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When Texts Suddenly Stop: Why People Ghost On Social Media

Written by Royette T. Dubar, Wesleyan University

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Check your phone. Are there any unanswered texts, snaps or direct messages that you’re ignoring? Should you reply? Or should you ghost the person who sent them?

Ghosting happens when someone cuts off all online communication with someone else, and without an explanation. Instead, like a ghost, they just vanish. The phenomenon is common on social media and dating sites, but with the isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic – forcing more people together online – it happens now more than ever.

I am a professor of psychology who studies the role of technology use in interpersonal relationships and well-being. Given the negative psychological consequences of thwarted relationships – especially during the emerging adulthood years, ages 18 to 29 – I wanted to understand what leads college students to ghost others, and if ghosting has any impact on mental health.

To address these questions, my research team recruited 76 college students through social media and on-campus flyers. The sample is 70% female. Study participants signed up for one of 20 focus groups, ranging in size from two to five students. Group sessions lasted an average of 48 minutes each. Participants provided responses to questions askingthem to reflect on their ghosting experiences. Here’s what we found.

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