A new University of Kansas study finds that spending time on social media networks won’t leave you feeling isolated or lonely. The KU study was recently published in the journal “Information, Communication & Society” and concludes that social media use shows no evidence of causing “social displacement” – the loss of face-to-face communication with loved ones like friends and family.
Many past criticisms of social media have blamed social media for replacing real-life interaction, and that doesn’t seem to be a case per this new research. Jeffrey Hall, a University of Kansas professor of communication studies authored the study with assistance from two doctoral students. They reviewed data that explored the amount of time that early adopters of social media used the sites, as well as the extent of contacts and interactions they had with the outside world – namely, leaving their house, visiting with friends, talking on the phone, or attending meetings or events – to compile their findings.
During a time of rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, the research didn’t see sudden declines in people’s direct social contact. Hall observed that if the social-displacement theory is correct, people should get out less and make fewer of those phone calls, and that just wasn’t the case.
When the KU team of researchers followed that experiment up with a more recent study of people whom they observed themselves, they once again verified that there was no relationship between using social media and diminished social interaction. However, the study does concede social media use could impact how much time we log at work or spend on recreational activities like hobbies or watching TV.
In summary, what Hall explains is that active social media users can still differentiate forms of interaction, and on average, will not use social media as their first and main source for communication. There are exceptions, but he characterizes these interactions as being in the “social space,” an activity that does not differ much from what people have been doing since the early days of communication.
Social media platforms aren’t a replacement for other types of communication. Hall adds that in his research, whether or not social media is a good thing or a bad thing, depends on whether an individual has good or bad things going on in their life. Social media interactions are an accompaniment to continue to connect with people in our lives, but do not displace other types of social interaction.