It is now the norm, rather than the exception, for a large proportion of our social interaction to take place via social media services, such as Instagram, Reddit, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, YouTube and many others. With today being the 11th annual World Social Media Day, we have had ample time to witness social media progress alongside technological developments, and to further research its risks and benefits. In this article, some of these potential effects are summarised, and healthy habits are provided to help you enjoy social media whilst buffering yourself against the potential hazards.
Benefits of Social Media
- Fostering close relationships: Whether it be through games, creating and/or sharing content, or frequent online communication; there are now endless opportunities to foster deeper relationships. Research has found that 41% of young adults in serious relationships reported feeling closer to their partner because of online conversations.
- Overcoming physical distance: It is now easier than ever to interact with family, friends, and partners over long distance.
- Improved social connectedness: Social media use has been associated with lower levels of loneliness, and greater feelings of social connectedness.
- Belonging through group membership: Social media allows individuals to join a plethora of online communities that cater to their specific interests, culture, and beliefs. This may be particularly beneficial for individuals with more niche interests, or who are aren’t easily able to find people with similar interests in their local area.
- Increased social engagement: Research suggests that relationships which begin online often progress to face-to-face interactions. In a survey of 1,834 Australians conducted by the Australian Psychological Society, 26% of participants reported attending more social events after using social media sites; 25% of individuals aged 31 to 50 reported having dated someone they met online, and 21% of these individuals went on to form intimate relationships with the person they met online.
Hazards of Social Media
- Upward social comparison and self-esteem: Social media allows us to make extensive social comparisons with others, and there are far more opportunities than those in face-to-face interactions to meticulously manage one’s self-presentation (e.g., posting edited photos or constructing profiles that emphasise one’s most desirable traits). Research has found that some individuals who frequently use Facebook and are presented with the opportunity to make upward social comparisons (being exposed to positive characteristics of others) are lower in trait (stable and enduring) and state (temporarily altered) self-esteem.
- Excessive internet use and problematic outcomes: Like many things in life, moderation is key.Some research has suggested that excessive internet use can lead to depression and social anxiety due to a decreased sense of belonging to face-to-face social networks.
- Body image concerns: Social media use has been consistently associated with body image concerns among young women and women, with longitudinal studies suggesting that this effect strengthens over time.
- Social anxiety and seeking safety online: Some individuals prefer online interactions via social media due to the enhanced anonymity, ability to form responses without the pressure present in face-to-face interactions, and the ability to disclose personal information in an environment where they feel less vulnerable to criticism or negative evaluation. While this approach may alleviate discomfort during social interactions, some research has suggested that individuals who use social media as an alternative to face-to-face communication may experience poorer well-being.
- Impacted sleep: As tempting as it may be to scroll through your social media networks before bed, doing so might impact your quality and duration of sleep. This may occur by delaying the time you go to sleep (due to staying up using social media), being exposed to blue light which may delay circadian rhythms and sleep, and by being emotionally engaged and stimulated by content.
What Can I Do About It?
- Consider limiting your social media time. Try limiting your social media use and reflect on your experience. This can be done by using the “Screen Time” setting on iPhones, or the “Stay Focused” app on Android devices or Google Chrome.
- Refrain from accessing social media prior to sleep: Try refraining from accessing technology for two to three hours before bed. If this is difficult at first, try to start with a briefer time frame such as 30-minutes.
- Balance online and face-to-face interactions: Try to establish a balance between face-to-face and online social interaction. If you notice most of your interactions take place online, you might benefit from scheduling more time to connect with others face-to-face.
- Be mindful of the types of profiles or pages you follow: The tendency to compare ourselves to others is a natural and inevitable process. However, following numerous pages that promote unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards may have negative impacts on your self-esteem and wellbeing.
- Take a step back and remind yourself how posts are made: When you find yourself comparing yourself to others, remind yourself that people tend to selectively present the most positive aspects of themselves on social media.
- Reduce your passive social media use: Some research suggests that individuals who are active on social media (e.g., sharing life experiences, posting content, and frequently interacting with others) may experience increased emotional support and well-being. On the other hand, passive social media users who tend to observe rather than engage in posting content or interacting with others have been found to experience decreased well-being and increased social anxiety. If you notice that you spend a lot of time scrolling through social media profiles without posting any content or interacting with others, try to gradually increase your engagement and reflect on how this impacts your experience.