We should learn more about how people who are looking for jobs use the Internet. But don’t just take my word for it; reputable international social media researchers agree.
Feuls, Fieseler, Meckel, and Suphan (2016) examined a 2012 survey conducted of German job-seekers by Fieseler, Meckel, and Müller (2014), plus additional qualitative data from 28 individuals concerning their unemployment. From those interviews, Feuls et al. concluded that “expanded interaction on the Internet for the unemployed would likely be beneficial” (p. 944).
Feuls et al. understand that people who lose their job means losing more than a paycheck. Unemployed people lose their ability to participate in the workforce, and they often feel ostracized and abandoned in society. To regain a job as well as the societal acceptance that comes with it, individuals must pick themselves up and try again to present a reasonably positive face regardless.
During that transition, job-seekers fill their gaps of time on the Internet.
“Today, in the age of social media, we have different tools at hand that help us spend our time. In this context, social media may prove to be a double-edged sword for the unemployed,” noted Feuls et al. (p. 946).
Citing numerous previous studies, Feuls et al. observed that social media may worsen negative emotions and behaviors for the unemployed:
- The more time that the unemployed spend on the Internet with less time around people can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation, noted Feuls et al. by citing previous studies.
- Jobless stress leads to higher risk of messaging, seeking social information, and online gaming, behaviors which all contribute to Internet addiction, according to numerous studies cited by Feuls et al.
At the same time, the unemployed can take comfort in some degree of anonymity on the Internet.
- Online job hunters can conduct research on companies and potential job opportunities, view job postings and set alerts, and complete online job applications, as I know from my own experience.
- Citing other studies, Feuls et al. noted that Internet-connected job hunters can join online communities for support, sharing contacts, and enhance social affiliations through applications (such as LinkedIn, which the researchers implied but did not mention by name).
How the unemployed uses—or misuses—the Internet likely depends on each individual’s digital access, ability to use available devices, and education level, concluded Feuls et al. after analyzing 2,414 questionnaires and conducting interviews with 28 of those people.
“Not all individuals experienced the Internet in the same way during their unemployment. It is important to be sensitive to the lives of the unemployed, to listen to the challenges they face, and not to treat them as a homogeneous group” observed Feuls et al. (p. 958).
Of the interview samples, 21% represented non-users with no Internet experience (66% were 50 or older). Next, 28% had minimal Internet use and viewed access as a means to an end with somewhat lower self-confidence levels (55% were women). In all, 35% of passive users were the largest group who tended to structure their online time as they had at work. Finally, 21% were heavy users and mostly the youngest users.
“As our society becomes increasingly complex and fragmented into sub-societies, the
individual and his or her worldviews and interpretative patterns become more important. Therefore, future research should define and look for particular life stages [such as unemployment] as they might complete the picture,” concluded Feuls et al. (p. 960)
(This article reflects only the opinion of the author.)
Feuls, M., Fieseler, C., Meckel, M., & Suphan, A. (2016). Being unemployed in the age of social media. New Media & Society, 18(6), 944-965. doi:10.1177/1461444814552637
Fieseler, C., Meckel, M., & Müller, S. (2014). With a little help of my peers. The supportive role of online contacts for the unemployed. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 164-176. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.09.017