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Facebook’s Destructive Underbelly: An Epidemic of Loneliness


With over a billion users who sign on daily to check messages and notifications, could one of the top social networking sites be posing a threat to users’ well-being?

By: Michelle Monteiro, Staff Writer

On the surface, Facebook is a source for fulfilling the basic human need for social interaction. But rather than boost happiness, the social networking site weakens it.

At least that’s what a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan suggests.

According to the study, now published in PLOS ONE, (a peer-reviewed open access journal), using Facebook can reduce how young adults feel moment to moment and how satisfied they are with their lives, overall “making them feel worse about themselves”.  Researchers monitored eighty-two participants for two weeks and found that the more they used Facebook, the worse they subsequently felt.

Contrary to social media as a form of communication, face-to-face interactions seemed to have no effect on well-being, but are rather associated with greater feelings of affecting well-being.

Researchers seem to believe Facebook usage leads to sadness and loneliness but sadness and loneliness does not lead to Facebook usage. Why? Fittingly, people spend more time on Facebook when they’re feeling lonely, not because they’re simply alone at the moment, but because of how lonely they feel. It’s their very own perceptions of isolation, and not their actual isolation, that determines the amount of Facebook usage.

Theorists have coined a term for this phenomenon: Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), a side effect of seeing friends and family lying on the beach, having fun at parties, snuggling with their significant others while the user is on a computer. FOMO is detrimental to the human psyche.

The Michigan study is one of many studies saying Facebook can have negative psychological consequences.

Despite its enormous popularity, or more likely because of it, Facebook is interfering with real friendships, distancing people from one another, making them lonelier, ultimately spreading the very isolation it seemed designed to conquer. Social media has dominated the world, but this connectivity means nothing — in today’s society, people have never been lonelier. An ironic twist of fate.

Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, states that “it’s the quality, not the quantity of social interaction, that best predicts loneliness.” Yes, Facebook has allowed many worldwide to communicate with one another, fusing distance with intimacy, glamourizing self-images to online communities. But are any of these relationships long lasting? Are any of them nourishing? You can have hundreds, thousands, of Facebook friends and contact them occasionally but still be isolated and lonely.

This coincides with the idea that Facebook is not, and cannot, be an adequate substitute for real friends, for real happiness.

Test your loneliness level

To this day, the best tool for measuring loneliness is the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a series of twenty questions. Every time you’re on Facebook, take the test and see how lonely you might actually be.  If diagnosed with the loneliness epidemic, there is only one cure: leave the computer and talk to someone, anyone. Lie on the beach, have fun at parties, snuggle with significant others — do whatever you see others do on those Facebook pictures. Be in the picture, not out of it.

Known as Michelle, I’ve been writing since hands could grasp paper and pencils. I’ve learned that a pencil is an extension of the hand, a gateway to the psyche. Currently, I’m an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, completing a BA in English. For more of my quirkiness, follow my blog and check out my Facebook.

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