Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Effects of Social Media: Engage Responsibly

First and foremost, I want to say that I am in no way suggesting that social media is 100% awful. Like most things, it has it's advantages and disadvantages. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. has given us the opportunity to connect with people like never before. Distance no longer hinders our ability to experience other cultures, meet new people and keep in touch with old friends. In a mere second, we can talk to someone on the other side of the world without wracking up "long distance" charges. Without social media, there's a good chance start-up companies would never happen, advances in media don't take place, and the world implodes from lack of computer/cell phone use. (Just kidding on the last one, but sometimes I wonder...) 

I also want to say that I do, indeed, understand that this is being brought to you via a social media device called Blogger. Social media can be a wonderful thing! You see those posts on Facebook about people donating money for a child's life-saving operation or the many dogs/cats that are saved by the SPCA posting pictures to the Twitter-verse. You can keep up with your friends from high school who are starting families or network with other small business to be more successful. Really, the possibilities are endless. But what we might not think about are the possible negative effects that social media can have on us as individuals and collectively as a human race.

Most of these negative effects have to do with over-consumption or over-use, so I'd like to start with that disclaimer first. Of course one can go about their life constantly engaging in some form of social media and never have any issues. It's possible, but I dare say, not probable. However, the more aware we are of the possibilities of certain issues, the more likely we are to be able to monitor ourselves and prevent them from happening, which is hopefully what this article will do for you.

Issue #1: Social Media can hurt our relationships

 A June 2013 study conducted by the University of Missouri found that high amounts of Facebook use among couples "significantly predicted" Facebook-related arguments, which in turn "significantly predicted negative relationship outcomes such as cheating, breakup, or divorce." Researchers surveyed Facebook users of all ages and their findings were not stipulated by age but rather the maturity of the relationship. 

Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the Univ. of Missouri who was helping to conduct the study, said that “Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners. Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.” The more we're on Facebook, the more likely we are to be monitoring our partner's activity on Facebook, he finds, which can lead to these sorts of issues.

Limitations:  These problems seemed to occur most in relationships of 3 years or less.

Issue #2: Social Media can "amplify our culture's growing levels of narcissism" 

The University of Michigan cunducted a study in June 2013 which looked specifically at Facebook and Twitter and their role in narcissitic behavior and addressed that these mediums could be influencing their users to become preoccupied with how other people see them.

"According to [Elliot] Panek (University of Michigan), Facebook serves narcissistic adults as a mirror. "It's about curating your own image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image," he said. "Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles." For narcissistic college students, the social media tool of choice is the megaphone of Twitter. "Young people may overevaluate the importance of their own opinions," Panek said. "Through Twitter, they're trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.""

Is this really all that bad? I guess that is determined by your own viewpoint but the more focused we are on ourselves, the less we're focused on other people, which means our social awareness is completely skewed. What's startling to me is that I had already felt this way before researching into it. I had noticed that the more I used Facebook or Twitter, the more I was concerned with people "liking" my status or commenting on it. It's as if by creating this online persona, we have to be constantly validated as well as encouraged that we are good enough, smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough... you fill in the blank. These can lead to an unhealthy ego and/or unhealthy self esteem, all of which plays into the next issue. 

Limitations: Of course, I acknowledge that this a generalization and not everyone will develop narcissistic tendencies or traits. However, it is substantially more likely to occur than if one engaged in less social media. 

Issue #3: Social Media can hurt our self esteem

As human beings, we tend to constantly compare ourselves to each other, that's just a fact of life. A lot of times, we don't even know we're doing it! But it's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it keeps us in check with cultural or societal norms or when we're young, it helps us learn how to function in society and even how to communicate and socialize with others. But it can also be a very bad thing, in terms of how it impacts our self esteem. The problems with Facebook and other similar social media is that it gives us a skewed version of other peoples' lives (usually a very positive one) to which we compare our own, which can severely and negatively affect our self esteem. 

A study was done at Stanford University by Alex Jordon on 80 Facebook users, who found that people regularly overestimate the positive aspects of other peoples' lives and underestimate the negative ones. Jordon states that "by showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles' heel of human nature. And women may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses." What we need to remember when looking through these types of sites is that many people don't post the bad things that happen in their lives, which means your perception of how "happy" or "great" their lives are compared to your own isn't true.

I don't know about you, but I'm definitely guilty of this. A year ago at the coming of my 24th birthday, I had a midlife crises. I know how this sounds, but it's true. I had a complete mental breakdown because I wasn't anywhere near where I wanted to be at that age. Sure, Facebook didn't cause these problems, the feelings of inadequacy were already there and that's something I'm dealing with. But what I discovered was that Facebook was making things much more difficult for me; it was making me feel worse and worse about myself because every time I was logged on, I was bombarded with all these great things that my friends had accomplished and I was still working on. It was inviting constant comparison between me and every one of my friends. I'd open Facebook and it would only take a minute scrolling down the News Feed to see all the things I had always wanted in my life (that I had not yet had or accomplished) in the lives of others, and it made me feel like a complete failure. It took me a long while to realize the impact that Facebook had on me, and it was then that I realized I needed to be careful with the amount of Facebooking I do. Because I don't need those negative feelings in my life and neither does anyone else. 

Limitations: Not everyone will experience negative impacts to their self esteem. There is  some research that has been found to suggests that Facebook can have a positive effect based on it's ability for us to put a positive image of ourselves out there. There is a certain amount of control the user possesses with the pictures and writings that they post on their wall, which can provide a strengthening to their self esteem. There are also those that are normally shy in real life and are able to finally speak up via Facebook/Twitter, which can boost their self esteem.    

I'm not suggesting to give up social media completely, but to be aware of how we feel when we use it and adjust accordingly. Knowing the harmful impacts it can have, we can still reap all the benefits while being able to minimize the possible negative outcomes. 

Engage responsibly.   







  1. This is not a research study, but a well-written article about the issues caused by excessive social media. I think you'll enjoy it! http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/magazine/01wwln-lede-t.html?_r=0

    1. Thank you!! It may not be a research study but it's still research! ;)