Investigative piece: How ‘social’ is Social Media?


Mikayla Banman, Writer

Ironically, social media has the word ‘social’ in it. But is “social media” really all that social? Think about it. This form of communication may be convenient, yet it is a leading reason for desensitized relationships. Through social media people are able to communicate with one another all around the world, and relationships can be built without actually ever seeing the person in real life. Through the use of social networks, intimacy is lost. People lose face-to-face interactions because communication is mainly online. Being online can isolate you from society by creating false realities in a virtual world. The truth is that “social” media is not social at all; it disconnects people from real life relationships.

Teenagers spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day on social media, according to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation of 8-18 years olds. This includes watching television, listening to music, surfing the internet, and social networking. A study by the Pew Research Centre reveals that teens use their cellphones to text an average of 60 times per day.   A new study (also conducted by Pew Research Centre) finds that 92% of teens report going online daily; including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” More than half (56%) of teens aged 13 – 17 go online several times a day, and 12% report once-a-day use. Just 6% of teens report going online weekly, and 2% go online less often. Vanessa Van Petten (author and creator of the Web site Radical Parenting) says this is a direct result of what she calls “hybrid life”. For earlier generations of teens, she said, “There was technology time and there was offline time. Now, there’s no separation.”

Social media has expanded over the years.  People now have access to the online world in the palm of their hands. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, in today’s society social networking has become an integral part of regular everyday life. The social networking audience continues to grow. According to, in 2013 over 1.73 billion people world-wide had access to some form of social networking site. Statistics show that by 2017 the audience will increase drastically to 2.55 billion.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Social Media as “forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).” According to that definition, social media is a fantastic tool to be used efficiently and productively. Why then, has the reality of social media evolved so much? David Walsh, PhD says it best in his book ‘Why Do They Act That Way?’: “Media and technology aren’t inherently good or bad; they are powerful. The good or bad depends on how we use them.” Social media can be a useful and powerful instrument if used properly.

A recent survey shows that in this day and age, teens are not using social media well. 1/3 of teens ages 15-19 admitted to being addicted to social media. More than half of those same people said it bothers them when a person goes on their phone during a conversation. So most teens feel bothered when a friend looks at their phone in the middle of a conversation; yet the majority of teens are guilty of this. A solution to the problem seems fairly obvious; don’t look at a phone while talking with friends. The results from this survey are clear: people do not like to be trumped by a robotic, handheld device. That funny tweet and cute Instagram picture can wait for their retweet and like; people and relationships are more important than social media.

Teenagers especially are guilty of retreating to their cells when in an awkward silence, with a group of unknown people, or any remotely uncomfortable situation. Phones to teenagers are like soothers to toddlers. The toddler is never seen without their soother because it is a safety blanket. It feels comfortable. Just holding a phone and scrolling through their Instagram feed for the 100th time that day gives many teenagers a feeling of reassurance and well-being.

The defining factor of a person’s worth should not have anything to do with social media. Thousands of teens are spending endless hours worrying about what their Instagram feed looks like, and whether they are popular or not according to how many followers they have. Teenagers need a serious wake up call if they are obsessing over trivial matters such as the number of likes on a post. The desire to be ‘Social Media famous’ is a quickly growing common goal, and while that may be the future of a select number of individuals, it is not realistic for most.

Essena O’Neill, a 19 year-old Australian Internet star, recently made headlines when she announced on YouTube her decision to quit all social media. Essena wrote on an Instagram post in October, just before she deleted her account, “Without realizing, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement. I was consumed by it.”

The 19 year-old had what seemed like the “perfect” life, with over half a million followers on Instagram, 200,000 on YouTube and Tumblr, and 60,000 on Snapchat. Essena towered in the world of the “social media famous” and has seen firsthand the false reality social media presents. It is an industry composed of unrealistic ideals, and designed to make people feel jealous of each other. Not only that, but it eats up precious time, and overall is one massive distraction from the real world.

Consider dreams achievable beyond the internet, and all of the time that can be spent focusing and pursuing those goals. Scrolling for hours through other people’s contrived and unrealistic lives is not valuable or productive compared to looking up from the screen, and actively pursuing life. Make an intentional goal to post pictures because they are encouraging, interesting, or inspirational. Don’t post to compete, or make others wish for a life that is not theirs. Invest in real life, because that is the future.