Social Media makes us lonely, but it doesn’t have to

Far from connecting us with other human beings, social media use does the opposite. According to a recent Cigna study:

  • This year, 71% of heavy social media users report feelings of loneliness
  • This is up from 53% a year ago
  • This year, 51% of light social media users report feelings of loneliness
  • This is up from up from 47% a year ago

Insurers like Cigna are focusing on social isolation because US government medicare spends an additional $6.7 billion on recipients who lack social contact. In other words, loneliness is not just about sentiment. It affects the bottom line.

I’m not one to believe that correlation and causality are one and the same. But it’s worth asking, why is loneliness is increasing while social media likewise increases?

I believe the problem isn’t because of social media itself.

The problem is with what social media companies prioritize.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter profit off surveillance capitalism. Their profit therefore increases with more time spent on their platform. Obviously, the more time people spend staring at their phones, the less time they spend on real-flesh face-to-face contact with each other.

In other words, Facebook doesn’t want us to stop looking at our screens! Doing so means less personal data they can collect. Less personal data collection affects mainstream social networks’ bottom line.

So how can social media change to make us less lonely?

Based on some suggestions from MIT, here’s what social networks can do differently.

  1. Encourage “in real life” contact. More personal facetime makes relationships less abstract.
  2. Make events accessible. Events bolster a sense of belonging, and brings a greater sense of community to all participants.
  3. Heed Dunbar’s number. Rather than following the maximum amount of people possible, social media should prioritize the right amount of contacts that sustain stable relationships.

My company, Peer Social, aims to do just these things. By changing social media’s priorities, we can decrease our current epidemic of loneliness.

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