Most of us use social media in one form or another. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, social-media use can promote a number of psychological issues, such as addiction and depression, which negatively impact your mental health and emotional wellbeing.
In the following article, you will learn about the various psychological issues which are associated with the use of social media, see who is most vulnerable to these issues, and find out what you can do in order to reduce the negative impact that social media might have on you.
What are the dangers of social media
The use of social media is associated with an increased prevalence of many negative emotions and mental-health issues. For example, research shows that there is a strong association between social-media use and depression, so that those who use social media more are more likely to suffer from depression. Similarly, increased social-media use is also associated with other negative factors, such as low self-esteem.
Research suggests that this relationship is both correlational as well as causal in nature. The fact that this relationship is correlational means that people who are more depressed, for example, tend to use social-media sites more in the first place, while the fact that this relationship is causal means that the use of social-media sites increases the severity of mental-health issues in itself (though the nature of the causal relationship is more difficult to establish).
Furthermore, research on the dangers of social media shows that its use is associated with various other issues. For example:
- Using social media can increase feelings of anxiety.
- Using social media can increase feelings of envy.
- Using social media can cause emotional exhaustion.
- Using social media can increase stress levels.
- Using social media can cause sleep issues and reduce sleep quality.
- Using social media can get in the way of important obligations, such as schoolwork.
- Using social media can lead to various health problems, as a result of the mental strain that people experience while using it.
The association between social media and various negative mental-health outcomes has led to the use of terms such as ‘social-media depression’ and ‘social-media addiction’.
Research originally referred to this phenomenon as ‘Facebook depression’, due to the initial focus on Facebook as a social network, but the negative impact of social media extends, to varying degrees, to other social-media sites, such as Instagram and Twitter. Furthermore, some issues associated with the use of social media can extend to sites that aren’t perceived as pure social networks, such as Youtube or Snapchat.
In addition, some of these issues aren’t even limited strictly to social media, but are rather associated with internet use in general. However, many of these issues are associated most strongly with social media and with behaviors that are almost entirely exclusive to social media. An example of this is the negative impact of taking a ‘selfie’, which has been shown to increase people’s social sensitivity and reduce their self-esteem.
Moreover, keep in mind that though the present article focuses primarily on the psychological dangers of social media, there are additional types of dangers that are associated with social media. Such dangers include issues that are relatively general, such as exposure to misinformation and violation of one’s privacy, as well as dangers that play a role in specific situations, such as cyberbullying and stalking.
Finally, it’s important to note that although there is considerable evidence suggesting that social-media use is associated with a variety of issues, this doesn’t mean that social-media use necessarily leads to negative outcomes in every situation. This is evident in research on the topic that suggests that social-media use doesn’t always have a negative impact on people’s mental health, together with research which suggests that in some cases, social-media use can even be beneficial.
Why people keep using social media
There are several reasons why people keep using social media even though it affects them in a negative way. These reasons are, in many ways, similar to the reasons that cause people to engage in other types of detrimental behaviors over time.
Some people continue to use social media simply because they’re unaware of its harmful influence, or because they don’t care enough about its dangers in order to change their behavior. However, many people continue to use social media over time, because even though they know it’s bad for them, they’re psychologically predisposed to keep doing it.
For example, one study found that people keep using Facebook despite the fact that it makes them feel bad, because they keep expecting it to make them feel better, even though it almost never does.
Another study found that those who are addicted to social media experience a time distortion bias, where they feel that tasks that prevent them from checking social media are longer than they actually are.
Furthermore, other studies examined the fear of missing out (FOMO), which is associated with increased use of social networks, including in contexts where this use is especially problematic, such as while studying or driving. People with a stronger need to ‘belong’ tend to experience a stronger fear of missing out, and they also tend to use social networks more frequently than others, and experience more stress when they feel that they are unpopular on their favorite social networks.
Overall, there are many reasons why people continue to use social media excessively, even when this use is associated with a negative impact on their mental health.
These reasons include a lack of awareness regarding the risks involved and a lack of motivation to change, together with a number of psychological mechanisms that make people predisposed to keep using social media even when they know that it’s bad for them, such as the belief that it will make them feel better, and the fear of missing out on things.
Who is most vulnerable to the dangers of social media
There are several background factors that cause people to be more vulnerable, from a psychological perspective, to the dangers of social media. These include, among others:
- Having depression or anxiety.
- Having low self-esteem.
- Being unsatisfied with life.
- Being lonely.
- Lacking a strong support system.
There are also some personality factors that are associated with an increased prevalence of psychological issues that are generally associated with the use of social media. These include, among others:
- Having high levels of neuroticism.
- Having high levels of narcissism.
- Being prone to social comparisons.
- Being emotionally invested in social media.
Finally, note that the way in which people use social media can also potentially make them more vulnerable to its dangers.
Notably, research shows that passive use of social media, which involves using it primarily to observe information produced by others, is more strongly associated with mental health issues than active use of social media, which involves things such as writing messages to others or commenting on posts. This is attributed to the fact that passive use of social media is more likely to provoke social comparisons and envy, which can negatively impact your emotional wellbeing.
Overall, there are many background factors that can make someone more likely to use social media in a problematic way, and more likely to suffer from the negative impact of social media.
In general, those who are most vulnerable are those who suffer from various mental-health issues in the first place, such as depression and anxiety, as well as those who are prone to engaging in detrimental behaviors, such as social comparisons and reliance on social media for approval.
Furthermore, the way in which people use social media can also influence the degree to which they are likely to be negatively affected by it, with those that use it to passively consume information being at more risk than those who use it actively in order to communicate with others.
How to tell if social media is affecting you negatively
Sometimes, it can be difficult for you to notice that social media is making you depressed or that you’re addicted to social media.
One tool you can use is a short questionnaire that was developed by psychology researchers, and which asks you about the way you use social media. Specifically, take a look at the following questions (which are adapted from that questionnaire), and ask yourself whether you’ve experienced any of these issues over the past year, and to what degree:
- Preoccupation- have you regularly found that you can’t think of anything else but the moment that you will be able to use social media again?
- Tolerance- have you regularly felt dissatisfied because you wanted to spend more time on social media?
- Withdrawal- have you often felt bad when you could not use social media?
- Persistence- have you tried to spend less time on social media, but failed?
- Displacement- have you regularly neglected other activities (e.g. hobbies, sport) because you wanted to use social media?
- Problem- have you regularly had arguments with others because of your use of social media?
- Deception- have you regularly lied to your family, friends, or partner about the amount of time you spend on social media?
- Escape- have you often used social media to escape from negative feelings?
- Conflict- have you had serious conflicts with your family, friends, or partner because of your use of social media?
The more issues you’ve experienced due to your social-media use, and the more severe these issues are, the more negatively your social-media use is affecting you.
Furthermore, other factors could also serve as indicators of problematic social-media use. For example, if you feel heavily emotionally invested in social media, or if you feel anxious or depressed more than usual when using social media, that’s an indication that your social-media use is affecting you in a negative manner.
Finally, remember that even if using social media doesn’t cause you to experience overt negative outcomes, you should still ask yourself whether using it is making you feel better, and whether you feel that it’s a productive and positive way to spend your time. If the answer to those questions is ‘no’, then you could likely benefit from reducing the amount of time you spend on social media.
How to avoid the dangers of social media
The information you saw in this article so far has shown you what are the dangers of social media, who is most vulnerable to those dangers, and how to tell if you yourself have an issue with social media.
If, based on this information, you realize that your use of social media is affecting you in a negative way, there are two main things that you can do:
- You can reduce your use of social media.
- You can start using social media in a more positive way.
In the next two sections, you will see how you can accomplish these changes, and reduce the negative impact that social media has on you.
Reduce your use of social media
In general, the less you use social media, the less you will suffer from its negative impact. This reduced usage refers not only to the time which you spend browsing social media, but also to other factors, such as the number of platforms that you use, the situations in which you use social media, and the type of information that you share.
There are various things that you can do in order to reduce your use of social media. The simplest thing to do is to simply decide to use social media less frequently, or to stop using it entirely. Sometimes, this happens naturally, and many people end up feeling social-media fatigue over time, which causes them to take a break from social media on their own.
However, this isn’t always easy to accomplish in practice, due to the psychological mechanisms that we saw earlier, which might cause you to continue using social media, even when you know that it’s bad for you. As such, you will generally benefit from setting concrete goals for yourself, when it comes to reducing your social-media use.
For example, you might decide to limit your use of social media to only two platforms, or you might decide to remove all social media apps from your phone, so you can only access social media from your home computer.
You can also use software that limits your use of social media to only a set amount of time per day, or which locks you out of social media during certain periods of time when you need to concentrate on other things, such as sleep or schoolwork.
An important thing to remember is that, in many cases, problematic use of social-media occurs due to our force of habit, which might cause you to check up on your social-media accounts simply because you’re so used to doing it, rather than because you really want to. Breaking your habit, by using the techniques that we saw above, can help you solve this problem, and successfully reduce your problematic use of social media.
Focus on using social media in a positive way
Despite the fact that social media is associated with many issues, it’s important to keep in mind that using social media won’t necessarily influence you in a negative way. Rather, as long as you’re using social media in a manner that is both moderate and positive, it probably won’t have a significant negative impact on your health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, there are also some potential benefits to using social media, such as the opportunity to form and strengthen connections with other people. As such, the use of social networks can be beneficial when it leads to positive social interactions and to increased social support, and can sometimes actually help reduce feelings of loneliness.
Accordingly, in addition to reducing your use of social media, another thing that you can do in order to reduce the potentially negative impact of social media is to focus on using it in a positive way.
For example, instead of using social-media sites in order to passively consume information, you can try to use them in a more active manner, which involves communicating with people that you care about or discussing hobbies that interest you.
Overall, the main way to avoid the negative influence that social media has on you is to reduce the amount of time and effort that you spend on social media, which you can accomplish by setting concrete goals for yourself and using various tools. Furthermore, you can also focus on using social media in a more positive way, such as by using it to communicate with people in a way that actually makes you feel better.
In general, social media is usually dangerous only if you overuse it, if you use it in a problematic manner, or if you’re emotionally vulnerable in the first place. By limiting your use of social media, and by using it in a positive way, you can avoid experiencing the negative effects associated with social media, and might even end up benefiting from it.
Summary and conclusions
- The use of social media is associated with various mental-health issues, such as depression, anxiety, stress, envy, and emotional exhaustion.
- The relationship between social-media use and issues such as depression exists both because people who are depressed tend to use social media more, as well as because social-media use can cause and exacerbate mental-health issues.
- There are several reasons why people keep using social media despite its harmful influence. These include, among others, people’s tendency to believe that using social media will make them feel better (even if it made them feel worse in the past), as well as people’s fear of missing out on things that are shared on social media.
- There are several indicators that signal that your use of social media is affecting you in a negative way. These include, for example, using social media as an escape from reality, fighting others over your use of social media, and letting your use of social media get in the way of important obligations.
- In order to mitigate the negative impact that social media has on you, you can reduce your use of social media by setting concrete goals for yourself and using various tools to enforce those goals, and you can also focus on using social media in a more positive way, which involves doing things such as talking to people that you care about, instead of passively consuming information.