Opinion: Can Social Media Undermine Your Friendships?

Photo by Jason Howie. Licensed under CC 2.0.

By Danlin Chen
BU News Service

Do you think you know enough about social media? Did you know that in 2016, according to a study conducted by We Are Social, social media gained 18 new users every second. People also send 60 billion messages a day on Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. We are almost saturated in social media platforms 24/7.

A survey from Pew Research Center shows that 45 percent of millennial participants believe that social media has a profound impact on their relationships with friends. But these impacts could be negative.

As you expose yourself to social media more, you may find that it creates barriers in your friendships. Social media can be a distraction when friends meet in real life. It can make you feel like you are not that important to them.

When hanging out with one of my best friends once, I was talking about how my boss was being tough on me. I was hoping to get some support from her, but she didn’t respond. Instead, she was replying to someone else on Whatsapp. Finally, she asked me to repeat myself.

Disappointed, I replied, “It’s okay. Nothing special.”

It’s really difficult to spend screen-free time together with friends these days. At the dinner table, people tend to scroll through Facebook rather than chat together. Sometimes it feels like we are meeting just to sit together and use our smartphones while chatting over Facebook updates, Instagram likes or Twitter favorites.

But it shouldn’t be like this. Social media shouldn’t steal the time we have for real face-to-face conversations with our friends.

Many people consider social media as a good way to keep friendship alive because they can follow what others are doing and have virtual interactions with them. However, sometimes these interactions can be too excessive and bring discontent to your friendships.

According to Pew Research Center, 88 percent of teenage social media users believe that people post too much about their lives. This overshared information could lead to disappointment or discontent.

The same study also says that 53 percent of teenage social media users have seen their friends post about events to which they were not invited. When your friend posts a selfie with other girls at a music festival, you may feel betrayed or worried about your intimacy with your friend.

Furthermore, you may also find your friends’ social media persona makes you feel unfamiliar with them.

Sometimes people play totally different characters when they perform on social media. Your friend may be kind and gentle in real life, but posts dozens of harsh tweets and leaves mean comments people’s social media. You may feel confused. Has he been faking it all this time? Is this who he really is?

On social media, people have space to shape the image they want to have, even if it may not reflect who they are in the real world.

When I talked about this with my best friend and roommate, Sarah, she said she felt the same way. Her new roommate is a silent, shy girl in real life, but is a popular fashion influencer on social media. Sarah feels unfamiliar with her friend’s real personality and what her real interests are.

“She doesn’t usually put on makeup in real life or go shopping with me,” Sarah said. “I had no idea that she had interest in that fashion stuff. She seems like an outgoing person online.”

These differences may lead to a sense of alienation with your friends. Social media can make us feel lost in our friendship. Although it allows people a chance to present different sides of themselves, it also can cause more confusion. We may ask ourselves, do we really know our best friends?

If we keep our heads down, scrolling through social media, we can miss the chance to actually communicate with our friends. Friendship is not built online or measured by how many selfies we post. Real world relationships should not be maintained through or replaced by virtual data. Put down your phone and have face-to-face conversations. Social media can’t replace your friends.


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