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Social Media and Isolation

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Social Media and Isolation Essay

Social media creates a dopamine-driven feedback loop to condition young adults to stay online, stripping them of important social skills and further keeping them on social media, leading them to feel socially isolated. Annotated Bibliography 1: Chamath PalihapitiyaPalihapitiya, C. (2017, November 13).

Chamath Palihapitiya is a software engineer who worked for major companies such as AOL and Facebook. In this interview, Palihapitiya talks about his experience working at the social media juggernaut, Facebook. It only marginally covers the topic at hand since the interview as a whole is directed towards business students, but when the topic is brought up, Palihapitiya explains the correlation between social media and social isolation.

He explains how social media is “…eroding the core foundations of how people behave, by and between each other” (Palihapitiya, 2017), which means it is stripping people of their ability to socially interact on a massive scale, leading to them feeling socially isolated. Palihapitiya further supports the topic when he describes Facebook and other social media as a ‘dopamine-driven feedback loop’, where short-term bursts of happiness are valued much more than long-term happiness, describing it as if it were an addiction and a vulnerability in human psychology. However, Palihapitiya mentions he has not used social media in so long, therefore he does not realize how many people may use them solely to communicate with loved ones in times of need, to expand their business or to connect with others. Annotated Bibliography 2: Primack, B. A., & Shensa, A. (2017, March 6).

Dr. Brian A. Primack, a dean at University of Pittsburgh Honors College along with his colleague Ariel Shensa, a student and statistician for the University of Pittsburgh Honors College wrote a research paper targeting academics that set out to identify the correlation between social media usage (SMU) and perceived social isolation (PSI). What they found was that when it came to SMU, a higher length and frequency had a correlation with higher PSI. This directly supports the topic as it shows that increased SMU does correlate with PSI. This paper also mentioned that people who had a high level of SMU started to replace face-to-face contact with other people, leaving them to further feel excluded. However, this does not prove that SMU directly causes PSI since correlation does not equal causation. The question that this article does not answer is whether SMU is directly responsible for a higher PSI, or whether people with a higher PSI replace real-world social interaction with social media. Either behavior is unhealthy and should be dealt with accordingly. Annotated Bibliography 3: Asianet. (2017, December 31). Social media is bad for your mental health.

Asia net in this article discusses the effects of social media on mental health. Aimed at a general audience, it covers the fact that Facebook recently acknowledged the effects of social media on mental health. “Two of Facebook’s in-house social scientists acknowledged that passive consumption of content on the social network can harm users’ mood and mental health” (Asianet, 2017). Asianet also says “Students assigned to passively read Facebook for 10 minutes reported worse moods than those directed to post themselves, or to communicate with friends” (Asianet, 2017), this supports the idea that social media causes isolation as worse moods could result in being less friendly to other people, shutting everyone else out and results in the individual feeling isolated.

However, the credibility of this article can be argued since it does not cite any of the studies that they mentioned happened.

Hypothesis: Social media creates a dopamine-driven feedback loop to condition young adults to stay online, stripping them of important social skills and further keeping them on social media, leading them to feel socially isolated.


Dopamine: a neurotransmitter in the brain that when released, creates a feel-good sensation (Newton, 2009)

Feedback loop: can be positive or negative – describes a cycle in which the output is put back as the input

Perceived social isolation: a form of social isolation in where it is not clinically diagnosed but rather perceived by the individual. It still carries harmful effects just as regular social isolation would.

Social media nowadays is everywhere, with Facebook pioneering the idea, the use of social media all across the world has skyrocketed. As of 2017, an estimated 1.96 billion people use social media and that number is projected to go up to 2.5 billion by 2018 (Statista, 2017). However, the reason behind these numbers might not be as innocent. Experts have been raising awareness of ethical issues concerning social media and its usage. Some studies even concluding that it correlates with perceived social isolation.

Furthermore, with studies and even former social media creators coming out to speak against the use of social media, its become an ever growing problem that needs to be addressed. As concluded by Brian A. Primack and Ariel Shena’s study, social media usage almost directly correlates with higher perceived social isolation. The study found that in every age group, those who had a higher frequency of visits and spent a long time on the social media sites, on average, had a higher rate of perceived social isolation. Perceived social isolation is mentioned in this study, however, neither Palihapitiya or Asianet bring it up. Primack and Shensa also mention that just because there is a direct correlation between social media usage and perceived social isolation, it does not mean social media usage causes perceived social isolation (Primack et al., 2017). Some alternative explanations they mention are that “It may be that individuals who are already feeling socially isolated tend to subsequently use more social media; those with fewer “in-person” social outlets may turn to online networks as a substitute” (Primack et al., 2017). It explains that people who do feel isolated substitute real-life contact with social media, which then brings up a different issue in today’s society, where people have an excuse to not maintain contact with others and replace real life with the internet essentially stripping away their real-life social skills. “Another possibility is that those who use increased amounts of social media subsequently develop increased social isolation” (Primack et al., 2017). They explain exactly what is stated in the hypothesis, social media is a factor that contributes to perceived social isolation. This means people who do use social media more frequently with higher usage times are much more likely to feel socially isolated and this is heavily supported with the statistic that in every quartile with a higher frequency or usage, there is a higher percentage of individuals with perceived social isolation (Primack et al., 2017). Feedback loops are a key aspect of social media. It is why social media websites are extremely popular nowadays. They have learned to take advantage of the human psyche and its reward systems. Palihapitiya says that social media networks have created a “short-term dopamine-driven feedback loop” (Palihapitiya, 2017), that ultimately destroy society. He even goes so far as to say “…we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabrics of how society works” (Palihapitiya, 2017), meaning people as a whole have been so drawn in to this feedback loop that they have lost touch with reality and lost their social skills as a whole. Primack and Shensa’s study does not cover this topic at all, not even going as far as to discuss this as one of the reasons as to why someone would spend so much time on social media.

Palihapitiya continues, “This is not an American problem … it’s a global problem” (Palihapitiya, 2017), saying that this concerns not just people in the first world, but people all over the world. He also says “…if you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you. If you push back on it, we have a chance to control it and reign it in” (Palihapitiya, 2017), this metaphor he uses explains that as a society, more people need to start limiting their use on social media, ‘feeding the beast’ in this case would mean buying in to the pressure to use social media and getting stuck in the feedback loop, this would ultimately lead to the demise of many people as now the majority will be stuck on social media, unable to have meaningful relationships with other people, relying on short-term bursts of happiness to stay afloat.

Palihapitiya says these likes and upvotes are just “fake, a brittle popularity that’s short term and leaves you even more vacant and empty, than before you did it” (Palihapitiya, 2017) and perfectly describes the reality of how social media really works. Social media has a huge effect on your mental health and wellbeing. “Two of Facebook’s in-house social scientists acknowledged that passive consumption of content on the social network can harm users’ mood and mental health” (Asianet, 2017), Facebook themselves have said that social networks such as theirs can affect their users mental health. “recent findings blaming rising social alienation, anxiety and depression on social media are “compelling.”

Students assigned to passively read Facebook for 10 minutes reported worse moods than those directed to post themselves, or to communicate with friends” (Asianet, 2017), this findings in this study directly supports the findings in Primack and Shensa’s study, the fact that using social media usage correlates with social isolation and mood. However, this study assigned readers to passively scroll through Facebook, unlike Primack’s study in which people reported their normal usage which could be a mix of passive usage, communication, and posting. Primack’s study also used many more social media websites than just Facebook, whereas the study mentioned in Asianet only used Facebook. “Another study found that users who clicked more ‘likes’ and links on Facebook reported a reduced sense of their own mental health. Both phenomena, Ginsberg and Burke write, might be the consequence of users comparing their own lives to the idealized versions posted to social media by others” (Asianet, 2017), this study shows that users post only certain content on their feed, so when other individuals compare their lives to those highly curated versions on social media sites, they feel much worse about themselves, which alienates them from other people furthering their isolation. Social media has mostly proven itself to be a force of evil rather than good. The creators of social media would rather people waste their life away on their site, collecting their information, selling it and earning profit rather than be a way to communicate with loved ones.

The way they keep people in their system is through deliberate use of addictive feedback loops, that exploit vulnerabilities in the human psyche and keep users feeling empty, isolated and miserable in the long term. They entice people with the promise of free communication, the ability to show everyone the special moments in life and the promise that anyone can leave at any point, but the fact that they use these psychological tactics to keep users scrolling questions the ethics of these websites. Social media websites exploit human psychology for their own gain and leaves individuals feeling isolated through dopamine-driven feedback loops that promote short bursts of happiness that trick users into feeling happy (Palihapitiya, 2017), when in reality they ruin the mood and mental health.ReferencesAsianet. (2017, December 31). Social media is bad for your mental health.

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