Social Media: The Habit We Can’t Quit.

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Why Do We Love Social Media So Much?

Whether you want to admit it or not, social media has taken over most of our lives in some way. Studies have found that checking apps and websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is how most of the world begins and ends it’s day, as well as what it turns to during down time. Last weeks post focused on our love for social media and homophily, which you can read here.

Homophily is the idea that people prefer to engage and interact with people who think and act like they do, and social media is able to magnify this by offering a platform for individuals to connect based on preferences. If you love yoga, there are plenty of online yoga communities that you can join and ways to interact with people who share this passion. You love baking? Social media offers an outlet for you to share recipes you love, ask for advice and tips on skills you may not have mastered yet, and an outlet for your culinary creativity. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals through social media has been proven to boost well-being through meeting new friends and exploring different personalities (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). It also provides instant gratification through ‘likes’ and comments received on posts made, allowing people to feel connected and appreciated by their online communities. Homophily and social media sound like they bring people together, and that’s always a good thing, right? Well…

Through Thick and Thin?

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Individuals who use social media platforms for more than two hours a day are more likely to feel social isolation, according to a study by the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh (Hobson, 2017). While the study is unable to determine exactly what it is about prolonged social media usage that promotes feelings of isolation, they do have a few suspicions as to why this occurs. Social media allows everyone to watch each other’s interactions, and when people see that others are connecting and living these fabulous lives it can lead to feeling excluded or like you are missing out. While it seems like these groups have connected you to people you share interests and passions with, it could have also inadvertently subjected you to comparing yourself to individuals you feel like you should match. Comparing your life to this carefully constructed online persona can be damaging to your own well-being, as these personas rarely reflect a true representation of the person (Hobson, 2017).

Cognitive biases also play a large role in contributing to isolation through social media, since groups and communities are filled with like-minded individuals. Homophily encourages people who think the same to engage with one another and share their thoughts and beliefs, but when they do not take into consideration other perspectives they lose the ability to accept other ideas. The availability cascade is a cognitive bias that occurs when a collective belief is accepted as the truth through increased repetition in public discourse, or when it is repeated enough to be accepted as true. This happens constantly through social media, especially in the way that a society perceives beauty. When these biases are accepted as the truth the group feels justified in speaking out against those who do not agree or conform, and bullying can occur online and in real life. The individuals in the group believe that they are acting appropriately and are supported by their ‘friends,’ but they are unable to look at the situation from the outside to really understand the impact of their actions.

Is It Our Fault?

Social media is a huge part of people’s lives, and it provides a way to stay constantly connected to family and friends, as well as a way to meet and connect with new ones. But with great power comes great responsibility. Most individuals don’t go online to isolate one another or spread hate, they are just using it as a way to connect. Keeping an open mind while perusing different articles and opinions is a great tool to have, and it will allow an individual to gain different perspectives and insight into topics they feel passionately about. Even if you don’t agree with something another person is saying, it doesn’t mean you need to engage in an argument with them. Consider how you would want someone to react to what you have to say, and try to act accordingly. Another idea is to fact-check everything you read, ensuring that you have the most accurate information available, and that you won’t look silly for repeating something that is not true. This also allows you the ability to look at things from a different perspective, and who knows, you may even learn something new about yourself!

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

References

Hobson, K. (2017, March 06). Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time On Social Media May Be Why. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/06/518362255/feeling-lonely-too-much-time-on-social-media-may-be-why

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 415–444. Retrieved from https://library.capella.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/199578761?accountid=27965

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