MU study finds social media use does not decrease face-to-face social interactions

An individual’s social life depends less on whether they choose to use social media and more on how well they maintain friendships outside of it.

An MU study found that regular engagement with social media does not decrease face-to-face interactions with other individuals. This study was led by assistant professor Michael Kearney of the School of Journalism, associate professor Jeffrey Hall at the University of Kansas and doctoral candidate Chong Xing at the University of Kansas.

Kearney and his team looked at two datasets that tracked the social media use of individuals. The first one was a national dataset collected over a span of two years and the second one was a dataset of a smaller group of people collected over five consecutive days.

“In both cases, we looked at ‘does someone’s social media behavior at one point in time predict with what they are doing later, and does it affect their social well-being or how happy they are with their social lives?’” Kearney said.

Kearney and his team found the assumed model that suggests social media decreases face-to-face social interaction, and ultimately social well-being, to be inaccurate.

He said the relationship between one’s social media and their social life is not as simple as whether someone uses social media or not. It’s about how someone uses social media and what they do to maintain friendships outside of it.

Kearney also said that if two people only interact via social media, one of them could spend hours trying to keep up with their friend’s life without getting acknowledged for their investment. Ultimately, this does not really cultivate the relationship between them or maintain any real friendship, he said.

“Social media offers one-way communication between two people,” Kearney said. “As we get more personalized with new media technology, we could artificially satisfy ourselves socially. That might be harmful to our long-term health.”

Sophomore Arin Jemerson personally did not relate to the findings of the study and said social media has negatively impacted her social life and social well-being.

“[Social media] does shape my social life because I see how other people live their lives, and it can affect my thinking of how I should live my life,” Jemerson said. “My social welfare has definitely decreased due to social media, most likely because it shapes my conversations in ways that address the things I see on the internet.”

An individual’s social interactions depend on their personalities and how they tend to use social media, not on whether they use social media or not, Kearney said. An introverted person will try to find excuses to not to go to a big party, and whether they have a Twitter or Instagram account is not going to be the deal breaker that prevents them from going.

“Moving forward, the task for researchers is to kind of find what are the conditions that make certain people more vulnerable to behavior that promotes loneliness or what makes people more likely to engage in behaviors that make them more socially healthy,” Kearney said.

Edited by Stephi Smith | ssmith@themaneater.com

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