Social Media or Social Anxiety: What is the Internet Actually About?
Fear of public speaking, inabilty to communicate face-to-face, the need to stay in the background and establish relationships from a distance, and fear of being judged that leads to insecurities and self-doubt -these are but some of the signs of social anxiety, and many people around the world suffer from it.
The advent of the internet and social networking sites was supposed to bring people around the world closer. It was supposed to let people socialize even more than they normally do. Meeting friends and family from time to time on specific occasions were now not the only ways for people to connect.
Internet has changed the way people interact with one another.But how does it affect those who are unable to socialize? Is the internet, and social media in particular, helping or harming the socially challenged? While many studies have suggested that social media has led to more social anxiety among teens and elderly folks, the picture isn’t as cut and dry as that.
Anonymity Through Social Media
Socially anxious people shun society and crave solitude. But that doesn’t mean they don’t seek company or contact with others. So if there is a medium to provide that contact without a physical presence, how can it be a bad thing. Granted, therapists and loved ones will suggest that one should be more open, explore and step out of the fear of establishing contact, but actually doing it is never easy.
It was generally believed that the internet would be specially useful for those who struggle with social anxiety. There was a sense of anonymity while using a social networking site and people could explore and connect with more ease without the fear of revealing too much. Even today, a public forum like Reddit lets you post questions and opinions on literally anything while staying anonymous. This makes it easy for people to connect who would otherwise be embarrassed and would fear being judged.
A False Sense of Society, But a Society Nevertheless
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram also provide a way to be out there. What’s changed is that these sites don’t let you stay anonymous. These sites have become more personal now. A person struggling with social anxiety might spend 30 minutes making sure his Facebook post is perfect so as to not to invite judgement. While looking at pictures on Facebook or Instagram, you may think that people around are having more fun than you. These insecurities do exist, but it doesn’t overshadow other areas that actually improve, namely, relationships.
Here’s the thing about sites like Facebook – It can help socially anxious people but not always in the right way. Having over 300 friends can make a person feel good despite the fact that one never talks to 299 of them. This false sense of having a lot of friends can be therapeutic, according to some people. However, there is a flip side to this. Having a lot of friends can also cause some people to feel lonely because you end up sacrificing conversation for connection.
Social Media Lets You Present a Different Self
A number of studies have explored how social media stimulate sharing and relationship-building among their users. Researchers have also found that the perceived usefulness of a platform positively influences the adoption and spread of said technology by users (Hsieh, Hsieh, & Feng, 2011). In case of social networks, such as Facebook, the illusion of building and maintaining relationships with people is more important than their actual effectiveness.
Studies have also suggested that chatting online might allow people with social phobia the ability to practice social skills in a non-threatening setting that they could then use in face-to-face social situations. In a face-to-face setting, conversations happen in real time and you can’t control what you’re saying. But texting, email and posting is done through a virtual sphere where people have more time to carefully think about what they want to say.
The positives and negatives are vast and there is no clear proof of whether social media aids the socially anxious or harms them. The answer will vary from person to person and the discourse will continue as long as social media is an intrinsic part of our lives.