The impact of social media on society is a mixed bag. So, is it causing more harm than good?
Media has long shaped our society, but the explosion of social media took that power to an unprecedented level. While it can be a force for good, how we harness social media has, unfortunately, made it damaging for society too.
Let’s look at the ways social media is denting our mental health, self-perception, communication skills, and society as a whole, hinting it might be doing more harm than good overall.
Social Media: A Gateway to Depression, Anxiety, and Loneliness?
The irresistible desire to share our daily lives on social media is causing long-term consequences. Research shows that increased usage of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok leads to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
The COVID-19 pandemic nudged more folks towards these platforms and prompted them to scroll their feeds for unusually long periods. As per Statista, in 2022, people spent an average of 147 minutes on social media every day. That’s over two hours!
More importantly, science found that social media could be a downer. Platforms learned to tickle your brain’s pleasure center to boost engagement and time spent on apps. Whenever you get a thumbs-up on a post or photo, it releases endorphins. This pleasure principle keeps people glued to the platforms for hours but also stirs feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
The trick is similar to what casinos use: providing small wins to hook you in without ever truly satisfying your needs. If everyone grasped this, healthier social media habits could develop. But the problem is, only a few folks know how to strike a healthy balance.
The Dark Side of Social Media Communication
Sure, not everyone online struggles with face-to-face chats, but a fair share of introverts find it easier to talk online. Social media makes it simpler for these folks to connect with others and pick up social cues they might have otherwise missed. This can be a lifeline for people in small towns longing to expand their social circle.
While you can’t stay anonymous on social media without a bogus profile, you can invent a whole new personality. This helps folks with social challenges to break out of their shells.
The trouble begins when these online personas veer into the dark side. According to Help Guide, about 10 percent of teens report being bullied on social media, and many more admit they’ve been on the receiving end of nasty comments. Being a target can lower self-esteem and self-image.
Conveying clear and precise messages is tricky with just a keyboard. Without body language and other non-verbal cues for context, language often gets lost in translation. A harmless comment can be misinterpreted, leading to needless arguments that could’ve been avoided in person.
Social media communication still has some growing up to do before it can truly become a force for good.
The Divisive Power of Social Media
Never before has it been so easy to connect with someone halfway around the world. Social media has largely contributed to this global connectivity, birthing a whole new world of communities that wouldn’t have existed without the internet. To be fair, social media has some positive societal impacts.
But, the ease of finding like-minded people on social media can be as risky as it is beneficial. Since its inception, we’ve increasingly become aware of the various groups forming in social media’s dark corners, including ones threatening the well-being of others.
The 2016 election stirred controversy over foreign manipulation through Facebook ads to sway public opinion. The continued political divide is a big reason why many Americans feel social media is causing more harm than good these days.
influence entire nations has come under scrutiny following recent events and documentaries like The Social Dilemma, showcasing the manipulation potential of social media.
Our dependence on social media has significant implications on our lifestyle. The same could be said about any form of media, but social media operates on a grander scale, and its effects are immediate. Consequently, we’re grappling with disinformation, social division incited by malicious actors, and immense influence campaigns powered by social media.
Social Media’s Toll on Self-Image
We’ve all been guilty of comparing ourselves to others, be it in school or at work. But social media amplified this by showcasing the haves and the have-nots. What began as a genuine way to connect with like-minded folks and friends has morphed into a marketplace peddling happiness. Essentially, social media has become a marketing platform.
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and even LinkedIn have significantly reduced the organic reach of posts with algorithmic timelines. This means fewer people see your posts unless you pay for ads. Only a few “influencers” boast a large audience.
Many influencers have monetary motives behind their posts. They promote products by filling their feeds with grand experiences and spectacular locations. This leads to many users striving to portray their lives as equally amazing, potentially sparking intense loneliness and pressure from constant comparison without understanding the context behind the pictures.
The Role of Social Media in Our Future Society
In itself, social media isn’t evil or harmful to society. It’s how we use it and how we feel about ourselves while using it that makes it harmful.
Right now, the pendulum seems to be swinging towards harm, but all it takes is enough people choosing to use it responsibly to reverse the trend.