much on this virtual construct, they can start feeling lonely and unsuccessful. What is the way out? I am afraid the problem is not on social networks, but in our society. And there is no simple solution. Maybe the social networks should be subject for the next communication for development activities.