Social media gained widespread popularity with MySpace in the mid-2000s. Now, nearly 80% of Americans are active on at least one social media platform, according to Pew Research Center.
When social media first began, no one knew how it would affect users. As social media has majorly expanded over the past decade and a half, we’ve all essentially been part of a real-time experiment. Experts are just starting to understand the impacts of participating in virtual social networking.
Social Media and Mental Health
Most experts agree: Social media use impacts mental health.
Some people feel more joyful after using social media, having posted good news or connected with family and friends they wouldn’t have otherwise. Other people tend to feel down, a result of comparing their lives and bodies to those they saw on screen and deciding they don’t measure up.
Some people, especially adolescents, experience online bullying and harassment that leaves them depressed and afraid. Perhaps just as bad is the feeling of being ignored or ostracized. Teens and young adults can experience low self-esteem after receiving few likes or positive comments on posts. Another common experience is FOMO, a fear of missing out, as they view posts from events they weren’t invited to.
These varied experiences are reflected in academic research on social media. More research is needed, however. At this point, different social media studies have returned different results. Some research suggests that social media increases anxiety and depression, while other studies show no effects in those areas.
The issue is more complex than labeling social media as good or bad. How social media affects an individual person depends on multiple factors, such as what they do on social media, how much time they spend on it, and if they’re already experiencing mental health issues.
What Are Social Platforms Doing About Mental Health?
Social media networks have taken some efforts toward making their platforms healthier.
Instagram is experimenting with hiding “likes” on the site, though they haven’t rolled the feature out to the whole platform. The idea is that without likes, users are less likely to compare themselves to others and feel badly about themselves.
TikTok, a popular video app, shows videos reminding users to take a break from the app if they scroll for too long. Since social media overuse has negative impacts, nudges like this might help people limit their time logged on.
Unfortunately, aside from these small experiments, most social media networks haven’t done much to promote healthy social media use. More engagement means more profit, so social media networks are invested in having people scroll and click as much as possible.
If a person wants to limit their social media use for the sake of their mental health, they (or their parents, in the case of children) will have to take efforts to do so on their own.
Written by: Jay Summer