Does social media do more harm than good?

I am sure that most of you are aware, Social Media plays a massive part in today’s society with people worldwide living in a virtual world. Platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter engage millions of users and are continuously growing with popularity. However, as the growth is looming, are the effects of social media carrying positive or negative impacts on the mental health of its users?

According to We Are Social, in January 2020, Social Media users passed the 3.8 billion mark, increasing more than 9% (up by 321 million users) since this time last year. Every day, more people are joining the trend of using social media, whether they are using it for personal pleasure or using it to help promote the growth of their business. I am certain that most people will agree that there are plenty of positive aspects that come with Social Media which is why people continue to use it. But what is it that captures and encourages people to join each year? 

Whether you have friends living thousands of miles around the world or 5 minutes around the corner, Social Media makes connecting with others easier and faster. At the click of a button, you can connect with people worldwide. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak Social Media apps have become the only form of communication to stay in contact with friends. Lockdown has pushed people apart leaving many people feeling isolated and disconnected. 

Have you always dreamed about joining a choir? Or wanted to be part of a dance academy? Facebook is a great platform to use when wanting to try something new as many new opportunities are promoted here. Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide with over 2.6 billion monthly active users. Being a Facebook user allows people to join pages and groups based on interests and hobbies, allowing people to feel like they are part of a community. 

As Social Media accounts are growing with popularity, more people are taking advantage and using it to promote their businesses. Creating a social media account for a business has many benefits as helps to target a large amount of people at once and it is free. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are the main Social Media apps to use as you can post as often as you want and create a large following. 

Although Social Media can be great, this new virtual world we are living in has its downfall. A recent study by the Royal Society of Public Health on Social Media shows that Social Media is linked with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep. According to the NHS website, Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. They range from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things people enjoy. Whereas anxiety can have symptoms resulting in restlessness, a sense of dread and feeling constantly on edge. Social Media adds to this pressure of having to live a certain lifestyle.

The RSPH report includes a league table of Social Media platforms according to their impact on young people’s mental health. YouTube was ranked as the most positive, with Instagram and Snapchat coming out as the most detrimental to young people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

With Instagram having 600 million monthly active users and Snapchat having 229 million daily active users, it is clear that these are very popular apps, especially for people aging between 16-24 years old. Why are apps such as Instagram and Snapchat having such a negative impact on young people’s mental health?

Instagram is a platform that many people use to show the best version of themselves and only post the aspects of their life that they want people to see. This can lead to viewers having unrealistic expectations of how they should act, look and what they should be doing at certain points in their life. Social Media is a form of manipulation which ends in people comparing themselves to others. I posted a questionnaire on Instagram to see how my followers felt about Social Media. From 310 people completing the questionnaire, I found that 80% of users feel that Social Media influences them to act a certain way and to post certain things. I also found that 72% of users believe that Social Media has an overall negative impact on themselves. 

Getting caught up in Social Media is such an easy thing to do as the virtual world can be very addictive and for young people constantly looking at posts which have been edited can have an enormous impact on self-esteem. When confronted with posts from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, often people are left comparing themselves to the highly edited pictures and a luxury lifestyle. Body image is majorly influenced by Social Media creating an impossible goal for many people, it is influenced by social and cultural ideals of attractiveness. We apply these values when engaging in self-perception (Jackson, 2020) which can lead to body dissatisfaction and major mental health disorders.  

‘We Are Social’ have found that because people are becoming more aware about the connection of Social Media and mental health, they are taking a more measured approach to their digital consumption. People do not want to be cut off from the internet but instead are wanting a better relationship with it. Social Media platforms are becoming more aware of the impact their apps are having and are starting to make a change. For example, Instagram has removed its likes which reduces large amounts of pressure from some people who are constantly competing to make their accounts more popular. 

As mentioned before Social Media is a great way to connect with people but often it can have a reversed effect. Have you ever been eating out a restaurant or been in a bar and looked around to see everyone stood with their heads glued to their phone? YES! Social Media can distance people from real life connections. It is very easy to get caught up in constantly refreshing your news feed and seeing the latest posts but due to this people are missing out on what is going on around them. Phones are constantly attached to the hands of their owners which makes them a major distraction. Constantly checking social media distracts people from doing tasks that need completing which can increase anxiety. 

Social Media will continue to spark debates as to whether it has a positive or negative impact as it is very controversial topic. People are becoming more aware of the negative impacts that come with Social Media and as a result, platforms and authorities are creating new rules and laws to help reduce some of the damage that has already been done.

By Sofia Crabtree

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