The Impacts Social Media Has on Your Relationships


Take a look around a restaurant and you’ll see people who have their heads down using their cell phones to text, Tweet, or update their Facebook statuses — all while with other people.

For many college students and young adults, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have not only become the prevalent form of communication, but the preferred form.

Nowadays, social media interactions are dominating both online and offline conversations. In a society where “liking” someone’s status or “retweeing” a funny picture is the norm, the probability of speaking to friends and family through electronic devices is higher than speaking to loved ones in face-to-face conversations.

But is social media and modern technology destroying our interpersonal relationships?

There are two sides to this debate.

First, the benefits:

Social media’s effect on our ability to interact and communicate is visible throughout all areas of society, so what does this mean for interpersonal communication? It means there has been a shift in the way we communicate. Instead of traditional face-to-face interactions, society would rather e-mail than meet in person and text rather than talk on the phone. However, this shift in communication styles does have its benefits.

Social Networking Sites(SNS) strengthen relationships by making it easy for people to stay in touch with family and friends and, in many cases extends their social networks. Research shows that social networking does not affect already existing relationships, however, it enhances them.

“Most computer mediated communication research indicates a positive relationship between the internet and forming and maintaining social relationships” (Owens, 2009.)

According to a study by Pew Research Center, roughly two thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites, while half say that connecting with old friends they’ve lost touch with is a major reason behind their use of these technologies.

Data Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, April 26- May 11, 2014 Spring Tracking Survey. N=2,277

Another study conducted by The Pew Research Center asked participants if they knew someone, other than themselves, who experienced any of the dozen major life events (marriage/divorce, new job/fired, death of family member, etc.) in the past 12 months. The study examines if the awareness by social media was limited to awareness of what others could provide, or it if also included an awareness of the problems and stressful events that take place in the lives of friends, family ad acquaintances. The participants were also asked if the event that happened to was someone close to them, or an acquaintance they were not close with.

Those results were then used to test if the use of different social networking sites were related to higher or lower levels of awareness of stressful events in other people’s lives. The study found that social media users are more aware of major events in the lives of their close friends and acquaintances.

Data Source: August 2013 survey conducted by the University of Texas. N=1,801 adults.

Another positive aspect of social media is its ability to create more relationships, especially in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. A survey was conducted by The Pew Research Center to measure LGBT adults’ online behaviors and opinions on social acceptance of the LGBT community.

The survey found:

· 60% of LGBT use social networking to find a community of similar people.
· 55% of LGBT adults said they have met new LGBT friends online or through a social networking site, more than double the 19% of straight youth that said they are truly close to a supportive person they met online.
· 43% of LGBT adults have found enough comfort in a supportive online community to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity on a social networking site.
· In 2014, 72% of Americans said that legal recognition of same-sex marriage is “inevitable,” compared to the 59% in 2004.

Social media has also given a voice to LGBT communities by promoting LGBT issues through a variety of social networking sites. The “It Gets Better Project” was one of the first social media campaigns that successfully reached out to both gay and straight teens. The campaign started in 2010, after two teenage boys, Justin Aaberg and Billy Lucas, committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. Dan Savage, a sexual health columnist and his partner Terry Miller used YouTube to post a video describing Savage’s own struggles as a gay man and how he overcame harassment.

Within months, he was joined by LBGT supporters and celebrities, speaking out about their own experiences and how their lives “got better” — even with their hardships. Within three years the project has gathered more than 50,000 user-created videos in support of LGBT teens, including videos from President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Something that started out as one person and a video on YouTube, has turned into a website with over 619,000 supporters; being the truest testament that one person, through social media, can change the lives of thousands.

Now let’s examine the negative affects social media has on your relationships:

With social media, we can easily keep up with the lives and interests of far more people than we used to. This allows us to widen our network to two, three or four hundred people that we see as friends, not just acquaintances. However, keeping up an actual friendship requires resources and without investing in face-to-face interactions, we lack deeper connections in our relationships.

Constant connectivity to the world through social networking sites, smart phones and technology can have extreme negative effects on our personal relationships. These negative effects include a decrease in the quality and quantity of face-to-face conversations and can even lead to superficial relationships.

Elon University conducted research using a survey to measure the level of engagement Elon students had with their cell phones, other technologies and each other in face-to-face situations. The author of the study found it important to first observe students’ technology use and habits while with others.

The study found that 62% of college students were texting, checking social media or using a computer/tablet while with others.

In an effort to determine what impacts technology has on the quality of face-to-face communication, the survey asked students to rank the statements on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree:

Statement 1: It bothers me when my friends or family use technology while spending time with me.
Statement 2: I think that the presence of technology while spending time with others affects face-to-face interpersonal communication negatively.
Statement 3: I notice degradation in the quality of my conversations with others when technology is present or being used.
Data Source: Elon University, N=100

The study also found that nearly three quarters (73%) of Elon University’s survey respondents communicate more frequently with friends and family via technology than in person.

Grace Murnane, a sophomore and sociology major at the University of Tennessee, has also noticed evident degradation in the quality of the conversation when smart devices and SNS are used.

“When my friends are on their phones or on Facebook when I’m trying to talk to them, I can tell that they aren’t fully engaged and that the conversation is more one-sided. It’s hard to carry on a meaningful conversation when you feel like the other person involved isn’t listening or doesn’t care.”

Wile a positive aspect of social media is its ability to create more relationships, many question the legitimacy of online “friendships,” which often leave one frustrated, lonely and struggling to connect on a deeper level.

Social networking sites provide people with the opportunity to “friend” members from their overall network consisting of family members, coworkers and other acquaintances. With Facebook, “to friend” has become a verb, and yet to do so, in the social-media sense, is a fairly passive act. Those who are listed as “friends” on SNS may indeed be friends in the traditional sense, but they can also be old acquaintances or very casual connections between people who have never met in person. Chrisann Tipton, a junior majoring in psychology, believes that social media as well as technology, is to blame for these superficial relationships.

“Superficial relationships have definitely come out of Instagram and Facebook. I have around 1,000 friends on Facebook and I know that couldn’t tell you where I’ve met probably half of them. On Instagram I might like somebody’s picture or comment on it, but when I see them on campus I don’t even say hello.”

The Pew Research Center examined social networking sites in a survey that explored people’s overall social networks and how use of these websites is related to trust, tolerance, social support, and community and political engagement. The survey found that about one fourth of our Facebook “friends” are people that we would refer to as strangers. Although we may have heard people talk about these “friends,” we still have never met them in “real-life.”

Data Source: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Social Network Site survey conducted on landline and cell phones between October 20-November 28, 2014.

When it comes to social media, people tend to put their best foot forward. Displays of emotional weakness, insecurity, or conflicts generally tend to be concealed or minimized on SNS, creating superficial relationships.

“Research suggests that the absence of nonverbal cues and social presence in the impersonal domain of Internet-based communication made meaningful Internet-only relationships nearly impossible to form” (Walther & Parks, 2002.)

Without nonverbal cues, it becomes easy to overestimate the level of intimacy in our online relationships by confusing digital intimacy for true intimacy. We can become so seduced by the ease of connecting with others online that we begin to think that these relationships are more intense, more committed and more complete than the shallow relationships really are. While our social media friends offer us great interactions, it is not a substitute for real-life interactions with others.

“Social media is a gateway for self-promotion, fostering multiple shallow relationships where empathy and warmth do not feature” (MacDonald, 2014.)

A video put together by accurately describes social media frustrations, particularly people using social media for self-promotion. All the frustrations were complied into a hilarious video, sending the message that no one cares about your social media posts, except for you.


Regardless of the varying opinions that surround the issue, one thing is for sure: the rapid expansion of social media through technology has both positive and negative effects on relationships, depending on how you use the social networking site. Only time will tell what this shift in communication style will have on the world.