Is social media negatively impacting relationships?
As someone who has grown up with mobile phones and the internet, I am always surprised when my parents told me that they used to call home with pay phones! Nowadays, talking to each other has never been easier. Most people I know interact almost solely through social media platforms. In fact, last year 3.6 billion people used a form of social media to connect with each other – and this number is predicted to rise to 4.41 billion in 2025.
Communicating on social media differs from text messaging – you can broadcast opinions, comments, and images online and get instant responses from people all over the world. As more and more people swap to social media as their preferred way of talking to friends, family and partners, will we find that these platforms negatively impact our relationships? Or do the benefits of social media outweigh the issues? We asked 6 experts in psychology, technology and mental health, “Is social media negatively impacting relationships?’, here is what we found…
Is social media negatively impacting relationships?
How do we communicate on social media?
The most popular social media platforms are Facebook, Youtube, Whatsapp and Instagram. Each of these sites are used differently. Whatsapp is predominantly used for direct messaging, whilst Instagram and Youtube focus on sharing photos or videos online, often to a large audience. Many platforms also allow users to ‘like’, ‘comment’ and ‘share’ content. These different ways of sharing information may have different impacts on our relationships.
What is the data on the effect of social media on our relationships?
There have been multiple studies which have used surveys to investigate if there is a correlation between social media use and the quality of our relationships. For example, one study asked 518 Australians how spending time on Facebook affected their intimate relationships. The results varied depending on how the participants and their partners used Facebook, but most did not find that this form of social media negatively impacted their romantic relationships.
One of the advantages of social media is that it allows you to increase your circle of friends and connect with people that may live far away. Interestingly, a study of 117 people found that spending more time on social media did not correlate with having a larger offline network, or feeling close to friends and family. Another investigation based on survey responses from 249 people at the University of Manchester, found that social media time positively associated with the number of friends and social satisfaction, but offline social activities are what strengthened relationships with very close friends.
Dr John Hunter, an expert in psychology from Queensland museum in Australia, summarises “Personal anecdotes and media coverage tend to cast a dark shadow over the deleterious effects of social media use, but the psychological research does not support these intuitions. Rather, the science is inconclusive and shows a mixed bag of benefits and harms associated with social media use.”
How might social media negatively impact our relationships?
Excessive use of social media is correlated with narcissism and can lead to jealousy. Jealousy can arise from seeing other people share positive content about their lives. Interestingly, disclosure (sharing things about your life) on the internet can have a negative effect on intimate relationships, but offline disclosure actually strengthens romantic relationships.
Due to the addictive nature of social media, many people spend more time communicating online than in person. Smart phones and tablets can be a distraction and reduce the quality of offline interactions. Dr Hunter says “face-to-face conversations often suffer due to distraction caused by scrolling through social media feeds rather than engaging with those in your environment. In this way, excessive social media use can negatively impact close relationships”. Dr Helen Keeley, an expert in psychiatry from the Irish Health Service adds “some people might be neglecting face to face relationships in favour of online activity, which could affect issues like bonding e.g. babies on tablets”.
Social media has also been associated with mental health issues, which can negatively affect relationships. Dr Joseph Paul Forgas, an expert in psychology from UNSW in Australia, says “There is growing evidence that social media use is positively related to depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness especially in young people.” Some of these issues can be linked cyberbullying or trolling. Dr Hunter says that “some lonely or socially ostracised individuals unfortunately see their social problems exacerbated online.”
How might social media positively impact our relationships?
Dr Hunter says “While these downsides (and many others) are indeed prevalent, the opportunities for strengthening and expanding social connections on social media platforms are plentiful. Using social media tends to strengthen the quality of current friendships and affiliations, especially for those outside of your immediate circle of close others. The ability to connect, share and interact online helps maintain relationships and expand the breadth of ones social network.”
Social media is particularly powerful when it comes to connecting people who may otherwise not have met. Dr Keeley says social media “allows for building and maintaining relationships with people with similar experiences, often in a supportive way which would be very difficult if not impossible otherwise, e.g. families with rare illnesses.”
Does social media affect all relationships in the same way?
Each of us use social media in a different way, and each of us have different relationships with our friends and family. The impact of social media on relationships will therefore vary depending on how platforms are used and what is the nature of the relationships in question.
Dr Babak Abedin, an expert in information systems from the University of Technology in Sydney says “If a relationship is unstable or fragile, then social media can amplify the situation and make it more fragile. It may distract partners from spending quality time together, expose them to meeting new people, or bring their history to the surface. On the other hand, if a relationship is stable and mature, then social media can help it to grow healthier. It can help partner learn new things, stay connected with others, grow their professional networks and look for new opportunities”
Many studies have found that social media can have both positive and negative effects on our social relationships, but currently the negative do not outweigh the positive.
May the facts be with you!
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