DominicBarredaEnglish102 – OnlineDecember14, 2017FinalPaperSocialMedia’s Effect on Mental Health Astechnology grows, so does society’s need to be connected; the toolswe use to stay connected to one another, however, are becoming thecenter of an important dialogue. According to statistics released bythe International Communication Union, as of today, over 3.2 billionpeople have access to the internet (Parkes). With numbers that closein on half the world’s population it’s fair to assume thatanything used by this amount of people is going to have a great dealof influence over its user and possibly the world. One of the mostwidely utilized tools of the internet today is its social mediaplatforms. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram giveeveryoneunparalleled access to each other’s lives.
Every minute of ourlives can be broadcasted to others in the exact way we wish for it tobe, good or bad. Onthe far ends of each spectrum, social media is demonized and labeledas Anti-social media, while others see it as near necessity intoday’s modern world. Some people see this as a great way to sharewith others and connect with people around the worlds. As TrishaBaruah states in her study, “This online sharing of informationalso promotes the increase in the communication skills among thepeople especially among the learners/students of educationalinstitutions” (1). Users flock to these sites for just aboutanything from catching up with old friends to getting their dailynews.
While on the surface it can be a great option for getting onesdaily dose of current events or keeping up with old friends, there isanother side to these sites that can often be overlooked by itsusers. Somepeople believe that the environment created by Social media sites istoxic to self-esteem and mental health, which isn’t without basis.Recent studies have shown that Social media is a breeding ground formental disorders; concepts such as fear of missing out, commonlyreferred to as FOMO, play a large role in users creating negativeself-image and harmful social comparison (Barry 5).
When somethingthat billions of people are accessing daily has these kinds ofeffects it becomes a topic that everyone should be aware of.Something as widespread as Facebook, for example, can influencebillions of people in a matter of minutes. Typically any entity withthis kind of power would be heavily regulated, as this level ofinfluence is near dangerous. While the tool itself is neitherinherently good or bad, it is important that the risks be exploredamongst the plethora of tools it offers.
One question that might beasked considering this would be “If social media sites are so badfor you, why do people continue to use them.” The simple answer isthat people feel the ease of access and communication outweighs theimpact using social media sites is having on them or they don’tnotice them at all. So,which is it? Is social media a wasteland of poor self-esteem, or apowerful tool for sharing ideas with others.
The truth is that thereis no black and white answer for something of this nature and it isimportant that we see both ends of the debate. Information is key ina scenario like this; the more people are informed on the subject,the easier it will be for them to make a proper decision on whetherpartaking in social media is the right choice for them. Withthe traction social media is gaining as a platform for communication,it is important that we start to address the issues that come alongwith it. While it would be unreasonable and against the nature ofmany of these sites to moderate every aspect of their platforms,there should be directions taken to better prepare users for whateffects these sites can have on their mental wellbeing.
The onlyeffective way to counteract the negative impact social media withoutgetting rid of it in its entirety, is to better educate the peoplethat use it. As of now there is not much to joining a social mediawebsite, typically it requires only an e-mail address and basicinformation about oneself. One thing that might be beneficial forthe end user would be forcing sites to provide a disclaimer at signup, warning about the potential harm overuse of their website mightentail, along with links on where they can get more details on thesubject. Itis well documented, that frequent use of social media can harm onesmental health. One of the most common trends in studies is theconcept of FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out, which is a phenomenon auser of social media becomes so scared of missing out on what theycould be missing out on, causing them to stay glued to their screens,as to not risk it (Barry, 2017). This type of behavior ends in avicious cycle that furthers the users need to stay online at alltimes, which counter productively causes them to miss out on the verythings they’re trying to keep up with.
While this seems easy tofix, it may not be as apparent to the person stuck in this loop whatis happening to them, and instead they will become disconnected fromreal life interactions and can even being feeling isolated ordepressed. Now if one were to know about this concept, and that theyare not the only ones being affected by this, it might be easier tobreak away from this behavior, or seek help from others that havebeen in a similar situation. The solution to this type of problemcould be as simple as adding a few links to the bottom of the page,and yet it continues to be left unchecked. Ofthe abundance of social media sites, there is seems to be a consensusas to which is the worst for mental health, Instagram. According to asurvey done by the Royal Society for Mental Health, Instagram wasrated positively for “self-expression and self-Identity”, yet wasassociated with “high levels of bullying, depression and anxiety”(MacMillan). With this awareness that a site like this impacts itsusers so negatively would lead one to believe that users would leavesuch a toxic site after figuring out something like this, and yet itboasts a userbase of approximately 800million as of September 2017(Balakrishnan).
Understanding why a user would stay after realizing asite is hurting their mental state is important; the most obvious andsupported answer seems to take us back to the fear of missing out.Users feel bound to a platform in fear that they will be missing outon what their friends are doing and being relegated from their friendgroups. Despite this, there are no warnings or direct ways to informthe users of ways to get help and in some cases even basic actionslike deleting an account can be walled behind an excessivelycomplicated procedure that is built to make the user stay.Unfortunately social media sites don’t have any form of regulationand would clearly not benefit from warning users of the potentialharm their services could cause. Websites need to start being moretransparent with their users and offer solutions to the problems theyare causing, but losing users means losing profit, which is the onlyimportant part to these companies. Althoughit has it’s downfalls, social media use clearly has it’s meritsconsidering the amount of people using their services. Based onnumbers alone, one could assume one of two things, either people feelthe benefits of social media outweigh the negative aspects, or aresimply unaware that they exist.
For those that are aware, oneimportant argument to consider from the people that use social mediasites is that it can be a great way to interact with people of allpersonality types and learn to adapt accordingly to interaction withthem, enhancing social skills quicker and more effectively. It couldeven open the door to meeting people across the world and help youexperience a culture or perspective you might otherwise have missedout on. One might see this attribute of these sites as worth the riskassociated with using them. This point is fair and does apply,however, the same effect could be achieved by interacting with peoplein the real world without many of the negative effects that areinvolved with social media use; to further this point, social queuessuch as facial expressions and body language are completely lost,which are vital pieces of social interaction.
The most importantchoice to make in this situation is whether or not this imitationform of social interaction is worth risking a healthy mental stateover. Amore common argument might be that it is an important tool forstaying connected to others in our modern, busy lives. It can serveas a direct link into the rest of the world. Social media providesits users with a way to stay up to date with each other every minuteof every day, making people closer and more involved in their friendslives. This is certainly one of the main interest points in usingmany of the sites, and one of the few positive things to come fromsocial media. It offers a dimension of connection that couldn’t bepresent without this kind of service. While it’s true that socialmedia can be helpful in keeping people connected, it’s important tolook at the content being used in this exchange. Manyusers will exclusively exclusively post positive things from theirlives, which presents a largely fictional version of the person thatit is representing.
This type of mimicked perfectionism waters downthe connections made by not allowing people access to their trueselves, since everything is run through a filter. This alsocontributes to negative self esteem and self image, since everyone isonly seeing the positive aspects of everyone lives, forcing you tocompare your highs and lows of your life to the highlights of others.This type of social comparison is a key factor to why use of socialmedia is so detrimental to one’s mental health.
To betterunderstand the impact this behavior has, it is important to know howand why people tend to compare themselves to others. According toAmerican psychologist Leon Festinger, “people have a basic need tomaintain a stable and accurate self-view. Therefore they seekinformative feedback about their characteristics and abilities”(Corcoran). In this particular case, social media is the mediumpeople are using what is called social upward comparison to get atheir information that they compare themselves to. Social upwardcomparison is when you compare yourself to those that you deem aboveyou, which can skew your self image and incorrectly reflect yoursituation, causing immense harm to one’s self view (Corcoran).
Itsunfair to use the perfect impressions that others try to maintain onsocial media as a basis for comparison, and yet it is done over andover by users everywhere. The worst part of this is that the personcomparing is likely posting in a similar fashion to compete withthose in their circle, which creates an endless loop of competitionand comparison that no one can truly live up to at the end of theday. Perhapssocial media could be fine if done in moderation. What harm could amoderate amount of social media use really do after all? Most thingsin regards to technology can be easily managed so long as they areused in moderation. While that might seem like a reasonable notion atfirst, its important to know if the assumption holds its ground.According to a study done for Harvard Business Review, even as littleas an hour led to negative self reports of well-being among thosesurveyed (Christakis). The survey consisted of over five thousandresponses and focused particularly on the site Facebook. Of coursecorrelation does not always mean causation, but this falls clearlyinto line with most iterations of research including a personal localsurvey.
There seems to be a near unanimous consensus that socialmedia is harmful across all forms of reputable data. When you can’teven use something for an hour without negative repercussion, thereis something fundamentally wrong in its design. Unfortunately, thereis no way to regulate what users are posting without losing thefreedom that is necessary for a site like this to run the way it’smeant to. The only solution would be for users to post honestrepresentations of themselves which is just as unlikely, since peoplelove to present their best version of themselves on these sites. Allthings considered, social media undermines real connection andpromotes behavior that is toxic to its user’s mental state. Otherthan speed and ease of access, nothing about social media is aninherently better form of interaction, reality is twisted andexpectations run unchecked. Every user knows that the online personaof their friends isn’t a true reflection, yet they can’t seem tohelp comparing themselves to this projection of a person.
One keyfactor that each user needs to be aware of when they sign up is thatthey are the product; The company in charge of your experiencedoesn’t care about them as long as they continue to come back tothe page each day. The best case scenario for any of these socialmedia companies is to get you completely addicted. Ideally, everyonewill find a way to interact with others that doesn’t involveneeding to get likes or the approval of all their “friends” andbe in charge of their own experience. People flock to social medialooking for approval and seeking attention to better their self-imageand often are met with the exact opposite experience. An entirerestructure of how companies approach social media would have to takeplace in order to fix the issues currently plaguing them, whichwouldn’t be easy, but seems to be nearing necessity. Whendelving into the mechanics of social media, it is often looked atonly at face value. People see a nice place where they can sharepictures or ideas with people around the world.
This fundamentalbasis of what a social media site should be has been bastardized.Users have continued to overlook the flaws that each site brings inits own form, in favor for a direct, fast interaction. While thesesites eat away at their users self-esteem, world view, and overallmental health, the user is left unaware of what is happening to them.Despite the blatant disregard for their users, billions of peoplecontinue to use social media on a daily basis. Users are disregardingor ignorant to what is happening to them, and continue to try andfind light in what has turned into an inherently negativeenvironment. The better the access to information, the sooner theycan make a better informed decisions on whether or not getting intouch with a friend or looking at a few cute cat pictures is worthlasting mental harm. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be anysteps taken on either end to improve the situation. As society movesforward, it is important that these problems are addressed and peopleare educated on what is going on, so that they can take proper actionfor the betterment of their mental health.
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