The Problem with Social Media and Relationships

A man and a woman having a conversation in a coffee shop

Does social media enhance your ability to lead others? Does it build relationship and trust? Does it really? Or does the constant pull to check posts and likes distract you from more meaningful interaction with others and from thinking about the day’s challenges?

Last week, in The Destructiveness of Social Media, I said, “Social media has become this generation’s drug of choice,” and explained how it is addictive and that it actually changes the human brain. I noted that former facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya has commented that social media has detrimental effects on social discourse and I pointed my readers to an excellent article from Tony Reinke that goes into more depth on these matters. Please take a moment to review my article as well as Reinke’s for the background on this discussion.

This morning, as I was eating breakfast, I saw this headline: “Ex-Google & Facebook Employees Plan To Battle Tech Addiction.” (For once I’m glad to be late hitting my publication deadline. This article is a great addition to this discussion!) They are forming an alliance of technologists called the Center for Humane Technology which will partner with Common Sense Media. The article said, “The goal of the campaign is to tell the intended audience about the harmful effects of social media and the internet as a whole on the overall well-being of a person.” It is interesting to note that, according to the article, Common Sense Media is backed by media giant Comcast as well as DIRECTV.

The discussion about the dangers of social media continues to build. And it should. Frankly, I’m very concerned about what the ill effects this phenomenon has had upon the next generation of leaders.

What’s dangerous about social media is that it is often a cheap substitute for healthy relationships. Healthy relationships build people and create stronger ties between them. Healthy relationships create networks of support, encouragement, and accountability. They equip people to deal with everyday challenges and life-changing events.

Social media doesn’t accomplish these things. All those hearts, likes, hits, and thumbs-ups create a fake sense of approval, love, and belongingness. What’s crazy is that this fakeness should eventually cause people to drop out, but social media’s addictiveness perpetuates the cycle of building emptiness and loss. This is why so many social scientists are warning us that social media promotes depression, isolation, and a sense of meaningless.

No one would argue against the point that effective leaders build strong relationships with people. I and many others argue that this ability should be supported and driven by a strong relationship with God. Social media does not effectively support this responsibility. It actually impedes a leader’s ability to do it.

Here’s a reality-checking question for you:
As a leader, how does social media enable you to fulfill the following wisdom given from the Lord to the Apostle Paul?

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:1-3; 25-32, ESV)

It doesn’t. Social media does not substantially enhance your ability to live this way. Let’s face it, social media is more likely to hinder relationships with people and does nothing to create a relationship with your Heavenly Father who loves you—He cares deeply about you and so intensely desires for you to know Him!

One thing we know we about addictive behaviors is that they must be replaced with a positive behavior. You don’t just turn them off. Here are some ideas.

  • At breakfast, instead of checking your social media read the Bible for 15 minutes.
  • If you’re a mass transit commuter, instead of checking your social media on the bus or train, write a letter (OK…an email) to someone you haven’t had a real conversation with in a while.
  • At lunch, instead of getting caught up on Facebook or Instagram invite a coworker to sit down with you and chat about life (not work).

You get the idea. Pick one of these ideas or create your own and do it for one week—just one week. At the end of the week, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Did I miss social media during that time?
  2. Is my relationship with others, perhaps with God, growing?

You need to break the cycle of addiction to social media. You need to model for other leaders how that this is possible. You need to grow closer to your Father and to people.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Christin Hume. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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