I would encourage you to take a look at the work that has been done by the Inspire Foundation http://www.inspire.org.au - and now the Young & Well Co-operative Research Centre http://www.yawcrc.org.au, which is a collaboration of young people, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers from over 70 non-profit organisations.
What has been consistently shown, is that young people use social networking to augment and not replace social networks. There has been considerable research conducted within vulnerable populations, indicating that social media can increase social confidence, provide important emotional and psychological support, and expand knowledge by exposing people to varying opinions and perspectives.
We also know that social media is being increasingly used by schools, with the development of online and virtual class-room communities - as a way of supporting learning and social awareness.
In terms of whether social media contributes to “lonliness”, it is important to consider this in a broader context. It is often more likely that there are a number of other factors contributing to these feelings - for example depression, social anxiety. As such, the role of social media is often more as a “safety seeking” behaviour or way of avoiding social situations (to manange anxiety for example).
In other words - it is not necessarily the case that social media causes lonliness…..but rather, that depression/anxiety perpetuates the overuse of social networking in a negative way.
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