The exponential development of information technologies characterizes the modern world. It would seem that a couple of decades ago people could communicate with each other only in specially designated places or by mail — in any case, there were problems associated with inconvenience or delay in time. What has happened over the past ten years has radically changed the structure of human life. Today, most of the world’s population has a phone with Internet access so that people can receive the most relevant information, communicate and interact from a distance. It is no longer surprising when an American communicates via video chat with an Australian relative about the geopolitical situation in the world, as people get used to a comfortable environment very quickly.
Social networks have become one of the most important human inventions. These are not only platforms that organize communication of two or more users, but also endless opportunities for spending leisure time. Social networks, in particular Facebook, allow today to watch videos, surf the newsfeeds, write comments and participate in discussions, order a pizza or play computer games — in general, it is only a fraction of what one can do in a smartphone. However, contrary to expectations, social networking is becoming a factor in the intensive development of the epidemic of loneliness among active users. Facebook, as one of the most popular social networks, causes loneliness among users, because it consistently provides an opportunity for distraction, inhibits human contact, and takes up much free time that could be spent on a walk, even though it brings people together and gives them an environment for communication. The purpose of this essay is to discuss in detail three factors why Facebook, as one of the social networking sites, promotes loneliness among users.
Content as an alternative to activity
First of all, it is essential to admit that Facebook stimulates loneliness, as it presents the user with a large number of activities directly on the site. According to Noyes’ statistics, more than 1.62 billion users visit the website every day (Noyes). Of those, about twenty percent use the Facebook Stories format, which allows sharing videos and photo content among subscribers. At the same time, it should be clarified that every tenth post on the social network includes video content. Based on the above data, there is no doubt that today’s social network abounds in various forms, from text messages to video materials. Facebook is a global repository for videos, each of which is regularly broadcast on the user’s news feed. Therefore, even without wanting it, a member of a social network encounters a video that can capture their attention. On the contrary, the website’s architecture comprises a section devoted to video content only, as shown in Figure 1. It is also worth admitting that algorithms offer users videos that are most likely to be of interest to them. This approach allows for greater user involvement in the Facebook matrix, which increases the average retention time on the site (Kite et al. 11). In addition, according to Rein and Venturini, creators are actively developing new ways to demonstrate video (3359). Ultimately, the presence and even abundance of themed videos make Facebook more diverse and livelier, resulting in increased user loyalty and reduced time spent offline.
This screenshot shows the release of material on demand “world”.
Newsfeed as a distraction attempt
Second, the social network structure suggests that the primary design element is a newsfeed, which allows users to receive relevant information, but limits them in offline communication with other people. Usher-Layser believes that the social network news feed is designed to provide users with one-sided, narrow information that strictly coincides with their interests (18). This mechanism implies two negative consequences at once. First of all, a person does not receive alternative points of view, and second, they plunge more deeply into the abyss of the social network. Each news feed is an absolutely unique conveyor of materials, the viewing of which has under itself a single purpose — to allow the user to distract from the environment. It often happens that a person sitting in a cafe, subway or mall does not want to interact with other people, and instead, opens an application for social networks to see seemingly unnecessary right now posts about someone’s updates in life (Fig. 2). In the long run, this makes the individual lonely because, instead of potentially interesting connections and acquaintances, they prefer to surf the feed on Facebook. In other words, the news feed phenomenon prevents communication, interaction, and even eye contact between people in real life, thus stimulating loneliness.
Social networking as a leisure activity
Thirdly, it is easy to see that Facebook takes up much free time that a person could spend meeting with family, friends, or a partner. Metev reports that, on average, users spend 58 minutes a day watching social network Facebook. In his news article, a Stewart journalist says it is more than the time a person spends reading books, doing sports, and social interactions (Stewart). This situation seems daunting because given the time spent sleeping, people spend one-sixteenth of their time on social media, which is even more than social interaction (Fig. 3). This means that the form of Facebook manages to shift the user’s attention to the website. In other words, the user spends much time online and less time in offline social life.
In contrast, Facebook as a platform for association
Alternatively, it might seem that despite the factors described to stimulate loneliness, Facebook is ideal for communication. Jumaat et al. write that this platform allows interaction between people to achieve socially significant results (152). On the other hand, Robertson and Kee demonstrate that using Facebook in the workplace increases overall employee satisfaction (191). While Facebook is undoubtedly a convenient platform for interaction, it is essential to understand that the phenomenon of social networking encourages loneliness through the substitution of concepts. Online communication is not the same as communication in real life, as it lacks emotional connection, tone of speech, and body language. Online conversation is aimed at getting dry information quickly, so it can be argued that communication occurs between two virtual avatars, behind which there is a personal background. This is not at all the same as real communication — Facebook only creates a sort of communication in a virtual environment. Even with a relatively large number of virtual friends, many people have little social contact in virtual and offline lives. In other words, lonely users try to make up for the lack of real communication by virtual, but this is not an effective approach.
Summing up the above, first of all, it should be noted that the phenomenon of social networks creates a paradoxical situation. It may seem that Facebook unites people, gives them a sense of involvement and social activity. In practice, Facebook, like other web platforms, stimulates loneliness by distracting people from everyday activities, hindering interpersonal interactions, and taking up much time. In other words, Facebook does not allow people to achieve real communication and overcome loneliness, but it replaces attempts to make up for loneliness with virtual interactions. Users who are active in chatrooms falsely think that they are socially active, even though they are not. Platform communication is convenient for getting information quickly, but it is not equivalent to real communication between real people. In this way, Facebook encourages the development of loneliness among users.
Jumaat, Nurul Farhana, et al. “Facebook as a Platform of Social Interactions for Meaningful Learning.” International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), vol. 14, no. 04, 2019, pp. 151-159
Kite, James, et al. “Please Like Me: Facebook and Public Health Communication.” PloS One, vol. 11, no. 9, 2016, pp. 1-16.
Metev, Denis. “How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media?” Review 43, 2020, Web.
Noyes, Dan. “The Top 20 Valuable Facebook Statistics.” Zephoria, 2020, Web.
Rein, Katharina, and Tommaso Venturini. “Ploughing Digital Landscapes: How Facebook Influences the Evolution of Live Video Streaming.” New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 9, 2018, pp. 3359-3380.
Robertson, Brett W., and Kerk F. Kee. “Social Media at Work: The Roles of Job Satisfaction, Employment Status, and Facebook Use with Co-Workers.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 70, 2017, pp. 191-196.
Stewart, James B. “Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day. It Wants More.” The New York Times, 2016. Web.
Usher-Layser, Nikki. “Newsfeed: Facebook, Filtering and News Consumption.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 96. no. 3, 2016, 18-21