We spend easily about 50% of our time awake looking at digital screens, between checking our social media accounts, shopping, gaming, news searching, and messaging. Recent surveys reveal that an average internet user has 150 different accounts…The question is, how does this high exposure to influence marketing, disinformation, and political polarization affect our mental health and what can we do it about?
We all use social media in some role or another. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, and while SM is critically useful for businesses and individuals in many ways, it is fundamental to be aware of the risks associated with heavy SM use in order to avoid or better manage them while benefiting from them.
As it turns out, SM use is associated with a variety of risks when it comes to people’s emotional well-being, mental and physical health, and many other areas of life. Specifically, research shows that SM use is associated with:
- Emotional exhaustion.
- Low self-esteem
- Fear of missing out
- Issues that play a role in specific situations, such as cyberbullying, scams, and stalking
- Other key risks such as exposure to misinformation, violation of one’s privacy, and political polarization
Some of these concerns are not limited to social apps rather they are associated with internet use in general. However, many of these risks are more strongly associated with SM and with behaviors that are almost entirely exclusive to SM. A case in point is the negative impact of taking a “selfie,” which has been shown to increase people’s social sensitivity and reduce their self-esteem.
There are many reasons why people continue to use SM, regardless of whether they are unaware of its harmful influence or are aware of it but don’t care enough. The Social platforms business model is constantly refined, based on the knowledge of human psychological mechanisms, to become more and more addictive. In addition, today, our personal digital branding defines who we are in society.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF SOCIAL MEDIA IS AFFECTING YOU NEGATIVELY?
While it may not be obvious, it only takes a little practice and reflection on how you use social platforms and how you feel when you use them to realize that your use of social media may reflect badly on you. To help you do this, try to actively identify your state of mind every time you browse each social platform. Do you ever feel anxious because posts on social media give you the impression that others are much happier, more successful than you, or have a richer lifestyle? Be very careful here because Linkedin and Instagram are full of fake success stories and false promises meant to generate business. We will detail this in another post.
On the other hand, how often do you feel angry, depressed, or stressed when you browse Facebook and/or Twitter? Well, it’s kind of normal to feel this way after heavy exposure to the misinformation and manipulation campaigns overwhelming these platforms.
HOW CAN YOU MANAGE TO REDUCE THE RISKS?
- Consider which aspects of SM are causing you issues, and which aspects you find beneficial, and then modify your use of social media accordingly
- Use social media in a positive way
- Get involved in meaningful communication with others
- Present your honest self-expression instead of an idealized version of yourself
- Avoid problematic comparisons with others on social media (remember others are also presenting idealized versions of their selves.
- Take a break from time to time
- Don’t get stuck in echo-chambers
Finally remember, “Social Media can seem like an artificial world in which people’s lives consist entirely of exotic vacations, thriving friendships, and photogenic, healthy meals. In fact, there is an entire industry built around people’s desire to present idealistic self-representations on social media. Popular applications allow users to modify everything about themselves, from skin tone to the size of their physical features. In line with this ‘self-idealization perspective’, research has shown that self-expressions on social media platforms are often idealized, exaggerated, and unrealistic. That is, social media users often act as virtual curators of their online selves by staging or editing content they present to others.”….. From “Authentic self-expression on social media is associated with greater subjective well-being” (Bailey et al., 2020)
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