The rise of social media has changed the way that society interacts with one another. In as many ways as we are more connected, we are isolated – hidden behind screens and browser windows, overanalyzing each emoticon we receive, continually checking our friends’ status updates, and agonizing over what others think of our selfies. Maintaining our digital personas and monitoring everyone in our digital social spheres has become, for many, a constant fixation and, unfortunately, one more standard by which we judge ourselves. Recent data suggests just how much of an impact social media is having on our mental health, and the results may make you want to left swipe, un-friend, and un-follow your social media habit.
Fact: Americans are spending an increasing amount of time every day consuming social media. Recent studies reveal that 63 percent of Americans log on to Facebook every day, and that 40 percent log on multiple times each day. In the case of Facebook specifically, part of the allure is the satisfaction of sharing information and tabulating the number of likes received. With each iconic thumbs up, we are gratified, feeling that our worth is validated by the masses, yet somehow each “like” is never enough.
Fact: Social media has become a barometer for our social worth. Sharing information and photos of every aspect of our lives – our outfits, meals, workout regimens, vacation photos, pets, even our children, gives us not only an opportunity to be lauded and praised, but it allows us to compare ourselves and our accomplishments to those around us. The problem is that such constant social measurements can be maddening. It’s difficult enough having a bad day and feeling like everyone around you is more fortunate, but having that perception amplified by social media can too often lead to serious feelings of depression and inadequacy. Surveys have found that people feel insecure after using Pinterest because they feel they aren’t as creative as others, while Facebook and Twitter can make individuals feel like they aren’t as smart or as successful as those around them. According to a study from the University of Michigan, the more frequently an individual uses Facebook the more unhappy he or she is compared to those who use the site less. Over time, more avid users are more likely to report lower satisfaction in their overall lives compared with less frequent users.
Fact: Social media makes us restless and less productive. Americans are tuning in to social media everywhere. They are skimming their Twitter stream in the grocery checkout line, browsing Instagram at work, and scrolling through Pinterest before bed. Such activity disrupts our focus and makes it difficult to wind down at the end of the day. In addition, research has shown that our minds don’t have the capacity to fully focus our attention on two things at once. The constant multitasking between our real life and our digital personas impedes our mind’s ability to process information and limits out productivity.
Fact: Social media has introduced the cyberbully to society. Perhaps one of the most tangibly dangerous consequences of social media is the rise of the cyberbully. Teens and adolescents especially are increasingly reporting that they are being harassed, discriminated against, and intimidated via social media. While bullying has existed for centuries, social media provides a more public and widespread forum for public ridicule than we have ever seen before. According to a survey conducted by Enough is Enough, an organization working to improve internet safety, an astonishing 95 percent of teens who use social media have witnessed a form of cyberbulling, and 33 percent have been victimized themselves.
Fact: Social media glamorizes drug and alcohol use. According to a recent study, 70 percent of teenagers ages 12 to 17 use social media, and those who interact with it daily are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times more likely to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana. In part, their increased use of drugs and alcohol stems from social media’s inadvertent digital peer pressure. Of those surveyed, 40 percent discussed seeing social media imagery of others under the influence. When social media streams are the barometers by which we live our lives, drugs and alcohol can seem desirous, or even mainstream, encouraging teens to experiment early.
Fact: Social media offers some positive benefits too. While the negative consequences of social media should encourage us all to pause before we download the latest and greatest social media app, it should be noted that social media does offer society some positive benefits too. For many, it enhances their connectivity, preserving relationships between individuals separated by time and distance. In addition, research conducted by the American Psychological Association found that introverted teens can improve their social skills through social media use, as they feel more confident and comfortable interacting with others from behind the safety of their computer screen.
The most important factor to remember when utilizing social media is that just beyond your mobile phone is a world filled with your real friends and family who truly care about you and your real life. By consciously choosing to limit social media use and engaging in more genuine forms of interaction, we can all learn to enjoy the benefits of social media without gauging our self-worth by our number of followers, re-tweets, or shares. Now that deserves a thumbs-up.