For most of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we bring up the topic of the impact of social media on our lives is that it has made our lives easier; however, that is not really the case. Since social media has only recently started to occupy a major part of our everyday lives, it is important that we study its impacts on us seeing as this synthesized form of communication has become a vital part in most of our interactions. Due to the proliferation and availability of internet in the past decade or so, the number of social media users has increased drastically. As of 2017, there has been an increase of 22% of social media users, and the current number of social media users today is 2.8 billion. The power of social media is apparent simply by taking a look at our friends and family: almost all of them are using one form of social media app or platform. We tend to think that social media does not affect us too negatively, but the reality is that social media is responsible for many problems which are constantly on the rise.
Although social media enables us to connect with friends and people overseas, share/retain information and opinions, finding jobs and such, it has done a lot more damage than we are aware of. Social media is responsible for numerous issues which we will explore together.
Self-Appeal/Worth – Personality and Disorders
There is a common “trend” with social media users where they add as much ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ as possible, as a reflection to satisfy their wish of being socially accepted and/or to feed their ego. Our activities on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and recently WhatsApp are a reflection of what we seek and want, and who we are.
We seek attention and we delude ourselves with the illusion of being accepted and loved by others. We post to satisfy our need for acceptance from the virtual community, and to feel better about ourselves even though, at some point, this turns into an obsession. We assess ourselves and others by the “likes and followers” and compare them among each other. This usually causes depression, since as stated earlier, we start questioning ourselves and wondering why we aren’t having as good a life as others. There is a term used for this situation called “Compare & Despair”. Those who seem as if they are living the “good life” (as viewed by others) might actually be you. We brag about our high GPA’s, Check-in’s into 5-star fancy hotels and restaurants, our new IPhone, you name it.
Yes, people show off their fancy clothes and belongings and brag about it in real life even without social media; however, social media has exacerbated this phenomenon further. Materialism is being promoted in our unconscious minds, by the constant show of luxury lifestyles on our friends’ social media profiles: we are constantly shown what we do not have access to, whether it’s the latest car model or an idyllic trip for vacation.
Social media makes users prone to social isolation and loneliness as they passively consume the material on their dashboards by scanning the posts without commenting or interacting. Furthermore, social media is related to developing personality and mental disorders such as limited attention spans, inability to have real conversations, ADHD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). According to a study made by ANXIETYUK.ORG.UK, over half of social media users are “negatively comparing themselves to others, spending too much time in front of a computer, having trouble being able to disconnect and relax, as well as becoming confrontational online, thus causing problems in their relationships or job.”
Lack of Privacy & Security
Privacy is the act of secluding yourself. In other words not being observed or disturbed by unwanted people, but in the age of social media, privacy barely exists. Rejecting a friend request on Facebook or a follower on Instagram and vice versa is considered to be rude by either side. This matter usually causes tension and misunderstanding between the users and indirectly invades the privacy of the persons involved; it explicitly exposes the receiver’s thoughts to the requestor that they are unwanted “why wouldn’t they accept my request?”
Without social media, we would not have to face these kinds of situations often; we become friends with others since we would have gotten to know each other well, and will likely have mutual interests (not just mutual friends). In real life, without social media, friendships spontaneously occur, not synthetically: “friend request? - Follow/Follow back.” We need to understand that friendship is a dynamic process, and in this case friendships aren’t created “in a click of a button.” This as well correlates to the earlier topic of acceptance, and this lack of intimacy and open availability of personal information to people one might not be too familiar with definitely causes anxiety, depression and isolation. Other aspects of the lack of privacy include imposters and exploiters of one’s personal information and online posts: There is very little privacy when it is near impossible to completely delete information from social media, and this would often lead to unintended consequences since there is no real way to stop others from sharing material they have saved from your online profiles.
Security is the act of being free from threat or danger. Just as much as social media gave us the opportunity to connect with people, it also gave opportunity for people to connect with us i.e. it makes us vulnerable to encounter online predators. Stalking, abduction after sexting (privacy invasion), sexual abuse and violence may occur if no proper precautions are undertaken.
Let’s not forget mentioning that cyber-bullying greatly affects targeted individuals, as they are twice as likely to commit suicide.
Unreliable & False Information
Social media spreads information more easily and widely than any other medium. Users are reported to be responsible for breaking news even before traditional media outlets do. However, we face consequences from this high speed transmission of information: what about fake news and information?
Eric Tucker, a 35 year old man of 40 followers on Twitter, posted false information on social media related to the U.S presidency election. Although it was later deleted, the damage was already done, and the post had been shared more than 360,000 times over both Twitter and Facebook in a very short period of time. Many other similar situations occur on YouTube, where wrong and unreliable information are densely and attractively presented; this influences users more due to the fact that it appeals to them, therefore, viewers assume that as long as a YouTube video has many views and likes then it must be true.
We are facing a problem caused, not by social media, but actually by the users themselves. They do not second guess or verify the information, since most of the time the information is packaged and presented in a way that satisfies and appeals to them, while simultaneously providing them an opportunity to express themselves and to talk about what they had in mind.
Academic performance and cheating
You are studying and you receive a notification from your social media profile. You are distracted from your work, and you are gradually directed from one page to another, which takes up minutes and hours of your time just scrolling over useless information. By the time you resume your work, 30 minutes have passed, and it becomes difficult to get back on track since you’ve already loaded your brain with unnecessary information that could keep you busy for a while, not to mention that you’ve probably strained your eyes too and have become too fatigued to continue studying. Additionally, social media facilitates cheating since it is easy to simply use the phone to send messages via social media to retrieve information, causing the students to get suspended and in some cases expelled.
Exposure to social media occurs through screens (light), and prolonged exposure causes the melatonin levels to drop. In other words, before sleeping make sure you keep any source of artificial light away, since it disturbs your sleep cycle and may cause insomnia and tiredness which will adversely affect your productivity throughout the day.
Another side effect could be eye strain and neck strain. Neck muscles are designed to support 5-6 kilograms of weight. Looking down at the phone causes more tension in the neck with a load of around 30kgs, 6 times more than the usual load that the neck should support.
The problem isn’t really in social media itself, it is in us actually. We need to have a better understanding of ourselves and our surrounding. We need to understand that each and every individual has positive and negative aspects in their lives, and now that we know that people post mostly the positive aspects of their lives we should be more aware of how that affects us. Do not compare; each one of us is a unique individual and there is no need for us to copy each others’ lifestyle habits.
As for privacy and security, we need to be extremely cautious with our information and contacts (private profile/random friend requests). As for the misinformation, simply double check the news and information you’re viewing. Make sure that the source of information isn’t just a random one but a trustworthy source, and analyze and verify the information provided.
As for students, heavy social media users tend to have lower grades. So buckle up, and turn your phones to airplane mode and of course don’t cheat. All you have to do is “work hard, play hard” - and study harder.
There are advantages and disadvantages to everything, and we need to know what they are and how we should tackle them. Social media consumes a big portion of our lives, and due to this fact we should be conscious of how this time is spent and used. Many times we have wasted countless minutes and hours on useless and distracting content online and as much as it is beneficial in general, in some cases it could be lethal and polluting to society. As we have seen, the negative aspects of social media outweigh its positive aspects, and we need to become more understanding of the difference between reality and its virtual version.
Recommendation from author: Try Quora application/site, a Q&A (questions and answers) web-based platform where users gain and share knowledge and explore different perspectives beliefs and facts. The only app that could be worth investing time in.
- Muhammad Srour
Public Health Student