Social Media Today: The Consequences of Extensive Social Media Use

The following is my essay for New Communication Technologies, in which I am supposed to embed hyperlinks to relevant references. Unfortunately, due to the fact that my references come from online journals and databases that require subscription, I was unable to do this. 

Social media has emerged to become a prominent part of the internet, making its way to become a dominating factor in the lives of many young people (Whiteman, 2014). Social media, however, due to how relatively new it is, carries with it many unknown consequences. These include social, economic, psychological or even physical. This paper will strive to investigate the effects that the extensive use of social media will have on the health of its users, focusing on mental health. Ultimately, the evidence will prove that social media, while it does have its benefits, has predominantly negative health effects on people whom use it extensively.

In order to assess the relationship between the use of social media and its subsequent health effects, social media must be defined. Social media as a construct, is composed of several key elements: it is an electronic means of communication, in which communities are created to share information, which can be presented in many platforms (Prasad, 2013). Key examples of these social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

There are many ways in which social media platforms can be harnessed. In relation to the user’s health, it is important to note that social media can be used as a tool to promote positive healthy attitudes and behaviours. The use of social media in promoting individual health can prove to be effective and inexpensive for the companies that harness it (Norman, 2012). This is a positive, yet indirect way of showing the effects of social media on mental health. Studies show that these reforms work. Livingston, Cianfrone, Korf-Uzan and Coniglio (2014) conducted a one year longitudinal study, and found the implementation of social media campaigns focused on mental health, which helped improve the participant’s attitudes on this topic. One potential criticism of the continuous use of these campaigns, is the possibility that exposure to too many campaigns may reduce an individual’s receptivity to it. Regardless, recent research is in favour of the positive power of health campaigns in social media (Livingston, et al., 2014). This positive consequence is an example of how the use of social media can indirectly improve personal health.

Social media also has its positive direct effects. Recently, mental health practitioners have harnessed aspects social media in forms of therapy for individuals with various mental health problems (Betton & Tomlinson, 2013). Social media benefits mental health by reducing social isolation, fostering peer support and creating an opportunity to share knowledge and learn as part of a community (Betton & Tomlinson, 2013). The integration of social media into forms of therapy further displays the positive effects that the use of social media can have on its users, showing that there is much to gain in the social networks created and maintained online.

The evidence being discussed so far, however, does not represent the effects that the extensive use of social media can have. Recent statistics show that sixty-three percent of Facebook users in America access their accounts at least once a day (Whiteman, 2014). Furthermore, forty percent of Facebook users in America are reported to access their accounts multiple times a day (Whiteman, 2014). These statistics show just how predominant social media is in the world today which is not necessarily an entirely positive fact.

The increased extensive use of social media has created new problems in society. People are becoming dependant on their social media usage, experiencing negative emotions when being withheld from their accounts (Whiteman, 2014). A recent survey found that roughly twenty-five percent of participants believed that social media sites had a negative effect on their behaviour and lives (Paddock, 2012). The use of websites like Facebook and Twitter are believed to have negative consequences to those who already suffer from anxiety, and it can be the force that pushes them over the edge, creating a heightened sense of insecurity in these people (Paddock, 2012). This indicates that social media is not a very positive resource in reference to mental health in anxious people. The statistics also show that insecure and anxious people are more likely to be utilising Facebook to a greater degree, compared to their slightly more confident counterparts. This is likely due to the relative ease experienced when communicating through social media (Paddock, 2012). Overall this suggests that the extensive use of websites such as Facebook and Twitter can have very negative effects, not only causing dependence resulting in anxiety when withheld from social media, but also exacerbating existing anxiety problems.

Beyond the scope of anxiety, a recent study investigated the effects on general well-being if the use of Facebook was increased, as compared to decreased, over a fourteen day period. This study found that participants who increased their overall Facebook usage during this time had a decrease in the general well-being during this period (Whiteman, 2013). This is an important finding, as fourteen days is quite a short period, and therefore can be representative of an excessive use of social media. Furthermore, this study shows the effects that extensive Facebook use can have on those who do not necessarily have anxiety problems, and is therefore more generalisable to the public.

Within social media, various types of activities can occur. Some include gaming, or networking, and can be a generally neutral or positive aspect of this construct, however some of these activities can be harmful. An example of this is the cyberbullying. This is a new concept, due to the fact that it requires modern technology to exist, and yet it affects millions of children each year (Kowalski, et al., 2012). A Swedish study found in person bullying to commonly conducted with cyberbullying as well, claiming that cyberbullying is an extension of real-life bullying and can result in depressive symptom in all victims, as well as psychosomatic problems in female victims (Landstedt & Persson, 2014). Even without the presence of real-life bullying, cyberbullying can detrimentally effect a victim’s life having a strong impact on their school experience, with the potential of suffering greater psychological harm than student who experience bullying in real life (Feinberg & Robey, 2009). A very negative aspect of cyberbullying is the fact that victims can remain anonymous, and therefore may feel at liberty to transmit more damaging messages than perpetrators of real-life bullying (Feinberg & Robey, 2009). Cyberbullying, unfortunately, is a significant aspect of social media, and has very detrimental psychological effects to its victims. It is a facet of social media that arguably bears the most risk to the mental health of social media users.

There are many reasons for why the extensive use of social media can have a negative effect of the health of its users, and much support as well. In Ireland, the inappropriate use of social media has been observed to have negative effects on the mental health of its users, in support of the previous literature (Collier, 2013). The facets of social media that are forms of inappropriate use include cyberbullying, as well as the exposure social media enables to violent and sexual material, and online harassment (Collier, 2013). Furthermore, social media can enable its users to decrease the amount of face-to-face social interaction they engage in, making this form of antisocial behaviour, essentially socially acceptable. Until these issues surrounding social media can be addressed, social media should only be recommended in moderation.

The evidence suggests that the extensive use of social media has a negative effect on the user. Whilst the implications of the efficacy of health promotion through social media, and the use of social media in forms of therapy are positive, the predominant negative effect that the extensive use of social media has on general well-being and anxiety levels, makes social media a device that can be detrimental to the user’s health. To exacerbate this, cyberbullying, which is a phenomenon borne of social media, poses the greatest threat to the psychological state of its victims. This needs to be firmly combatted to protect the youth who are predominately the victims of it. Despite the many benefits of social media, the literature provided gives evidence that people should refrain from the overuse of social media in their everyday lives.

References

Betton, B. & Tomlinson, V., 2013. Social media can help in recovery – but are mental health practitioners up to speed?. Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 17(4), pp. 215-219.

Collier, R., 2013. Social media and mental health. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 185(12), p. 577.

Feinberg, T. & Robey, N., 2009. Cyberbullying. The Education Digest, 74(7), pp. 26-31.

Kowalski, R. M., Limber, S. P. & Agatston, P. W., 2012. Cyberbullying : bullying in the digital age. 2nd ed. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Landstedt, E. & Persson, S., 2014. Bullying, cyberbullying, and mental health in young people. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health45, 42(4), pp. 393-399.

Livingston, J. D., Cianfrone, M., Korf-Uzan, K. & Coniglio, C., 2014. Another time point, a different story: one year effects of a social media intervention on the attitudes of young people towards mental health issues. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49(6), pp. 985-990.

Norman, C. D., 2012. Social media and health promotion. Global Health Promotion, 19(4), p. 3.

Paddock, C., 2012. Facebook Use Feeds Anxiety And Inadequacy Says Small Study. [Online]
Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/
[Accessed 26 September 2014].

Prasad, B., 2013. Social media, health care, and social networking. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, 77(3), pp. 492-495.

Whiteman, H., 2013. Could Facebook be making you miserable?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/
[Accessed 26 September 2014].

Whiteman, H., 2014. Social media: how does it really affect our mental health and well-being?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/
[Accessed 25 September 2014].

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