Social media use is correlated with several problems. These range from depression and anxiety to addiction and increased suicide rates. Deep down most social media platforms are manipulative and exploitative. A Netflix original documentary titled The Social Dilemma elaborates upon some of these issues. However, social media continues to have its uses. Here we explore how to use these platforms wisely, while avoiding their inherent evils.
The Digital 2020: October Global Statshot report documents 4.14 billion active users on at least one social media platform. 25 million of these are from Canada. The report estimates that social media platforms add upwards of 2 million new users globally every day. The Global Web Index shows that users spent an average of 7 hours daily on social media during Q2 2020. As of November 2020 Facebook is worth $768 billion. Clearly the platforms command big numbers which are getting even bigger.
The way in which tech giants manipulate their users and abuse privacy has been the subject of many studies and lawsuits. Most social media platforms give free access to users. Their primary revenue streams are from advertisers. The platforms’ objective is to maximize users’ online time. To this end they employ strategies to get users hooked. The ‘like’ button, tagging other people in pictures, notifications, alerts, and status updates are only some examples of such tactics. To social media companies the users’ time is a commodity to be sold to the highest paying advertisers. They monitor every click, gesture, and keystroke. They also maintain vast datasets on the behavior of each user. The datasets are unlimited in size and are kept for indefinite time. Billions of dollars worth of computer hardware and powerful machine learning algorithms constantly work on these datasets to track, predict, and influence user behavior. Social media platforms conduct surveillance and behavior manipulation on an unprecedented scale. Unfortunately all of this is still legal.
The central issue with social media is that it is addictive. Every ‘like’ is a social approval which makes the human brain keep coming back for more. Teenagers and young adults are more susceptible to mental health issues from excessive time spent on social media. A 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health concluded that social media usage increases the feeling of isolation by 3 times. A 2019 study by York University in Canada found that the use of social media makes “…young adult women felt more dissatisfied with their bodies,” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry uncovered a link between social media usage and anxiety among adolescents. The 2019 study shows that higher amounts of screen time are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression.
A Sage Journal study from 2018 mentions that an ‘emotional connection’ to social media can have negative impacts. Checking apps excessively for the ‘fear of losing out’ and feeling disconnected with the world are examples of such emotional connection.
The case for social media
Social media does have its benefits. We can use it to connect with distant friends and family. Patients can consult doctors. Students can reach their professors. Job seekers can find potential employers. The Kinsta October 2020 Report indicates that last year 122 million people scored job interviews through LinkedIn. 35.5 million of these were hired. Social media users can stay updated on government announcements and local news through their official pages.
Use it responsibly
There are benefits as long as social media users limit their online time. The key is moderation. A University of Pennsylvania study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology in 2019 found that “…using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness”.
We must also be careful about how we spend our time online. Avoid the addictive aspects. Stop scrolling through updates and newsfeeds. Stop profile browsing. Scale down sharing and posting. Use social media purposefully. We are capable of being objective. We prove this in how we use our other apps. Think of using a banking or money transfer app. One logs on, inputs the necessary info to send money online, gets a confirmation, and logs off. We must be equally objective in using social networks. Log on to find specific information and log off when you have found it. Let’s not give the corporations any more of our valuable time than necessary.
We must be cautious of what we share and with whom. Take time to customize the privacy settings. Be careful when sharing and reposting news. Social media platforms have an inherent interest in propagating fake news, simply because it gets more hits. To them authenticity does not translate to revenue; page hits do. Share news sparingly. Verify credibility from independent and official sources before sharing it. Flag any offensive posts. Block the accounts and users that spread fake news.
We can turn off or disable notifications from our apps selectively. This allows us to find joy in offline things. Participate in real world activities that add actual value. Learn a new skill. Practice a favorite hobby. A Harvard Study published in 2013 found a direct link between practicing hobbies and overall mental well-being. Connect with nature. A study published in Science Advances journal (vol. 5, July 2019) shows that regular exposure to nature has a positive impact on emotional well-being. Put your phone aside and take the time to play with children or pets. Connecting in real life is worth much more that connecting in a virtual world.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.