How Having Social Media Friends Can Help Your Social Anxiety
I read a comment the other day in a Facebook group (ironically enough) that contemplated the importance of social media friends for those who are naturally not good at making friends in real life.
Social media friends are those people you interact with on the various social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. But—they’re people you never or rarely interact with in real life.
The person noted that she tended to be awkward in social situations, and found that meeting people through social networks and staying connected in that way was easier for her.
This led me to contemplate the concept of “digital” or social media friends, and whether these qualify as real friendships. Obviously, friends you know in real life but also connect with through social media can be considered “real” friends. But what about the ones you’ve never met, or met once and may never meet again?
More so, are these social media friends helping or hurting you if you live with social anxiety?
I’d like to argue that there are both benefits and drawbacks of having social media friends and that they will never fully take the place of friends in real life.
3 Benefits of Social Media Friends
What does it mean to be someone’s friend?
It means that you try to understand, care, and offer support to that person. Can that only take place in a face-to-face format?
Social media friends are people you probably share information with, share ideas with, share stories and emotions with… but this all takes place digitally rather than in person. Which, when you think about it, is just another form of communication.
Tons of millenials, and probably post-millenials (the generation to which my children belong) choose messaging apps over calling, hands down. And, you might argue, that they are in more regular contact with their friends (and perhaps relatives) than previous generations.
As a member of Generation X – there were no cell phones, no social media, gosh barely any Internet. We called on the phone or we did not communicate. There are so, many, ways to communicate these days and that has to be a good thing?
If you are feeling sad or anxious and ask for help from your friends, does it matter if the reply came in through your ears or your eyes?
It’s all still interaction and communication, and it could be argued that social media friends know more about us. We might be more open and honest through digital communication. And we are probably in more regular contact than we would be otherwise.
What’s more, many friendships these days begin through social media or the Internet. The online world offers a new method of connecting with persons around the world that you might never have had access to before.
Whatever you are interested in, there is probably a group for that on Facebook, and people who would love to talk to you about it. With this new global network, there are no barriers to finding the people who you can truly call your “tribe.”
The video below describes how social media friends can be important in our lives.
Friendship on Your Terms
Friendship takes work. If you are married with kids, or have some other time-consuming responsibilities, finding time for real-world friends might be frustrating. Or, if you live with mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, or a disorder that affects your communication skills such as attention deficit disorder, typical face-to-face friendships might be draining or might fall apart under the strain of your time constraints.
That’s where social media friends can shine. Need an understanding ear? Social media friends can be there for you without expecting much in return.
Drawbacks of Social Media Friends
If your social media friends are exclusively that—people who you never see in real life—certain things will be lost. You won’t have the advantage of understanding their body language, making eye contact, or engaging in physical contact. All of these things make the friendship more real.
If you need someone to come water your plants while you are away or join you for dinner at a restaurant, your social media friends are unlikely to help unless they are people you also know in real life.
And if you find yourself in a time of true emotional need, the risk of relying on social media friends is great. It’s much too easy for social media friends to skedaddle rather than tough it out when things get messy.
In real life, friendships move through ebbs and flows. You experience conflict and resolve it. It’s much too easy for a social media friend to just split. All of a sudden you’ve been ghosted and you don’t know happened.
The World Wide Web has enabled intimacy without commitment, and that has led people to develop what seems like deep connections that are in fact precarious and without depth.
Your friend can just stop answering you.
What do you do? Do you even know what went wrong?
They can turn you off like switch without further thought, and you’re left wondering what you did wrong, or IF you did something wrong. It’s much too easy for people to write off online friendships when they get difficult.
Why Real-Life Friends Are Important
What are real-life friends important along with your social media friends? We’ve already skimmed over these reasons but for the sake of review:
- there are levels of friendship, and social media friends offer the least depth
- it’s better to have a few close friends who will stick with you rather than hundreds of social media friends who could disappear
- real life friends will enrich your life in a way that social media friends can’t, through learning to forgive and building intimacy and trust
- having a circle of real-life friends helps to expand your identity so that you’re not overly dependent on one relationship
How to Make Real-Life Friends a Priority
It sounds contrived to make a plan to reconnect with friends in real life, but that’s exactly what you’ve got to do!
- Schedule time to re-connect with old friends (perhaps some of them are even social media friends)
- Make plans with people who you know and would like to get to know better
- Plan an annual trip with people you already consider to be friends (again perhaps social media friends)
What do you think? Are social media friends real friends?
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