Professors say Facebook creates false perceptions

facebookWith just about anything there are pros and cons. Psychology Professor Jennifer Allen said the same applies to social media, but more specifically Facebook where, she said, the bad outweighs the good.

Allen said while research shows Facebook has been shown to help with communication, social connection, involvement within a community and charity, she said it is hindering the ability to carry on conversations in person.

“There’s two different types of communication: asynchronous communication, which, basically, there’s not an immediate feedback, and synchronous,” Allen said. “Synchronous is us having a conversation.

“I think [social media] can connect you with friends and family members that aren’t directly there.

“It can help with that kind of connection, but I do think it is definitely impairing younger students’ ability to carry on a conversation. They just don’t know how to do it.”

Political science Professor Markus Smith said a positive outcome of social media is the increase in students who are aware and more engaged in discussions on current topics and issues. However, he said, students often neglect to delve into the topics, and get the background and facts.

“They just don’t have time is what I hear,” he said. “Anything that is fast-paced and can give them a snapshot of what’s going on is enough for them.

“From a professor standpoint, it’s not enough because when they bring these issues up in class, I may pose certain questions and they can’t tell me the background, key information, or facts regarding said events.”

Both professors spoke about cyber bullying.

“I feel that social media basically provides a platform for certain individuals to attack or bully others,” Smith said.

Allen agrees.

“I think [cyber bullying], in my personal opinion, is one of the largest social detrimental impacts that social media has had,” she said.

“ … There’s no immediate repercussion for [cyber] bullying somebody. If I’m going to call you a name to your face there’s an immediate and instant reaction that I have to deal with. I post something online and it has no immediate effect on me,” Allen said.

“It’s a bigger issue than we put on and unfortunately, the focus becomes more on the victim not the bully.”

Allen said she thinks the rise in cyber bullying is related to a rise in depression.

“One of the new phenomenons that researchers [are seeing] … is a relationship between the amount of time spent on social media and incidents of depression,” she said.

Allen said Facebook provides a false sense of intimacy and takes attention away from personal relationships.

“ … We think we are getting to know people on this intimate level when, let’s be honest, you can’t intimately know 5,000 people. That’s just not realistic.

“You also have to be careful about [opening] up Pandora’s box to other relationships we shouldn’t be having,” she said. “My attention is now being drawn from this real-life person sitting next to me to people who are virtually all around the world.”

Social media also plays a large part in women’s perception of reality, Allen said.

On social networking sites, Allen said, people usually only present a sense of false reality.

“One of the things we do as human beings is we compare ourselves,” she said.

“It’s called social comparison… .What do people put on their page? They put all these wonderful and great things going on in their life and if I’m not in that place I’m looking at that and thinking ‘well my life isn’t that good’ and ‘I’m not that pretty’.”

Allen said younger generations need to consider what they’re gaining from social networking.

“I think one of the things they’re doing is basing their self-esteem on the number of likes they get or the number of comments they get and I think that’s a very slippery slope,” she said.

“You have to be careful with that. We’re focusing on everybody else’s approval instead of liking ourselves.”

Smith said taken at face value, social network sites such as Facebook can be helpful.

“Ultimately, I believe social media can be a great tool in informing and educating our young students, but at the end of the day, it’s up to those students to determine how they’re going to use that platform,” he said.

To contact Katie Axtell, email

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