How Social Media, FoMO, and Isolation Influence Our Perceptions of Others Who “Break the Rules”

Emily Scheinfeld, Heather L. Voorhees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Research has suggested that social media usage increases during times of social isolation. However, rather than making users feel more connected to others, social media may cause negative mental health and relational outcomes, including a fear of missing out (FoMO). Against the backdrop of the global coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic, this health communication study sought to understand the impact of physical and emotional isolation (i.e., prescribed social isolation) on people as we turned to social media more frequently. As the pandemic wore on, many remained online, watching people they knew “returning to normal,” potentially creating high levels of FoMO despite disagreeing with others’ decisions. This study examines whether social media use (frequency and purpose) influences individuals’ perception of the acceptability of others’ behavior, and whether those perceptions impact individuals’ own behavioral decisions. Participants (N = 459) from the United States were recruited from late 2021 to early 2022 to complete an anonymous online survey regarding the “acceptableness” of behavior shown in posts by friends and family. Results indicated that increased social media frequency was correlated with an increased sense of FoMO, which was significantly and positively associated with favorable perceptions of others’ behaviors, such as gathering indoors with others, even when public health officials discouraged it. However, FoMO was not significantly related to users’ personal intentions to follow public health recommendations. A post hoc analysis determined that fear of COVID-19 moderated the relationship between FoMO and the perception of others’ behavior, as well as the relationship between FoMO and behavioral intentions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • United States of America
  • computer-mediated communication
  • fear of missing out
  • health behaviors
  • health communication
  • social isolation
  • social media


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