Social media use doesn't affect relationships, study finds

Posted on 2 March 2018 at 4:03pm

COLUMBIA - A new study by at University of Missouri team may put to rest some concerns about whether social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are ruining human interaction.

Researchers at MU and the University of Kansas found social media use has no major impact on face-to-face interactions and interpersonal relationships.

"We looked at two different windows in time, one a big national survey that looked over the span of several years and one a week-long study that essentially asked people multiple times per day 'what are you doing right now,' 'how do you feel,'" said Michael Kearney, associate professor at the School of Journalism.

Kearney, along with his research team, looked at the two studies to test the impact of social media. The first study looked at social media use of individuals from 2009 to 2011, while the second surveyed adults and college students through text-messaging over the course of five days.

For Kearney, the research is especially important in today's technologically-advanced age. 

"I think it's important to understand how people use social media and the effects it has on other social interactions," Kearney said. "I know a lot of people are concerned about social media in particular might be causing us to be disconnected or lose out on more satisfying forms of social interaction that might be able to prevent things like loneliness or depression." 

Kearney said he thinks many of the fears people have about social media are overblown.

"I also think we don't have a good understanding of what the timeframe of those effects could be, and I think that it's probably a lot more complicated than what people tend to assume," Kearney said. "We see this with the introduction of any new form of media technology. There's a concern that it will replace the world that we know and a lot of the ways that people deal with that uncertainty is to assume the worst."

Nathan Lundstrom, an accounting graduate student at the University of Missouri has his own thoughts on social media. Currently, he and his wife use sites like Facebook pretty casually.

"For us it's a good way to connect with family that's far away," Lundstrom said. "We have young kids so [our family] like to see pictures of them."

Lundstrom also says sometimes he can get annoyed with social media and is concerned for how it will affect his children in the future.

"As my kids get older, I'll be a little worried about some of the negative things I've read," Lundstrom said. "Comparing themselves to others and things like that. I think sometimes we can paint a false picture of our lives on social media. But it can also be a really good thing."

Lundstrom said sometimes he's able to read things that him or his family or new information he didn't know before. Like Lundstorm Kearney thinks that the use of social media can be a complex experience for those who use it that means different things for different people. 

"It's probably helped a lot of people that form connections with people who are like-minded or similar who they might not have otherwise had exposure to,"Kearney said.  "I think it's probably caused a lot of people to become more isolated in their views because suddenly, everyone's views are a little more public. They might filter themselves off into echo chambers so to speak, and I think other people are exposed to things on a daily basis. So I think there's a whole range of effects and we're just starting to understand whether the things cause people to use social media certain ways and how can we encourage people to use it in the best ways."