I think that social media inevitably affects our relationships with friends and family members. It might be happening in small subtle ways that don’t even get spoken about outright but things that do or don’t take place on social media tend to get noticed. I would argue that’s because most people who are on Facebook (I’ll stick to this social media outlet as my main example) are checking it often. I recognize there are exceptions and not everyone is on Facebook multiple times throughout the day. However, I think many of us are on it so often that we forget we’re even hitting refresh as much as we are. That’s simply because checking social media has become habit. Similar to checking email it’s something people do while they’re waiting in line for a cup of coffee or want a distraction from something else.
What exactly is Facebook bringing to our attention? It’s ultimately allowing us to “say” things without really saying them.
Facebook can allow us to feel closer to friends whom we haven’t seen or talked to in years. That friend you had in college but never stayed in touch with is suddenly wishing you a happy birthday (Facebook is good at reminding us when it’s someone’s birthday) or liking your posts. Truth is that the majority of people may not have been actual friends with everyone who is their friend on social media. Acquaintances, co-workers, and people you went to school with are people you’ve spoken to in real life but that doesn’t mean they know who you are. Even your closest friends from high school won’t know the person you’ve become if your only contact with them is through social media. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing either. It’s nice to feel connected to someone you once knew. Sometimes a reconnection starts online and progresses into a strong current friendship in real life.
Social media may also leave us feeling more distant from actual friends. People have spoken to me about the way they notice when one of their closest friends or family members doesn’t like or comment on things that they post. The absence and silence of not ever liking someone’s post can speak volumes. If it’s someone you’re not in touch with outside of social media you might take note of it but not care very much. I caution you not to think too deeply about it if that’s what’s happening. On the other hand, if it’s someone you’re close to you might start to wonder if that person is mad at you or start questioning whether or not they care about you and your family since they never like pictures of your little ones. Furthermore, you might see your friend write a post that appears angry and wonder if it’s secretly directed at you. You weren’t tagged in the post but it coincidentally went up after an unpleasant encounter you had with that person. Facebook allows people to be even more passive aggressive. Whenever there is tension or feelings of anger or sadness over something that has happened with a loved one I suggest trying to talk it through with that person. Passive aggressiveness may seem easier in the moment but it doesn’t give you a chance to really express how you’re feeling and it certainly won’t help solve the problem.
For anyone active on Facebook it’s obvious that it has increasingly become a platform for people to express their political views. Especially over the last year you’ve most likely found out where most, if not all, of your friends stand on certain issues. This too can dramatically change the way you see someone and determine the type of relationship you do or do not want to have with them in real life. If this happens with someone you respect and care about I encourage you to try speaking with them directly about your opposing views. Commenting back and forth on a post can prove to be productive but it can also prove to be destructive.
Social media can be a wonderful outlet and a great way to reconnect with old family and friends. It can also bring to light underlying issues we have with someone close to us. Keep these things in mind and allow yourself to think about what you want out of social media. Take the time to talk directly to loved ones. Even if you don’t agree or it’s not the easiest conversation to have you’ll at least know there’s less chance for miscommunication.