The negative effects of social media on mental health have been widely chronicled. It’s now broadly understood that these platforms leverage neuroscientific principles to aggressively capture and hold our attention. Our inability to look away definitely isn’t a good thing, but is social media all bad?
Research is inconclusive, but strongly suggests the impact of social media all depends on how we use it.
At its best, social media functions as a vast terrain for healthy exploration and identity development, especially for young people. For many, social media has become a rich extension of life and socializing, as opposed to an isolated escape from it.
At its worst, it exposes us to ads, predators, and demoralizing or radicalized content that everyone needs to be wary of.
Social media is a reflection of the physical world we live in, and therefore just as complex. It is not an arena to be taken lightly; but when used properly, it has the potential to expand our individual and collective opportunities, in ways that previous generations still struggle to comprehend.
This batch of research reminds us that not everything is black and white, and that these binary conversations are detrimental to us all. Moderation is critical. However, simply trying to avoid or condemn social media altogether creates an antagonizing relationship with an inevitable and potentially healthy part modern life. Instead of bans, how can we demand better? How can we enhance the quality of our time spent in these spaces?
Take a look at the recommended content on your favorite social platforms. It could be the explore page on Instagram, the For You tab on Tiktok, simply your homepage on YouTube, etc. (On Facebook it’s less obvious, but your Reels are likely a good place to start.)
Ask yourself the following questions as you scroll through the collection of images and topics:
- Do these align with my personal goals or values?
- Do these make me feel happy, comforted, or inspired?
- Or do they make me feel irritated, insecure, or overwhelmed?
- Do I feel tempted to buy something?
Energy flows where attention goes. Let this evaluation determine where you want to direct your attention moving forward. Take 5 minutes to follow or unfollow accounts accordingly.
READ FULL STUDY: Benefits and Costs of Social Media in Adolescence
Key Quotes: Positives: “In contrast to early online applications, which were seen as refuges from real life, today’s online environments reflect, complement, and reinforce off-line relationships, practices, and processes…. The literature on social media and adolescents, as well as more extensive studies of emerging adults, reveals associations between time spent using social media and increased self-esteem, increased social capital (resources accessed through one’s social relationships), safe identity exploration, social support, and more opportunity for self-disclosure.These processes are all critical to healthy growth and identity development. ”
Negatives: “Although the majority of adolescents report that social media are a positive contribution to their lives, more negative associations with social media have also been documented in the research literature. These include cyberbullying, depression, social anxiety, and exposure to developmentally inappropriate content….. it is important to remember that most social media platforms are owned by for-profit companies, which often advertise, collect information, and sell data. This direct channel to adolescents, outside the eyes and ears of adults, means commercial interests can take precedence over prosocial and developmentally appropriate interests. “
Publication: American Academy of Pediatrics
- Yalda T. Uhls, PhD , Children’s Digital Media Center@Los Angeles, University of California, Common Sense Media
- Nicole B. Ellison, PhD, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michiga
- Kaveri Subrahmanyam, PhD, Children’s Digital Media Center@Los Angeles, California State University
Competing Interests : The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.
READ ABSTRACT OR PURCHASE FULL STUDY : Active and Passive Social Media Use and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depressed Mood Among Icelandic Adolescents
Key Quotes: “ A hierarchical linear regression model revealed that passive social media use was related to greater symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood among adolescents and active social media use was related to decreased symptoms of anxiety and depressed mood, even after controlling for time spent on social media.”
Publication: Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
- Ingibjorg Eva, Department of Psychology, Reykjavik University, Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis
- Rannveig Sigurvinsdottir, Department of Psychology, Reykjavik University
- Bryndis Bjork Asgeirsdottir, Department of Psychology, Reykjavik University
- John P. Allegrante, Department of Health and Behavior Studies, Teachers College, Columbia University,
- Inga Dora Sigfusdottir, Department of Psychology, Reykjavik University, Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis, Department of Health and Behavior Studies, Teachers College, Columbia University,
Competing Interests : Not stated or referenced
READ FULL REVIEW : Social media use and well-being: What we know and what we need to know
Key Quotes: “ Even though the meta-analyses are supposed to rely on the same evidence base, they yielded disagreeing associations with well- and ill-being, especially for time spent on SM (social media), active SMU (social media usage), and passive SMU.”
Publication: Current Opinion in Psychology
- Patti M Valkenburg, Amsterdam School of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam
Competing Interests : Nothing declared.