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Today, social media is incredibly popular and is used by thousands of people as a convenient method of communication. The prevalence of online communication can lead us to wonder what impact social media has on our relationships. Does it change the way we treat people or the way we view our friends? Does it strengthen or weaken our friendships? Opinions on this topic are certainly mixed, but it is possible to analyze the different ways in which our relationships may be influenced by our use of social media.
Many people today view technology negatively for a variety of reasons.
They may think that it has negative impacts on our wellbeing, work and academic life, and relationships. It’s not only the older generation that holds this view, but also much of the younger and more tech-savvy generation. According to a poll from the Teen Advisory Board, seventy-five percent of teenagers polled agreed that social media negatively affects romantic relationships (Gowen). This may be a shocking result, as teenagers and younger people are generally seen using social media much more than anyone else.
This high use would indicate general endorsement and liking of social media, but clearly this is not always the case. In addition to perceived negative impacts on relationships, another negative social aspect of technology is the lowered privacy.
Paul Booth, an assistant professor at DePaul University in Chicago stated that “because interpersonal communication is changing, we’re finding ourselves more apt to share on social media the sort of information we might have previously shared privately face-to-face” (Keller).
This means that it is much easier to learn private information about one another, either because it is easier to reveal such things over social media than in person, or because friends and followers on social media can read potentially private or sensitive posts from others.
Lowered privacy could have several effects on relationships, both positive and negative. Social media may also make negative interpersonal relationships easy to maintain. When someone is bullied face to face, they have the option of escaping or leaving the area, at least eventually. When someone is bullied through social media, any time they check their account they could be receiving yet more negative and hurtful messages. Social media makes interaction seem more distant and less personal, thus making bullying easier to go through with. Social media can also enable people to easily bully one another publicly and allow many others to see it. This can serve to exacerbate the problem.
Although I acknowledge that technology can have some negative impacts, I do not believe it is truly as negative as it may seem. Poll results may have indicated a negative opinion on social media, but a study Matthew M. Hand et al. states that their model “did not find a significant relationship between relationship satisfaction and either participant usage or perceived partner usage [of social media]” (Hand). This indicates that even in romantic relationships, which tend to be more intimate than casual friendships, are not necessarily negatively impacted by social media usage. As for the lowered privacy aspect, I would argue that it is someone’s personal choice what they share through social media. Although it makes it easier to share personal information, it does not happen without a conscious choice. In addition, negative behaviors such as bullying can easily exist outside of the internet, and it is not social media’s fault that some people may misuse it. Despite the general negative outlook on technology, I would argue that it can be a great tool in both preserving and building friendships. Social media can allow us to keep in touch with others from anywhere without seeing one another. It allows for ties to be maintained and strengthened despite distance. Without social media or other forms of technology-based communication, it would certainly be difficult to stay close with old friends from school or a past job.
Natasha Koifman, the president of public relations and digital media firm NKPR, stated that “online communication can even make face-to-face, offline relationships stronger; parents are able to keep in close contact with their children who are travelling abroad or going away to university, and couples who are in long distance relationships can stay connected and be a part of each others’ lives. There’s a reason why Facebook has over a billion users: it works” (Koifman). It is easy to see both the positive and negative sides of social media once we examine it critically. Although it does have some negative impacts, I would argue that the benefits are far greater. The ability to maintain and build friendships over distance and connect with others all over the world quickly and easily is a huge advantage that people have not had throughout history until recently. As psychology professor Krystine Batcho stated, “you can suddenly make social connections with people all over the world, people who share different worldviews, religions, values, and politics. I think the benefits trump the dangers or risks” (Graham). Social media has many uses and benefits for both our relationships and society in general, and it would be foolish to discount it simply because of a few negative side effects.
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