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Social media hasn't replaced human contact, study says

As social media has risen in prominence, so have concerns that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are replacing real human interaction.

A new study by University of Kansas researchers is helping to dispel some of those fears.

The study found that there’s no evidence social media is crowding out or replacing face-to-face interaction with close friends or family members, co-author Dr. Jeffrey Hall said in a press release.

“That’s not to say overuse of social media is good, but it’s not bad in the way people think it is,” he said.

The researchers based their conclusions on a pair of studies looking at “social displacement” – the hypothesis that overuse of websites like Facebook replaces real human contact in a negative way.

The first study analyzed data sets from the 2009 and 2011 Longitudinal Studies of American Youth. The goal was to determine if young people in the U.S. were seeing a decrease in interpersonal human contact, and if they were, whether that correlated with an increase of social media use.

That study found no such correlation.

“What was interesting was that, during a time of really rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, you didn’t see sudden declines in people’s direct social contact,” Hall said. “If the social-displacement theory is correct, people should get out less and make fewer of those phone calls, and that just wasn’t the case.”

The researchers’ second study was conducted in 2015. They recruited 116 young people, and texted them regularly over five days to ask about their social media use.

Once again, they found no decrease in social interaction that could be correlated to increasing use of sites like Facebook or Twitter.

“What we found was that people’s use of social media had no relationship to who they were talking to later that day and what medium they were using to talk to people later that day,” Hall said. “Social media users were not experiencing social displacement.”

The researchers suspect that people who frequently use social media may use it to replace activities like reading the newspaper or watching television, he said – but determining whether that’s the case would require further research.

The study has been published in the journal Information, Communication & Society.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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