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Seven Myths About Social Media and Relationships

Social media myths reflect a fear of technology, not experience.

Humans are social animals. The need to connect is a primal drive. Even our most basic needs, such as food and safety, have always been accomplished by humans as a group. We weren’t equipped to conquer the world with fangs and claws, so we got a prefrontal cortex that gave us cooperation and attachment.

There are a lot of myths about social media that reflect two fundamental things. The first is the fear associated with new technologies. The second is the implicit assumption that the old way of doing things is the "right" way and the news ways are morally superior. It's easy to see how both of those points of view happen. It's also pretty clear that these types of cognitive bias don't form a very good basis for evaluating the new tools.

Myth 1: Social media are destroying our social skills and replacing offline relationships

  • Research shows that social media have enhanced relationships.
  • Obvious benefactors are shut-ins and socially-avoidant.
  • Social media provide connective ‘glue’ for the times between F2F.
  • Most social media are used to strengthen existing offline relationships.
  • Social media can connect us to people and opportunities that would not have been possible without it.

Myth 2: You have to be on all social networks—they’re basically all the same

  • You should only be on social networks that work for what you’re trying to get done.
  • All communication strategies (personal or business) need to be based on goals.
  • Do you want to see pictures of your grandchildren? Be on Facebook.
  • Do you want to keep abreast of late breaking news? Watch Twitter.

Myth 3: You don’t have to be on social media at all to have a full and happy life.

  • What will give you a full and happy life? What are you goals? You may not like the idea of social media, but your kids or grandkids may. You can’t expect others to ‘unadopt’ social media because you don’t like it. Decide what’s important and then figure out the best way to get it done. My 86-year-old father is on Facebook because that’s how he keeps track of the grandkids. I may prefer to communicate with people by email, but if I want to wish my nieces and nephews a happy birthday, I do it by text.
  • If you’re a professional, people expect a web presence. It is a method of validation. No presence is what looks sketchy now. People want to get to know you before they work with you.

Myth 4 : People don’t tell the truth on social media

  • Do some people lie about themselves online? Yes, but it’s the minority. Research suggests that people are generally fairly truthful and that fakes get busted and ostracized. Nobody likes to be tricked. It's easy to triangulate information and perform a bit of due diligence if you're suspicious.
  • Remember that you present yourselves differently depending upon where you are and what you're up to offline, too. You don’t dress or act the same at a business meeting compared to a tailgate party for your favorite NFL team. That's not fake. That's context-appropriate behavior.

Myth 5: You can’t control your social media presence

  • True, you can’t completely control your social media presence, BUT and this is a very big BUT, it makes a significant difference if you learn how the tools you use work. There are things that you can and should do. We learned how to drive a car before getting on the freeway. Social media are powerful tools, so you should learn to use it before you crash and burn.
  • Learn privacy settings for each platform.
  • Update your profile carefully – don’t give out personal information that can be accumulated across all sites — your address, your city, your dog’s name, your vacation plans.
  • Think before you speak. The Internet is permanent and searchable. Remember the grandma rules--one FOR grandma and one FROM her. The first is don't publish something you wouldn't want your grandma to see. The second is to heed her advice, never talk about someone in an elevator—you never know who’s listening. The whole world is the elevator now.

Myth 6: Online relationships aren’t “real”

  • Online relationships can take longer to achieve a level of intimacy, but they have other advantages. People feel safer and therefore disclose more information about their “true” selves. Relationships that develop online are often based more on substance and less on looks.
  • While physical cues are very important to understanding meaning, there are ways that people deliver that information, such as emoticons or including LOL, that indicate humor, sarcasm, anger, etc.
  • Online connections can provide very meaningful links when nothing else is available. A much-loved colleague passed away recently and his memorial service was live-streamed. That provided those of us who lived too far away to attend the opportunity to share that deep emotion. More importantly, it also let us express it to one another via chat windows and begin to process our grief. What started as profound sadness for our loss became an opportunity to reaffirm the connections within the group as a living tribute to our friend.

Myth 7 : Social media don’t do any good

  • Social media have enabled people to access emergency resources and donate money in crises. The Red Cross raised $5 million from text messages in the first 24 hours after the earthquake in Haiti.
  • Social media have given us a peak into the worlds of others increasing empathy.
  • Social media have inspired others to take action by believing that they are not alone and that others feel the same way, such as the shared social unrest that fueled a sense of collective agency that resulted in the Arab Spring.
  • Social media have allowed (forced?) companies to be more responsive and honest with their customers.
  • Social media expose a lot of bad behavior that it would take a lot longer to find out about, both locally and globally.