The idea that social media can be dangerous is not new. I think on some level we all know that it can cause us stress and anxiety.
We fret about how we look in pictures and how our comments sound. We worry that other people are having more fun and doing more things. We wish our last picture got more likes.
But we continue to consume it all day, every day, because in the end, we assume that the dangers are overblown. We assume that social media is mostly harmless.
Meet Madison Holleran
A freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and a star athlete, she was intelligent and talented and successful. Everyone she knew said she was happy.
But in her very first semester away from home she started to feel anxious and depressed. With her best friend she would scroll through Instagram and think, “This is what college is supposed to be like; this is what we want our life to be like,” ESPN reported.
In January of 2014 Madison killed herself. Since then ESPN has investigated the role social media played in her death and in aggravating her anxiety and depression.
That’s Just One Story
Of course, there are millions of other college students just like Madison. Anxiety is now the number one mental health problem on campuses across the country, and therapists are becoming increasingly concerned about social media making things worse.
Cyberbullying and harassment, comparing their lives to classmates, fearing they’re missing out – social media contributes to anxiety and depression in all sorts of different ways. And the more we consume, the more problems it can cause.
It’s Not Just College Students That Need to Worry
Yet the dangers go far beyond college classrooms. These days everyone is consuming social media, from 13 to 93-year-olds. No one is immune. Here are some of the biggest concerns researchers have found so far:
1. Time spent on social media is correlated with depression
Researchers have found that the longer you spend on social media, the more likely you are to be depressed. Other surveys have found that using Facebook and Twitter less helps students to be more focused and less stressed. We can debate the reasons why there is a correlation, it could be that people who are already depressed are likely to spend more time on social media. But the correlation is still troubling, especially when you read a story like Madison’s.
2. Social media is incredibly addictive
Once you get on Facebook, it’s hard to stop. Most Americans check it once a day, if not multiple times. Likes and comments can serve as positive reinforcement, making it even more difficult to stop. Some researchers have even created a scale called The Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale to measure this behaviour.
3. It can make you unhappy, unsatisfied, and restless
A study out of the University of Michigan has found that people who use Facebook more, are more likely to be unhappy than people who use it less. Similarly, those avid users also said they were less satisfied with their lives overall.
This could be because people often compare their real lives to idealized versions of their friends’ lives online. People post a lot of smiling pictures and not so many sad ones.
A different study out of the UK found that two-thirds of people now have trouble relaxing when they can’t access their social media accounts. This is especially troubling because it means that Facebook and Twitter are affecting people even when they’re offline.
In the end, there’s no doubt that there are a lot of benefits to social media. You get to share happy memories and photos and stories. You have access to all kinds of information and recipes. It really is amazing.
Just don’t forget that there are also very real dangers to social media. Ones that we are all too willing to ignore at times.