Social media friendships: Is it time to reconsider?

Many have failed to build actual relationships so they choose to base their decisions on social media feedback. Net photo

Over the past few years, the social media phenomenon has rapidly grown and penetrated almost every family and home across the globe. With its growth, more and more people are struggling to maintain actual physical relationships and instead are focusing on pokes, likes and compliments from social media ‘friends’. This trend means that even when there is critical need to seek counsel or face-to-face engagement, many are finding it easier to put a post online and get all sorts of comments from their followers. Due to lack of content moderation on most social media platforms, therein lies the problem.

For instance, a young man in Kenya recently took his life after posting a ‘suicide note’ on his Facebook page. The professional actor had for a while posted positive messages and when he committed suicide, many were left wondering why he did not practice what he had all along preached. After his body was found, a scroll through comments to his Facebook post revealed mixed reactions. It is said that after posting the note, the young man stayed online for five hours, probably to read what people had to say. Assuming he did, and knowing social media, most people took his ‘suicide note’ lightly.  As soon as his suicide post went up, some of his ‘friends’ gave him ideas on how to do it; others told him not to joke with death; a few requested him to find a religious leader to talk to, while some offered him encouragement saying whatever he was dealing with would pass. This young man’s case, though extreme, represents many people in our current society who due to social media (among other factors) have failed to build actual relationships that can see them through difficult times, so they choose to base their decisions on social media feedback and comments.

Since social media is not going anywhere soon, and may even get more complex, we all need to make a conscious decision to pay attention to those around us, as some of them might be in genuine need of help. We need to look out for signs such as loss of weight (unless the person is intentionally trying to lose it or can’t help it due to illness or related issues); withdrawal or preference to spend time alone, or obvious signs such as crying for no reason. One of the ways to assist such people is to at least find out what is bothering them and encourage them to talk. Sharing personal experiences or examples from others could also help the person realise that they are not the only ones going through that situation and they should be encouraged. Depression is real and many suffer from it without knowing. There are people that can handle whatever situation life throws at them, but there are others that need support and the social media brigade they turn to may lead them further down the hill.

While we cannot underestimate the existence or value of virtual friendships, it is important for us to make time for the basics. Let us find time to call each other, visit someone, and to show real care through touching and feeling instead of emojis, GIFs, memes…the list is endless! In saying so, the song ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ by Joose comes to my mind and it reminds me of the frailty of life and the need to spend quality time with those that matter to us because we are not assured of tomorrow.

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@JackieLumbasi

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