Social media making users feel isolated

2017-03-12 14:09
Lerato Seutloadi, 25

Lerato Seutloadi, 25

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Addiction to social media is increasingly leaving users feeling socially isolated, despite their spending hours chatting to friends on these platforms.

Experts are suggesting a simple solution to this self-induced loneliness, which is to go out more often and spend time with “real people”.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last week, people who spend more time on social media are more likely to “lack a sense of social belonging”, which is connected to a positive, lasting and significant interpersonal relationship.

Brian Primack, professor and lead author, said: “We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalise us instead of bringing us together.

“While it may seem that social media present opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for,” Primack explained.

Primack and his colleagues sampled about 1 800 adults between the ages of 19 and 32.

They used questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social-media use by asking about the 11 most popular social-media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

They measured participants’ perceived social isolation using a validated assessment tool called the Patient-Reported Outcomes-Measurement Information System.

Participants who visited various social-media platforms 58 or more times per week experienced about three times as much perceived social isolation as those who visited fewer than nine times per week.

Anthea Parker, a clinical psychologist practising in northern Johannesburg, said this study demonstrated the negative effects of social media.

“What we see in this study is that people either turned to social media with the hope that it will fill the void in their lives, or they became socially isolated because of spending too much time on social media, which is another danger of this habit.

“Social isolation is associated with increased risk of some noncommunicable diseases and premature death.”

The study’s authors encouraged doctors to ask patients about their social-media use and counsel them in reducing it if linked to symptoms of social isolation.

“This is an important issue because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults,” said Primack.


“I am not ashamed to say I am a social-media addict.

“I am constantly fidgeting with my phone, moving from one platform to another, because I fear missing out on important things, including politics, entertainment and fashion.

“I catch up with my high school friends and interact with fellow students talking about schoolwork.

“My grandmother always complains about the amount of time I spend chatting with friends.

"Sometimes I wouldn’t even hear her while I am switching platforms. I love Instagram the most as it shows the lifestyle I yearn for. If I had to stay away for a day, I would probably have withdrawal symptoms.”

Kganyago is active on WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Imo, Facebook and Skype.


“I wouldn’t call myself a social-media addict because that is someone who is constantly interacting with friends on social-media platforms in such a way that it interferes with other aspects of their daily life.

“I would probably be rated a ‘frequent user’. I don’t allow it to disturb my work. At times I get distracted by what’s happening on a social-media platform when somebody is trying to have a conversation with me, but it doesn’t happen often.

“Admittedly, I can’t survive a week without interacting with friends on social media. I tried it once and I felt sick.”

Seutloadi is active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and WhatsApp. 

Read more on:    health

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