by Shaelyn Saraceni
Recently, I decided to cleanse myself of social media for a time, which lasted a little over two months, in order to help clear my befuddled young mind. I have always had a love-hate relationship with social media. Many of my “friends” on social media have no insight into or real interest in my real life. Even many people who may comment on or like a post of mine do not acknowledge my existence in person with so much as a wave or smile. Reality is more virtual than it has ever been. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and Youtube all have one thing in common: they take attention away from the real world and invest it into a virtual reality. Social media is a way to show the best or worst side of one’s self, and it often dramatizes and exaggerates the truth. In addition, anyone can be anyone in the virtual world because of anonymity. Since people can choose what information others can see (or not see) about them, social media gives those who may not have the courage for face-to-face confrontation an outlet for bullying or catfishing. The more time people spend on a screen, the less human encounters and interaction they experience. Though social media has brought social globalization through its ability to connect people, its unforeseen ugly sides include diminishing people’s mental health, creating cyberbullies, decreasing human interaction, and increasing the access and intake of fake news.
The more frequently one uses social media, the less likely they are to be happy. According to Wenhong Chen and Kye-Hyoung Lee, in their article “Sharing, Liking, Commenting, and Distressed? The Pathway Between Facebook Interaction and Psychological Distress,” they state, “We take into consideration a variety of Facebook interaction—relational, communicative, and informational—and find that more frequent Facebook interaction is associated with greater psychological distress.” People become unhappy the more they use social media. Social media most definitely does not make me happy, unless I’m watching cute dog videos. In the book, “Social Media and Your Brain: Web-Based Communication Is Changing How We Think and Express Ourselves,” C. G. Prado asserts, “Indeed, this last achievement might be the most remarkable, since psychological studies reliably show that there is [a] clear cognitive deficit experienced as one crosses thresholds. We forget what we were going to fetch, or lose track of the bright idea we came in here to note down.” People’s attention spans shrink as social media provides them instant gratification in the form of scrolling or swiping faster. The number of pictures and amount of text in messages posted have to be shorter to keep up with people’s weakening attention spans. In addition to causing increased unhappiness and weakening attention spans, social media can make room for malicious behavior that cannot be easily traced back to the instigator.
Social media can be a dangerous place due to anonymity. According to the article, "Is Cyberbullying Worse Than Traditional Bullying? Examining the Differential Roles of Medium, Publicity, and Anonymity for the Perceived Severity of Bullying," the assertion is that “it is not surprising that adolescents are aware that public cyberbullying is a very severe form of aggression that has the potential to cause a large amount of damage in little time,” in Cyberbullying is no less real or harmful than face-to-face bullying. People have the ability to put whatever information, pictures, and comments they choose, which can lead to not only cyberbullying but also catfishing. People can create fake profiles if they want with false information and stolen pictures. In an article from the University of Texas at Austin, it is claimed, “Each year, thousands of Americans are fooled by scammers posing as potential soul mates online. Catfishing and ‘sweetheart scams’ swindle people out of thousands of dollars each year.” Psychologically, cyberbullying can mess with a person, but physically and emotionally catfishing can harm them. Unfortunately, the dangers of social media do not end there.
Human interaction is vital to mental and physical development, but social media changes the way people interact with each other from face-to-face to virtual. Interacting with people positively affects the body's ability to decrease stress and depression. In the medical article, “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy,” Debra Umberson and Jennifer Montez suggest that “supportive interactions with others benefit immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions and reduce allostatic load, which reflects wear and tear on the body due, in part, to chronically overworked physiological systems engaged in stress responses.” More simply put, people’s bodies function better as a whole—physically and mentally—when they have healthy relationships and interactions with others. Though emotional support or positive comments can be given through social media, the person behind the comments is invisible to the viewer, and, therefore, this type of communication lacks the same effect as in-person relationships. Michael Plumb, in his article “Non-Verbal Communication in Instant Messaging,” considers to what extent understanding is lost when using electronic media instead of face-to-face communication in the following:
Research shows that the lack of nonverbal communication in purely online media, such as text messaging, emails, and social media, can cause problems for a receiver trying to interpret the message. These problems may result in a misinterpretation of a message and a loss of cohesive communication between both parties
Misinterpretation in meanings of messages trying to be communicated is frustrating for the communicator and receiver. Confusion is never settling, and it is not surprising then that people have a tendency to be more depressed the more frequently they use social media.
Social media has become the main source of news for many people. Unfortunately, fake news is circulated much easier and more frequently with social media. In a Stanford journal, written by professors Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow, it is asserted, “We define ‘fake news’ to be news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers.” Keeping this in mind, social media does not have a fake news filter, and many people click share or like after reading the article’s headline only. Even those who read the whole article often will not think to check the source to see if it has reliable information. Some may wonder who would spread fake news and why, but “ . . . news articles that go viral on social media can draw significant advertising revenue when users click to the original site” (Allcott and Gentzkow). Time is money, and the more time people spend reading fake news, the more money the producers of fake news make. This makes it increasingly important for people to check where their information is coming from, especially on social media.
The age of social media is not something we can stop or fight because it already makes up a huge part of day-to-day life for multitudes of people. Its effects, however, are something everyone should be aware of. Awareness is necessary to combat the negative effects that everyone will eventually suffer from if we continue to rely on social media as much as we currently do. Social media does not make us more social. It makes us less social.
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