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November 4, 2019
The Hill

Article by Claire Wolters for The Hill

More than 10 years ago, it was considered a bit taboo, or creepy, for people to have friends who they met on the internet first, says Mimi Ito, an anthropologist and the director of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, a center that focuses on digital media use between children and adults.

Over the past five years, these attitudes have shifted, Ito says. Online relationships are not only more normalized but can be a healthy part of a young person’s development.

“Friendships that young people develop through these online and interspace communities are really important,” Ito says. “These are relationships that offer, often, a kind of emotional and cultural support that [a teen] might not have at school, where the consequences of being nerdy, or being in a gender minority or sexual minority are really high within peer groups.”

More than 50 percent of teens have made friends online, according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center. Further, 81 percent of teens say social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, according to a 2018 report by Pew.

“Social media today is basically [a] kid’s main lifeline to social connection and peer relations,” Ito says. “Cutting off access to social media is also cutting off access to valuable friendships.”