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7 Myths of Social Media Friendships
Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a marriage and family counselor for the last 45
years. He is the author of 8 books, including Looking for Love in All the Wrong
Places, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and Mr. Mean: Saving
Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome (May, 2010). He offers
counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone
with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a Free E-book
on Men’s Health and a free subscription to Jed’s e-newsletter go to
www.MenAlive.com. If you are looking for an expert counselor to help with
relationship issues, write Jed@MenAlive.com.

The rap on social media has been that it is superficial and the more time people
spend on-line, the less time they spend interacting in the “real” world with “real”
people. However, recent research indicates that this isn’t true.

Myth #1: Social relationships are failing.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project’s 2007 report found that social
relationships and the sense of community are not “fading away in America” but
growing, although in non-traditional ways. Social affiliations are increasingly
shifting from extended family relationships and connections in neighborhood-
based organizations to “social networks,” bringing people of like-minded interests
that transcend geography.

Myth #2: Social media undermines our core relationships.

The Pew survey asked people about how their Internet involvement affected
both their core ties and significant ties. Core ties are with people to whom one
has close, intimate relationships, while significant ties were defined as those with
people to whom one is somewhat closely connected.

Contrary to the concerns of critics, the more contact individuals had by e-mail,
the more in-person and phone contact they had, suggesting that “Americans are
probably more in contact with members of their communities and social networks
than before the advent of the internet.”

Myth #3: Face-to-Face social networks are in decline.

A total of 32 percent of the respondents in the Pew survey reported that


engagement on the Internet increased the size of their social networks while only
3 percent said it decreased them. Overall, Internet users boast “somewhat larger
social networks than non-users.
Myth #4: Internet networks undermine social capital.

Social capital is people helping one another. Traditionally this has been the
role of churches and fraternal organizations. Increased Internet use assists
users in maintaining existing social ties, often strengthening them, while helping
users forge new social ties. It has not, as some critics had previously warned,
been at the expense of significant social ties.

In fact, additional time spent online in community reduced the time


spend on unsocial activities like T.V.

Myth #5: Text messaging encourages superficial friendships.

The survey found that more frequent communications via Internet text
messaging encourages the desire to spend more time face-to-face. Researchers
found that the reason lies not only in the frequency of staying in contact but also
the nature of the medium and the way it is used.

Text messaging, they found, requires a more careful crafting of


communications than telephone or face-to-face communications and, messaging
is often done at home, often late at night, and therefore people often share more
intimate feelings.

Three in ten teens, for instance, say “that they are more honest when they talk
with friends on line.”

Myth #6: Internet interaction fosters false selves.

One of the main criticisms of Internet friendships is that they are false. We
can pretend to be anyone we want and as a result we may connect on-line, but in
a dishonest way. We’ve all heard the stories of sexual predators pretending to
be friends or older men pretending to be teen-age boys.

Although there is certainly an opportunity for unscrupulous people to be able


to hide behind their Internet Avatar, in the big scheme of the Internet, that is rare.
Years ago MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle suggested, on the basis of her early
pioneering work, that the relative anonymity afforded by cyperspace encouraged
people to experiment with other aspects of their selves by taking on personas
and roles that one might feel less comfortable exploring in real-time social
encounters.
Myth #7: Social media encourages people to lose connection with their true
selves.

Critics maintain that social media creates an artificial world where humans
disappear and mythic figures take their place. However, research indicates that
the medium may, in fact, help people to bring out their true selves.

Laboratory experiments conducted by social scientist Katelyn McKenna and


her colleagues have shown that “the relative anonymity of Internet interactions
greatly reduces the risks” of personal disclosures, “especially about intimate
aspects of the self, because one can share one’s inner beliefs and emotional
reactions with much less fear of disapproval and sanction.”

McKenna, a New York University psychology professor, concluded:

“The more people express facets of the self on the Internet that they cannot or
do not express in other areas of life, the more likely they are to form strong
attachments to those they meet on the Internet.”

What do you think? Have your friendships improved or deteriorated since


getting involved in social media? I look forward to your responses. Note them
here or connect with me on my website at www.MenAlive.com. I’m indebted to
Jeremy Rifkin for information in this article and described in his book, The
Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis.