Opinion 27-Jan-2020

Social Media Influences Our Relationships; But We Affect Them Much More

Annie Mathews
Annie Mathews
Columnist

For many years, Facebook has come under fire for its supposedly devastating impact on our relationships with friends and family. That is why, according to one study, 64% of young people are taking a break from social media.

So for an app that claims to ‘help[s] you connect and share with the people in your life’, is it time to take the plunge with a late New Year’s resolution and #DeleteFacebook? Or should we see social media as more of a catalyst for the problems in our relationships?

When you think about it, in its current form, social media is an absurd way of interacting with people. How does a weirdly-contorted-laughing-crying emoji express your emotions in a conversation? Or what does liking filtered images released for the whole world to gawk at do for your connection?

Social media devalues our relationships transforming them into grotesque shadows and vulgar imitations of our, now fading, true human connections. With 83% of parents being friends with their children on Facebook, this affects even our most intimate relationships.

Research at the University of Oxford shows that Facebook throws a spanner into our relationships by reducing the time we spend in ‘real’ face-to-face interaction and by feeding the illusion that we can maintain a relationship with hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Scrolling through perfect photos prompts ‘Facebook envy’ and feelings of low self-worth. Increased use of Facebook has also been directly linked to increased tension with romantic partners and even separation and divorce.

It seems like a no-brainer that Facebook has a drastic influence on our relationships, and that the only possible response from a person who cares about their family and friendships, would be to remove all social media.

But that would be too simple a solution. Whilst it is undeniably true that Facebook adversely impacts our relationships, deleting Facebook – or getting it, for that matter – will not decide whether your marriage is a happy one. Whilst ‘Facebook envy’ is a studied phenomenon linked to social media, envy is a human trait.

A message here or an algorithm there can be the final straw in making or breaking your relationship, but it is rarely the root of the problem. Couples break up via social media, ‘friends’ comment abuse or ‘unfriend’, perhaps aggravating and making it easier to inflict pain, but pain and unresolved disagreements are usually there before.

Facebook takes advantage of people at their most vulnerable. When you’re feeling down, a barrage of perfect plastic lives off your glaring screen can emerge as a tipping point.

Facebook replaces values, instilling a consumeristic approach to friendship – our ‘sociability’ is ruthlessly calculated through numbers rather than the quality of those relationships. Whilst this can all contribute to a feeling of loneliness – and I don’t want to dismiss Facebook as a wretched scapegoat – it is important to examine the underlying causes of why our relationships go wrong.

Thus, I suggest that we should continue to hold Facebook to account; we should use more ethical apps to replace Facebook Messenger, and encourage innovation in building and promoting competitive alternatives.

But acknowledging Facebook’s role in influencing our lives should not come at the expense of recognising our own role in affecting how we behave towards our loved ones.

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