Every time a new study is published about the perils of social media, and how it makes us more anxious, less social and unhappy, the media snaps it up. But is it an accurate picture of the research? Is social media harmful or helpful? Mark Sainsbury and I discussed this on his Radio Live show this week. (Click here to listen the interview)
This recent article in the Atlantic is a good example: “A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom” it reviews research that suggests that increased use of computers, tablets and social media is decreasing students real life social skills, and may even be linked to rises in the levels of social anxiety seen in most western countries. But any link is at this point correlation at best, and conjecture at worst.
The same article also points out that there are in fact studies that show that introverted or shy people can in fact be helped by online socialising, with people who are anxious about relating in real life feeling more comfortable sharing information on Facebook, and that for some social media use strengthens their social engagement.
Of course there are studies that show negative effects, but even the authors of those studies generally conclude that it’s hard to know whether socially anxious people use social media more as a result of their struggles, or if their use makes their anxiety worse.
In my view, and there is literature to support this, peoples behaviour is consistent: we behave on line as we behave offline. And most research shows that happy people tend to find social media brings them happiness, and negative people find social media brings them anxiety.
But is doesn’t have to be this way, because what isn’t generally considered in all these studies is how people use social media, as opposed to simply how much. There is a rich literature that shows that writing about your feelings, in journals and via other methods is helpful, but what is even more helpful is expressing emotions online because for the author “the notion that a close other would read what they had written and potentially respond boosted well-being by increasing perceived social support.” (Click here for the rest of this article.)
So I’ve decided to test the theory. As part of my interest in social anxiety (see: www.overcomingsocialanxiety.com) I’ve set up a closed Facebook group, for people who want to get support and connect with others who struggle with social anxiety. It’s free to join, and anyone is welcome. Just click the image below or go to: www.facebook.com/groups/overcomingsocialanxiety/
It might even help!