Social Media – A Best Friend to so Many

Social Media – A Best Friend to so Many

As 30 July is International Day of Friendship, Caroline Wood at Certus TG, takes a look at how social media and increased connectivity have transformed friendships worldwide

Recently widely-reported scientific research has claimed that people with strong social networks have reduced mortality rates compared with those living in an offline world.

The research points to evidence that friendships have been historically associated with human longevity – wellbeing, especially in midlife, depends on having a wide circle of friends and a lack of friends is associated with significantly lower levels of psychological wellbeing.

It follows therefore that online social integration is linked to lower risk of critical health problems. In a nutshell, people with Facebook friends live longer.

That’s good news for most of us, then, as the Office for National Statistics’ last internet access study found that social networking is an increasing part of many adults’ everyday lives, rising to 63 per cent in 2016 – an increase from 61 per cent in 2015 and just 45 per cent in 2011.

Social networking is widespread in all age groups, up to and including those aged 55 to 64, where 51 per cent of adults reported use. Of those aged 65 and over, 23 per cent used social networks, an increase of eight percentage points from 2015.

There are those who rail against the idea of virtual relationships and say people should make more of an effort to physically speak to and see their friends. But in this extremely busy world we occupy today, it can be difficult to find time to even pick up the phone, so the internet can broaden our social circle.

BT figures show that half of Brits say they prefer to stay in touch with friends digitally rather than face-to-face. The stats show that a massive 79 per cent of people admit to having friends they wouldn’t stay in contact with at all if it weren’t for social media, with a further 72 per cent believing social media has strengthened their friendships.

For older and less physically able people whose health keeps them homebound and feeling lonely, Facebook and Twitter can seem like best friends. Twitter has shown a 79 per cent increase in the 55-to-64 age bracket since 2012. For older people, it’s not only a way to engage with the world, it may be the only way.

Meanwhile, reports of the death of Facebook’s use by young people have been greatly exaggerated. Although it was popularly believed that many teenagers thought Facebook was uncool, as their parents and older people began to use it more, the most recent figures put the proportion of over 18s in the UK who use Facebook at 78 per cent. A further two-thirds of teens surveyed made new friends on social media.

For many people, the thought of family members emigrating – or even just moving elsewhere in the UK – would be unbearable were it not for the comfort of being able to talk to them using Skype and FaceTime. How many parents have been able to sleep better at night because they just had a quick conversation with their student child in halls of residence?

Stories of reunion and reconnection abound, with 87 per cent of Facebook users reporting they are now connected with friends from the past such as school, college or previous jobs.

So, far from making people lazy in their relationships, social media actually strengthens and enhances our bonds with others. It allows us to catch up with their lives effortlessly, enables us to agree or disagree on current trends and events – whether politics or the soaps – and gives us the opportunity to reach out to others going through difficult times when we can’t actually be with them. Social media is a uniting force.