Impact of Social Media on Relationships


It is now the age of intensive mobile media. Mobile media totally change people’s lives. With the development of internet and communication technologies, a large amount of mobile media come into people’s daily lives, by means of different mobile devices like mobile phones, laptops, tablet computers. Mobile media, as a very new and attractive way of social contact, communication, and even entertainment, is all-pervasive in today’s society. People have to fit in, or even change to suit because mobile media is now changing their interpersonal relationship, both in time and space. However, more private relationship online may cause some negative consequences for people. Although people are always trying to get involved in this wide world by taking advantages of new mobile media, sometimes, this shift facilitates new ways of people being disconnecting with other oppositely.

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This paper will give some detailed pieces of evidence from several aspects: the fear of missing out cause loneliness; people overestimate the level of intimacy through mobile media; people become emotional by mobile media and the disconnection between people and elderly people in family. Through some discussions and outcomes from other people’s research and my case study of Facebook and Weibo and Twitter, I developed my argument of the mobile media can change people’s relationship negatively.

What is Facebook, Weibo and Twitter?

These can be very similar mobile media. They provide a platform for people who have the same interests to make friends. People feel free to post anything they want to say in the mobile media, and to find some net friends without meeting with each other. People can enjoy private communication with certain object.

How does mobile media change people’s lives and relationship negatively?

  1. The fear of missing out can result in loneliness

Social networking sites can be considered as an important channel to find and maintain social connections (Shapiro & Margolin, 2013), especially for adolescents.

Facebook can be one of the most well-known and widely used mobile media in modern society. A report by Lenhart in 2015 shows the research that Facebook is so popular among adolescents. The result shows that more than 71% of 13-17 years old teenagers use it. (Lenhart, 2015). As far as I am concerned, Facebook was famous when I went to my undergraduate school. Most of my classmates in the United States had their own Facebook account. They spent time posting beautiful photos, reading articles, watching interesting videos, commenting on their friends. I found they depended so much on this mobile media. The feeling of intense attachment and dependence even become “addiction” as they unlocked their cell phones nearly every minute to check if there was any notification or attractive news.

The fear of missing out (FoMO) is a theory come up by Prizybylski, Murayama, DeHaan and Gladwell in 2013, which plays an important role in people’s connection with mobile media. FoMO means “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” (Przybylski et al., 2013). Use this definition as background information and theoretical support, research taken by Beyens, Frison and Eggermont shows how “FoMO has a relationship with adolescents’ social needs and Facebook use” (2016). After several case studies, the result tells us that “FoMO is positively related with adolescents’ perceived stress related to the use of Facebook” (Beyens et al., 2016).

It is not hard to understand this conclusion. The more time adolescents put in mobile media, the more attractive those mobile media will become. The addiction will increase as people cannot stop keeping refreshing the home page of their Facebook. They will be very afraid of missing any message which might be important or unimportant for them. The anxiety will evolve into a feeling of loneliness at last.

Another research by Tessa Jones revealed that “Students reported feeling disconnected (77.4%), naked (25.8%) and stressed (25.8%) when they didn’t carry their cell phones.” (2014). This situation does not only happen among adolescents. A global mobile consumer survey by Deloitte shows that “Americans are viewing their smartphones more often than ever before, on average 52 times per day.” (Global Mobile Consumer Survey, 2018)

From my own case study, the application of “Screen Time” helped me a lot. I noticed that the average screen time of my friends is around 5-6 hours per day, and the most used mobile APP are social mobile media like Wechat, Weibo and Twitter. Most of the interviewees in my survey said that although there might be nothing, no notification, no emergency, no news, they still want to check, and be nervous about missing some information. It can cause disconnection because people always look at their cellphones while it is time for communication in the real world. People have missed too many chances for those necessary connections.

  1. People will feel easy to overestimate the level of intimacy of our online relationship

Mobile media change people’s relationship from the public to private. For example, a few years ago, mobile media was just something for us to finish simple works like emailing, texting, or just surfing the Internet, search and read others’ ideas by means of blogs. Those associations can be public because most times they are one-to-many relationships. Nevertheless, nowadays, people have more chance to enjoy one-to-one communication through the Internet than they used to be. It is easier for a person using mobile devices to find some like-minded people online and form a certain circle of friends. The similar hobbies and interests will create a large number of common topics among the little circle. As a matter of course, we will have a feeling that the relationship between other people in this group become intimate with us.

For my own experience as an example, I used to enjoy making friends by mobile media because I can always find people who have the same idol with me, though we might live in totally different places in this world. Weibo and Twitter were the APPs which helped me a lot to realize this. We share videos and photos of our idol every day, via “Personal Message” part in those APPs. By searching the same keyword, I can find those people and circle I need. Then we can start private communication, and develop our relationship. This kind of way to make friends was fun because even if we had never met each other before, we still had endless topics to start communication. Our topics even go beyond those borders of our common interests to something about our real lives gradually, which can make me feel joyful because I can talk about my life without any concerns. This relationship will seduce us because the connection with friends online can be more intense, passionate, enthusiastic, friendly and free in our own conceit.

However, this feeling of intimacy can become a beautiful illusion. The feeling of this comfortable and pleasant friendship can be real and true, but with short limited “shelf life”. In other words, the relationship supported by mobile media is delicate. The connection will easily end by diverse factors, for example, disagreement about one or some things, waning interests about the common hobbies, reduction of time for communication… If I want to stop this relationship unilaterally, it is possible that I never meet that person in the future. People do not know each other in real life, the problems cannot be solved face to face. Little by little, the relationship established by mobile media will go extinct.

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It is true that people produce the illusion and confuse the digital intimacy with real intimacy. Some people do not find the balance between friends online and friends in daily lives; we pursue the intimacy with our online friends, but at the same time, we lose the chance to make new friends or even alienate existing friends in our daily lives. In a word, mobile media make people ignore their real lives, and cause a disconnection between people and their real-life friends.

  1. People are easy to be influenced and be emotional by those mobile media.

When people overestimate the level of intimacy via mobile media, they will become very susceptible to their relationships in mobile media. Here I still want to use Weibo or Twitter as examples. Twitter has a large number of users from people all around the world, and these users can post anything they want online, no matter what it is: positive or negative, good or bad, right or wrong. Sometimes, strong and powerful words can be so infectious to readers. We will be affected by emotional contagion. It is common to see mobile media users post their comments towards some current news or others’ tweets with a subjective and emotional word like “disgusting” “sad” “awful” “cool” and “F-words”. The mobile media can transmit those emotions. If the Twitter user in our mobile network shows anger, happiness, hostility, we will be very likely to receive those emotions and influence our moods. Those uncontrollable emotions can lead to people’s disconnection.

At the same time, compared with face-to-face interactions, people will not pay too much attention to their own words while using mobile media. Using mobile media can be a very casual and free process. As a result, people do not notice their impolite and unmindful behaviors online. I can always find someone has a quarrel with other users on Weibo and Twitter, fighting for a certain topic with harsh language.

I used to rely so much on the intimate relationship through mobile media. I spent day and night communicating with those “unacquainted” friends online. I started a connection with one of my net friends in Weibo several years ago because both of us were fans of a RPG game named The Legends of Swords. We always shared our ideas about the plot and talked about the strategies of the game. During that time, I even thought she became my best friend, however, things changed a lot. I noticed that she preferred to post some extreme comments online, and she always had some meaningless arguments with other people in Weibo. It was inevitable for me to read her fight by Weibo because she could appear on my Home page, and her sharp struggle would always influence my mood. Sometimes I even could not control myself reading her nasty words. I tried to communicate with her and want her to be more peaceful, but I failed. As a result, I became afraid of seeing her online. At last, I felt so upset to unfollow her, a worthy friend who changed beyond recognition.

The quarrel online could harm people’s image and damage how other people think about them, and even block people’s normal interpersonal relationship through mobile media. Some friends may leave us because our language and means of expression have intensified contradictions. In general, mobile media are sometimes bad for people’s social contact and connection with their friends online.

  1. Disconnection with elderly people

Image a situation like this: It is a Christmas dinner or other festive family dinner. All family members get together and are ready for a big dinner. However, the youngers hold mobile phones in their hands and keep chatting with someone in their mobile media. The family dinner is supposed to be an opportunity for face-to-face and heart-to-heart talk, especially a precious time to talk with the aged in the whole family.

It is hard for elderly people to know how to use social mobile media. Dr. Fernández-Ardèvol did research about this in 2011. She found that “the acceptance rates among the elderly population is low.” (Fernández-Ardèvol, 2011). The conclusion of this research is “among senior populations, mobile telephony is an extra layer in the whole set of communication tools but it is not perceived as being central to their everyday life.” (Fernández-Ardèvol, 2011) As a result, it can be very difficult for those old people to get involved in modern science and technology; to be skilled in mobile media.

When we spend more time looking at our mobile phones, we lose more time staying with our family and elders.


Critically thinking, mobile media can be a new way of communication in the distance. The original aim of mobile media is promoting and facilitating the connection between people. However, the irrational and reasonless usage of mobile media leads to a large number of adverse consequences. Mobile media cause disconnection not only between friends online, but also relationships in real life; cause loneliness not only physical, but also psychological. The overuse and blindly use of mobile media will have a negative influence on people’s interpersonal relationship: between friends, between families and between strangers.

In conclusion, people should not ignore more and more serious disconnection caused by mobile media. People should stop relying too much on mobile social networks and living in an illusion.


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  • Shapiro, L. A., & Margolin, G. (2014). Growing up wired: Social networking sites and adolescent psychosocial development. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review17(1), 1–18. //



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