Around the globe, billions of people use social media, fundamentally changing the way we communicate with one another. Currently, the average user now spends 2 hours and 16 minutes each day on social platforms. World Social Media Day is on Sunday 30 June, recognising and celebrating social media’s influence on global communication and technology. #SocialMediaDay
While social media has provided us with access to more information than ever before, there are both positive and negative implications of our use of this technology. Here we identify some of the pros and cons of social media use, including the effects it can have on our mental health.
Pro: Raises awareness
One of the most powerful benefits of social media is the ability for a person or organisation to raise awareness of an important issue to a mass audience quickly. Every day, more people are using social media to promote change and make a positive difference around the world. An example of this occurred in January this year when an advertising company posted a photo of an egg on Instagram with the sole aim to become the most liked photo ever on the platform. In just nine days, the photo did in fact achieve this milestone, receiving more than 52 million likes and 8.6 million followers to date. Once this world record was achieved and had made news around the world, the egg ‘cracked under pressure’ to raise awareness about mental health and encourage others to talk if they’re struggling. Since the campaign launch, the company behind the stunt have set up a website with useful mental health links for countries all around the world, encouraging help seeking behaviour.
Con: Promotes fake news
Despite many social media platforms’ efforts to combat fake news, this hasn’t stopped the global sharing of misinformation. Anyone with a computer or a smartphone and an internet connection has the opportunity to share information to a potentially massive audience and can do so from an anonymous profile. When used for good, social media has the potential to create powerful positive change but when used with bad intentions, it can have equally bad repercussions.
Pro: Can combat loneliness
We are social beings, with an inbuilt need to interact, socialise and connect with one another. Social media is often blamed for replacing face to face interactions, however for some people, social media is a great platform to facilitate conversations with like-minded people and build friendships. For example, a recent survey found that senior citizens are using social media to stay connected to the outside world. The survey of 1,000 pensioners suggested that 7 in 10 respondents use Facebook to keep in touch and interact with family and friends.
Con: Can increase loneliness
According to the social displacement theory, the more time we spend on social media, the less time we’re likely to spend socialising face to face. Despite the fact that social media was designed to increase social interaction, a survey has found that people who spent more time on social media every day felt lonelier than those who checked their social media less. The survey also found that people who were on their phones more often were also more likely to feel anxious, depressed, lonely and isolated. Although there are countless ways that social media can bring people together, connecting digitally could be putting our face-to-face relationships at risk and ironically, increase feelings of disconnection and isolation.
Pro: Normalises help seeking behavior
It’s not uncommon to feel reluctant to talk to family and friends about their health concerns. With so many health services available online today, social media provides a safe space where anyone can ask questions and access a myriad of health resources. From countless health forums, to free online counselling, there are many online services available to support people with questions or concerns. Social media has introduced countless methods of communication and information sharing to normalise help seeking behavior. For those living in rural or remote locations, social media is also an inexpensive and accessible help seeking option, offering a wide range of resources to those who may not otherwise have access to these resources.
Con: Encourages anti-social behaviour
If not used properly, social media can have hazardous consequences to our mental health. When social media replaces face-to-face interactions, it can have the tendency to encourage anti-social behaviour. While the purpose of social media is to bring people together and connect us, when used incorrectly, it can often lead us to compare our lives with others, having a detrimental impact on our wellbeing. Social media is often referred to as a person’s ‘highlight reel’, only showing the ‘best bits’ of someone’s life. When we spend too much time consuming biased or misleading content, this can make us feel inadequate, often leading to severe psychological and physical issues including low self-esteem and negative body image.
Pro: Creates and maintains relationships
Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate with one another and has transformed the way that we make and maintain relationships. Not only is it a great tool for people who are looking to share their views and meet like-minded people with similar interests, social media also provides us with the opportunity to stay in touch with people from all around the world. Social media has created opportunities for people who would otherwise never seen each other to stay in touch and nurture relationships.
Although social media creates opportunities to meet like-minded people and foster positive relationships and discussions, common issues like cyber-bullying and trolling are huge contributing factors to feelings of anxiety and depression. Cyber bullying is the use of technology to harass, bully and intimidate someone else and according to a recent study, cyberbullying is linked to depression and suicide among teenagers. With reports suggesting that cyberbullying is on the increase, unfortunately it is an ongoing issue that is extremely difficult for social media platforms to mitigate.
Social Media – what’s the verdict?
To ensure that you get the benefits out of social media while avoiding the negative implications, it’s important to limit your time using it and ensure that you’re using it for the right reasons. While it allows us to search for virtually anything we need and enables us to build meaningful relationships, communities and connections, it’s important to be cognisant of the negative implications that social media can have on our overall mental and wellbeing.
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