Para-Social Relationships and the Age of Social Media

Para-Social Relationships and the Age of Social Media

By: Melissa Rothman

Social media is a powerful tool for any business nowadays and is a social hub for many in the newest generations. It can connect us with people from all over the world, peers, and celebrities alike. As a woman who grew up without social media, it is even hard for me to separate the online world with reality. 

Social media has become even more entwined with our daily life than usual, especially with the pandemic for most of 2020 and the start of this year. For those of us who struggled with cell phone attachment before, the isolation has increased this feeling. Social platforms are the way we see and speak to friends now. They are also spaces in which we can connect to celebrities. What happens, though, when you get a reply or a like from your favorite public figure? How does that effect your thoughts and actions?

Para-social relationships are one-sided relationships, where one person expends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence. Repeated exposure to a public figure, any interactions, or personal experiences with that person can start to cause development of feelings of intimacy and friendship within the fan or the viewer. 

Social media allows for 24/7 access to any given celebrity, public figure, or personality, which can increase the strength of the para-social “bond.” 

This phenomenon has been identified and talked about since 1956 and has not been previously deeply investigated in terms of the internet. However, the increased occurrences of 

Para-Social Interactions (PSI) have warranted a closer look into this experience. 

Some cases of para-social relationships can be positive, allowing for the person to get through rough times and want to better themselves or their situations. It can be dangerous and detrimental to emotional well-being. 

Becoming self-aware is essential to maintaining a healthy boundary and protecting your mental health. Asking yourself daily if you are getting anything positive out of an interaction is one thing you can do to ensure you are maintaining a healthy boundary. Also, be sure to spend time with people in the real world. Find time to visit a friend or family member and have real life conversations. Make sure your validation is coming from people who can also return your feelings of admiration or love.  

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