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Can social media leave you socially isolated?  Randy Dotinga from HealthDay Reporter addressed this issue in a recent article.  

When young people spend a lot of time on social media, mainly websites designed to bring people together, it seems to isolate them, according to new research.

They also found that the heaviest users of social media had about twice the odds of feeling socially isolated compared to their less “web-connected” friends.

Study lead author Dr. Brian Primack says that research suggests that those who use social media the most are especially isolated, even though those studies have been small. The new study is an analysis of social media users and so-called social isolation in a large group of people from across the U.S. However, at least one social media expert says the study leaves too many questions unanswered to offer people any practical advice.

This particular study included 1,800 people aged 19 to 32 who completed a 20-minute online questionnaire in 2014.  Half of the participants were female and 59% were white. Income for more than 1/3 was at least $75,000 a year. Those taking part in the research received $15 for the survey.

They were asked questions about how isolated they felt and how often they used Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Reddit. Those who used the services more in terms of the number of times or in the total amount of time spent were more likely to report feeling isolated from others. Those in the top quarter who frequently checked social media (58+ times a week) were about 3X as likely to have increased social isolation than those who checked the least and visited social media sites less than 9X a week.

The average time that most spent on social media were 61 minutes per day.

Those who spent more than 121 minutes a day had about twice the odds of feeling isolated than those spending less than 30 minutes a day, however, the study had limitations.  It wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship and it’s not clear which came first – the social media use or the feelings of isolation. The study also only looked at those aged 32 and under, so the findings may not be the same in older people.

The study examined people’s use of social media as a whole and not specific sites.  There’s no way to know if people who read glowing posts about their friends’ perfect vacations on Facebook are more or less isolated than those who prefer to watch YouTube videos of cats or bitterly argue about politics on Twitter.

What’s going on if there is no link between social media use and isolation? People who feel more socially isolated do use a lot of social media to try to increase their social circles, but both directions may be at work.  Those feeling socially isolated may reach out on social media to self-medicate, but this might only increase perceptions of social isolation. In conclusion, the findings suggest that people who feel isolated may generally be unable to find a connection through social media and the answer just might be going offline.

Dr. Fredda Branyon

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