The Ill Effects of Social Media

It’s obvious that social media has taken over our day-to-day lives. But how much of our online engagement is affecting the real world?

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Imagine this: You’re waking up, the sun is shining through the slits of your blinds, and the birds are chirping. It’s a new day – fresh and full of wonderful possibilities. And as you fully rise from your previous night’s slumber, you lean over and reach for… What? Your phone?

If we’re going by statistics, most likely… According to a 2018 study by IDC Research group, 80% of smartphone users immediately reached for their phones first thing in the morning. ¹

If you are one of these people, don’t feel too self-conscious, you’re in a large majority! If the first thing you check on your smartphone each and every day is at least one social media platform than you fall into over 64% of phone users that do this on a daily basis. ²

So what’s the big deal? According to Pew Research, 98% of Americans own some sort of smartphone device and an estimated 90% of Americans have some sort of social media account. So, all in all, this seems to be the new normal.

However, when you take a step back and look at just how quickly and assuredly social media fell upon us and took all of us into its clutches, it’s quite a surprising turn of events.

The Rise of the Social Media Wave

 Journey to the Social Media Wave: The Internet Is Born

To start this journey, we need to set up a few key milestones that allowed social media to dominate the way it did. The internet, the way in which we know of it nowadays, didn’t really gain notoriety and widespread use until around the mid 1990s, after its initial launch in August of 1991.

The internet opened a new and exciting way to not only access content and information but also to create it. The way in which we, not only as Americans, but also as global citizens interacted changed entirely. Now there was a direct pipeline to the rest of the world and all it had to offer, and it was just a few clicks and keystrokes away.

And when we look back on the way the use of the World Wide Web has evolved along with the times that we were existing in, it seems like a natural development was occurring that would pave the way for social media platforms to not only to be created but to also take over the way in which we communicate, create, and collaborate.

Journey to the Social Media Wave: Infancy of Social Media

The infancy of social media was in the form of message boards and blog sites that began to quickly crop up in the mid to late 1990’s. Message boards, online chatrooms, and personal blogs became the way in which to have your own little slice of the internet all to yourself and your personal interests.

And companies were quick to adopt such online havens with America Online (AOL) which created the AIM messenger in 1997. Not to mention, website host companies like GoDaddy for the creation of new personalized websites.

As the 1990’s gave way to the new millennium, we began to see the emergence of new breakthrough concepts like video sharing, live instant messaging, and the rise of overall internet usage among Americans. More and more households were buying home computers and the rate of internet subscriptions steadily rose.

And just four short years after the birth of the 21st century, the first of the social media giants, Facebook, launched. At the end of their first year of operation in 2004, Facebook proudly announced that they had amassed just over a million active users on the site. ³ That number steadily grew as did the company in the following years and by 2010, Facebook had half a billion users.

In just six years, Facebook grew 500 times from it’s initial annual count. And just two years later, Facebook broke it’s billion user mark. Today Facebook has a combined worldwide userbase of over 2.1 billion, 221 million users coming from its operating country of the United States.

As Facebook took on the internet and grew like a blazing brushfire, other social media sites came onto the scene. In 2006, YouTube posted the first video and Twitter sent its first tweet. Instagram shared its first snapshots in 2010 and Snapchat would join the social media platforms just a year later.

Journey to the Social Media Wave: The Waters Start to Rise

Just like that, we were under the new currents of the social media wave. With the emergence of these platforms, separate services like message boards, instant messaging, and personalized webpages sort of got swallowed up by the large, looming unwieldy beast known simply as social media. No longer did you have to go to five different sites to get everything done online, now it was all pretty much under one roof. Facebook unveiled its Messenger app in 2008 and other social media platforms followed suit.

Now all of the major social media platforms offered not only instant messaging but other ways of communicating, such as video and audio calls. In less than 20 years, the world watched as the delivery system of news, entertainment, communication, and information went from print to the big screen to the television to the Internet and, finally, into our pocket.

The trouble with this technology is it’s still in its early stages. With that, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. For example:

  • What are the repercussions to having the world at our fingertips and having our lives shared and consumed like other forms of information and entertainment?
  • Are we offering too much of our lives and ourselves to the world, to our technological escape havens?
  • Should we be worried about how this might be affecting ourselves and future generations?

Social Media Addiction 1

How Social Media Affects Your Health & Well Being

As wonderful and revolutionary as social media platforms are, there are growing concerns over how it’s being used as well as its volume of consumption, especially among younger users. The first inklings that we might have created a formidable opponent against our own well being is when news stories and statistics started coming out in the early 2010’s of how social media might be more harmful than helpful.

The Falsified Happiness Phenomenon

There started to be a growing and concerning trend of social media users relying on these platforms to give them benefits that they couldn’t receive outside the platform. The problem with those seemingly “beneficial” experiences that social media could offer was the fact that they offered what psychologists were calling a falsified happiness.

The idea of falsified happiness is has to do with the endorphins that usually bring happiness and satisfaction to our brains. Normally, these come out of natural experiences, like working out or accomplishing something.

However, it’s been noticed that social media users were starting to experience an endorphin rush whenever they were logged into their social media accounts. They reported that they felt a “rush of happiness,” “excitement,” or “satisfaction” whenever they received likes or shares on their postings.

This phenomenon was outlined in a Harvard University article post entitled, “Dopamine, Smartphones & Your Brain: A Battle for Your Time” in which they cited cognitive neuroscientists who have shown a link to increase dopamine levels in the brain after receiving likes, follows, shares or messages. The article goes on to say, quote, “Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that rewarding social stimuli—laughing faces, positive recognition by our peers, messages from loved ones—activate the same dopaminergic reward pathways” and that these notifications on social media has, “the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx.”

The issue with that is the fact that it has no real basis in their actual lives. The feeling of satisfaction was a false feeling and one that needed to be replenished over and over again due to its unnatural origins.

This false-endorphin rush is such a common thing that researchers and psychologists have found increased reports of sadness, depression, unfulfillment, and feelings of self-loathing in cases where social media users felt that their experiences on the platform were not meeting to their expectations. These occurrences usually coincided with a decrease in the number of likes, shares, favorites or retweets a social media user is accustomed to receiving.

There are those that leverage a lot of their self-worth and placement in the world and society on how their social media accounts. The rate of “social media blues” – a term in which one grows depressed due to poor social media reactions or experiences – rose exponentially over the last decade.

And with a combined estimated total of 1.3 billion Twitter users and over 2.7 billion on Facebook, as reported by Statista,  it’s plain to see that the social media wave has most assuredly crashed upon us and complications and issues are surely to follow. ⁴

Of course, this idea is not really #BreakingNews to anyone who have looked around recently. It’s hard not to associate yourself with social media. However, the way in which this is affecting the most impressionable and vulnerable users are quite alarming and we are going to discuss them.

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Social Media Among The Youth (FOMO, Addiction, and Self Loathing)

Alright the numbers seem remarkable, but they speak for themselves: Everyone who’s anyone has a social media account: From the everyday Joe Blow, to Mr. Hollywood, to major corporations. What’s the big deal? If everyone has one, what kind of harm can come from it? Well quite a lot, it seems.

Have you or a loved one ever suffer from the fear of missing out (FOMO)?

FOMO describes the sensation of having to be always alert, always up to date on the news or gossip, and the anxiety on missing out on such information. Although its description might draw up some image of a teen obsessed with chatty conversations with her girlfriends, it actually alludes to a much more serious mental condition called social media addiction.

Social media addiction is an actual defined mental illness that is classified as an addiction-based behavior and it’s seen often in teenagers to young adults. Social media addiction is defined as, according to Time To Log Off, a “compulsive and excessive use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat) even when use of those platforms is taking over your life and having a negative effect on your ‘real life’ and relationships.” ⁵

Social media addiction is such a common issue that it has an estimated 200 million cases globally, according to a technology and society study published in Elsevier. ⁶ And the issue with this rise in social media addiction, along with the rise in FOMO, is that it’s presenting largely in today’s youth, with most cases reporting teenagers as the primary sufferers.

Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter all have age restricted access for user profiles until a prospective user turns 13. However, there are easy way to simply bypass these age restrictions. And even with the sign up age as 13, most teenagers spend their most crucial developing ages online, accessing social media on a daily basis and, in some cases, on a nearly constant basis.

Of course, there are the previously reported consequences to online social media use – like addiction and FOMO – but there is also issues of self-loathing, online depression, and deep resounding trauma that stems from online social media use in teenagers. The most common and widely seen development in these sorts of online repercussions is of course the rise of online bullying, otherwise known coequally as “cyberbullying”.

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Cyberbullying, BurnBook, & The Log Off Movement

Cyberbullying is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ StopBullying campaign website as “any unwanted aggressive behavior, observed or perceived power imbalance or repetition or high likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviors online.” ⁷

Cyberbullying has become so pervasive that an average of 20% of American students between the ages of 12-18 reported instances of either persistent online bullying or harassment from peers. Most of these instances of online bullying occurs on social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.⁸

Stories of online harassment and bullying have hit the major news and have concerned teachers, parents and administrators as well as psychiatrists and researchers. One of the most major news story surrounding social media and cyberbullying occurred with the creation of a new controversial social media platform aimed at young, impressionable users called BurnBook.

BurnBook was a social media application launched in 2015 that was supposed to offer an anonymous message board in which users were encourage to post embarrassing rumors, secret thoughts, and stories about other users without the fear of being identified. The social media app took inspiration for its name from the 2004 hit teen comedy film, “Mean Girls” in which the characters create a “burn book,” a place in which these girls could note various rumors and ill thoughts about their fellow classmates in a private, anonymous way.

BurnBook was supposed to be only for users 17 years and older but it quickly grew popular among high schoolers across the United States. Soon thereafter, it created controversy for instances of online harassment, stalking, and abuse among it’s teenage user-base.

The online bullying got so bad that parents, teachers, and administrations decided that had to take action and began banning the use of the app in schools and in homes. And for one Texas high school, Princeton High School, the application was utilized to post violent threats in which the user claimed they were going to shoot up the high school. ⁹

The good news today is that no one can access BurnBook as the application was shut down in mid-2015 after numerous complaints from parents and school administrators. However, that didn’t necessarily end the cyberbullying epidemic that we have found ourselves in.

Today there seem to be numerous ways for those who want to inflict harm and feelings of self-loathing and depression on the internet. but the good news is that we, as a society, are meeting the need to face these bullying challenges.

Movements like Time To Log Off and the national alliance to end cyberbullying, StopCyberbullying, are coming up with ways to fight this growing problem of online harassment.

If you’d like to enlighten yourself on the cyberbullying issue and find ways to counter these attacks, we invite you to use the following resources:

Resources on Cyberbullying & Youth’s Consumption of the Internet:

  • Stop Cyberbullying is a federal government website, managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services, that offers information, statistics and advice on cyberbullying. It also had resources for parents and teachers on how to handle cyberbullying cases and examples of cyberbullying.
  • Time To Log Off’s goal is to help others discover the joys of regularly fully disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with the real world. Time to Log Off was founded in 2014 by digital entrepreneur, tech ethicist, and author Tanya Goodin. There are tools and tips to limit online activity as well as to address online bullying and harassment on the site as well.
  • Embrace Civility is an online movement that provides guidance to caring adults so they can better engage young people to embrace civility and foster positive relations. According to its website, Embracing Civility “supports the full engagement of students in maintaining an environment where hurtful behavior is incompatible with the accepted social norms and where everyone takes responsibility for the quality of the relationships.”
  • It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower and connect LGBTQ youth around the world. It offers support and resources for not only LGBTQ youth but also for parents and educators as well. It’s a great place to find healing, empathetic advice and information surrounding LGBTQ youth issues, which can be a great aid during complex and confusing times.
  • Trevor Project is an American non-profit organization founded in 1998 focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth. Through a toll-free telephone number, it operates The Trevor Lifeline, a confidential service that offers trained counselors for 24/7 support.

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Final Word

As we have learned, social media is a natural evolution of mass media and it seems that its here to stay– like it or not– so how do we coexist with social media while also leading happy, healthy, functioning lives that are not built on the false reality that social media has to offer?

Well the most obvious way to accomplish this is to either not be on social media. However, for many of us isn’t really feasible, so the next best option would be to limit our social media experience.

By putting limitations on our time on social media we create a buffer between the world that we would like to exist in and the actual world that we must play our part in.

It’s also important to set natural expectations on the social media front. Having a defined expectations will allow you to keep your social media experience balanced. The growing concern out of social media is the fear of losing self-confidence in the wake of pressure to keep up with Joneses, so to speak. So having a healthy understanding of what social media is supposed to serve for our lives will help you maintain some sort of control over your social media experience.

Your Questions?

Still have questions about social media? Do you have a differing opinion?

If so, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further information to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you!

References

¹  The Constant Contact: “80% of Smartphone Users Check Their Phones Before Brushing Their Teeth … And Other Hot Topics”

²  IDC Studyvia SlideShare Presentation: “Mobile and Social Connectiveness”

³  Associated Press via Yahoo!News: Number of active users at Facebook over the years” 

⁴ Satista: “Most popular social networks worldwide as of July 2020, ranked by number of active users” 

⁵ Time To Log Off: “Social Media Addiction – What Is It?” 

⁶ ScienceDirect via Elsevier: “Life Satisfaction: Keys To Managing Internet & Social Media Addiction” 

⁷ StopBullying, National Campaign from National Department of Health and Human Services: “StopBullying – Cyberbullying: A Definition” 

⁸ PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center: “Stats & Facts On Bullying” 

⁹ NBCNews Channel 5 Dallas-Fort Worth: “Controversial App Burnbook Prompts Action from Parents”

 

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