Worldwide, nearly 3 billion people use social media for a variety of reasons: entertainment, to connect with friends and family, to promote their businesses, and to express themselves creatively. But social media isn’t just a tool for enjoyment or promotion. It’s quickly becoming a catalyst for mental illness, anxiety, and even depression.
An Augmented Version of Reality
Several recent studies have attempted to quantify the ways social media is impacting users. Much of the research, including a notable study by the Royal Society for Public Health, has revealed some disturbing results.
The above chart represents the positive and negative effects of social media on British youth aged 14-24. While those surveyed shared that their accounts helped them build community, seek health advice, and develop their self-identity, the negatives seemed to far outweigh the benefits, with all four major platforms significantly impacting anxiety and depression.
These negative effects stem from the unique environment that social media creates. Wait But Why’s Tim Urban sums it up perfectly:
“Social media creates a world where A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation.”
In short, social media presents an augmented version of reality. But it’s a version of reality that nearly 3 billion people worldwide accept every day. And that reality is having a damaging impact on our lives.
How social media affects us
It’s clear that the effects of social media are numerous and wide-ranging. While no one could have predicted these mental health outcomes, these platforms were designed to keep us coming back often.
In late 2017, Facebook co-founder Sean Parker accused his former company of exploiting human vulnerability to make social media addictive. He referred to a “social-validation feedback loop.” Basically, every time we receive a like or comment, a bit of dopamine is released. Then, we keep posting again and again to experience that same high. This leads to a host of issues:
In youth aged 14-24, the effects of social media are especially acute:
Instagram was noted as the most detrimental platform for this age group, specifically for the feelings of inadequacy, FOMO, and body image concerns. Though social media plays an important role in our daily lives, it’s clear that we need to reduce its impact.
How to reduce social media’s impact
Social media use is very individualized, and thus, you’ll need to explore the right approach to reduce its impact in your life. Curbing its effects may not mean quitting cold turkey, but it may mean adjusting your usage to promote a healthier life and sense of well-being. Here are a few places to start:
We can’t deny the important role social media plays in several industries and in our lives. But if its influence goes unchecked, it can damage our self-esteem and lead to serious mental health issues. It’s important to start controlling social media use to protect our well-being and productivity.