Social networks | imaginary friendships

Thanks to social media, you can feel like you know everything about a public figure. Until sometimes, almost … to count as a friend. These so-called parasocial relationships are completely normal, explains psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie. However, the phenomenon raises several questions.

But what is a parasocial relationship? Marie-Anne Sergerie describes: “This is when a person has the impression or imagines that they are in a relationship with a well-known person. But there is a kind of one-sided relationship where there is no reciprocity. »

Digital and social media consultant Nellie Brier recalls that stardom has always existed. And digital brings a greater sense of intimacy. “Our phone is always with us and we consume content alone,” he explains. In addition, as a format mode stories it allows you to document and stage your life. »

Social networks are platforms where the dissemination of personal information is a little less filtered. This can create an impression of intimacy and access to privileged content.

Marie-Anne Sergerie, psychologist

That’s why it’s normal to want to know all about our favorite star’s latest breakup, worry about the pet of a celebrity we follow religiously, or know exactly what a few celebs are up to this holiday season.

As the number of public figures—whether celebrities or influencers—on social media has increased, so have parasocial relationships. “The relationship between a subscriber and an influencer comes from a person who will provide a lot of content,” says Emmanuelle Parent, PhD student and lecturer at the University of Montreal and co-founder of the Center for Online Emotional Intelligence. (Sky).

Psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie, author of the book, says these relationships are “not necessarily unhealthy.” Cyber ​​addiction: When technology use becomes problematic. “Basically, people are social beings. So we need to connect with others, and to do that we naturally tend to associate and form relationships. Now he is more behind the screen and on social networks. »

Sonia Benezra has always admired the direct connection that social networks offer. “There’s a gift and an intimacy that’s encouraged,” says the host, who has 33,000 followers on Facebook. Some consider him a friend, even a confidant, and send him very personal messages. “I appreciate people taking the time to write to me,” she says.

She avoids responding to a few messages that make her more uncomfortable, like people asking her out for coffee, but overall she appreciates the tenfold increase in intimacy that comes from social media.

The host even makes it a point to respond to messages that affect him. “ I take the time to write something thoughtful, not instant. Sonia Benezra said she was generous with her answers and wanted to be authentic with him at all costs. fans. “I’m not lying when I say that everything is beautiful or that everything is perfect,” he admits, especially since he doesn’t want to take for granted this virtual community that follows him and encourages him.


Florence Lyonnais has been following celebrities on social media for a long time. The young woman even describes herself as a “fan girl” of several actresses – even going to salons to meet them.

“Of course, I know them outside of their roles,” he said. What I find interesting is seeing their daily lives, learning a little more about what they do outside of gaming and what they have to say about various topical issues. »

Psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie admits that meeting public figures and being inspired by them can be beneficial.


Psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie

It can allow us to understand each other better, to make moves so that we can enter into our lives, so having influence that remains within a healthy framework in this respect is not a problem in itself.

Marie-Anne Sergerie, psychologist

Emmanuelle Parent also benefits. “They can be important role models for young people, for their values ​​and even their aesthetics,” he believes.

He points out that social networks also allow you to meet people who are not necessarily available in traditional media and join communities that share the same interests.

However, digital communications and social media consultant Nellie Briere cautions against the “false sense of intimacy and even attachment” that can develop with an identity through social media.


Digital communications and social media consultant Nellie Briere

Because we feel we know the person well, this affects us greatly and gives them the strength to maintain the illusion of reciprocity at times.

Nellie Brière, digital communications and social media consultant

Especially the effect that can affect the portfolio. Florence Lyonnais admits that she sometimes gets caught up in the game when a star she likes releases promotional content. “It makes me interested in the product and sometimes buy it,” he says. It makes me feel closer to stardom. »

Several personalities finance their activities on social networks through advertising. Experts consulted agree that most respect the rules governing this type of content. However, subscribers can be vulnerable, especially those with whom they have established parasocial relationships. “What can be tricky about social networks and what benefits them is that you can make hyper-personalized recommendations,” explains Emmanuelle Parent. It’s harder to be critical because you tell yourself that if the person didn’t like it, they wouldn’t recommend it. »

When should you worry?

Psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie says: “What is problematic is that it creates a kind of occupation in life. If the relationship becomes obsessive and takes up all the space in a person’s life, and even to the detriment of certain relationships that may exist in real life. »

Marie-Anne Sergerie gives an example of a person who submerges a well-known personality with her messages and comments. “It can turn into harassment,” he said. Emmanuelle Parent points out that platforms can encourage us to spend a lot of time on a certain topic, like a star, which can become a fixation..

Nellie Brière also believes in identifying monomania, which is not necessarily caused by digital technology, but can be enhanced by social networks. “A person with a passion for weight loss, for example, can follow influencers with this content. It can be unhealthy and even dangerous,” he says.


Emmanuelle Parent, PhD student and lecturer at the University of Montreal, co-founder of the Center for Emotional Intelligence Online (Le CIEL)

Good practices

Nellie Brière, who believes that digital literacy should be given more importance, explains, “It is as if our critical understanding of the connections that arise from digital technology has not yet been realized, especially in the education sector.”

As young people are increasingly exposed to social media influencers, Nellie Briere says it’s even more important to “integrate this knowledge.” “It’s as if we were in denial as a society,” he laments.

Can multiple personalities be tracked effortlessly? “It’s all about doing that, he says, and it’s all about developing critical thinking. »

Emmanuelle Parent, co-founder of CIEL, also believes in moving beyond negative bias. “Because it’s so fast and instant, the quality of the content can be low, but we have to get away from these stereotypes because there are people who are doing good work. »

“Awareness of any facet of technology is important,” says psychologist Marie-Anne Sergerie. Parents should accompany a child from the first moments he gets acquainted with technology. »

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