In the 21st century everyday internet use has become commonplace among Americans. Everyone has access to the internet; if not in their home, at the local library, at school, or at work. Internet access has grown so rapidly that it is becoming increasingly difficult to function without it; many people having access right in their pocket via their mobile phone. Closely following the rise of the internet has been the rise of social media. Social media is the term describing social networking sites, which allow users to communicate with one another electronically. Presently, there are a number of very popular forms of social media, some of the most popular being websites and mobile applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. Not only does social media present a way with which you communicate with others, it also exists as a way to spread ideas, express your thoughts and feelings, and remain up-to-date on current events. With so many outlets, and with such immediate accessibility, therein lies a recipe for addiction.
While the potential impact can be alternately negative and positive; as with anything, excessive use of social media can potentially lead to addiction. With access at one’s fingertips, it opens the door to those with a predisposition for addictive behavior to fall into a trap of dependency. A 2018 study of over 500 university students examines the relationship between narcissistic personality disorder and self-esteem, and social media use. The study found that there existed a weakened negative relationship between social media use and self-esteem, as well as a positive relationship between increased levels of social media use and narcissism. The findings of this study exposed direct correlations between social media use to psychological behavior. Addicted participants came to need social media; attaining likes, views, and reactions, in order to feel fulfilled and satisfied (Sahin & Kumcagiz 2139).
Waqar Hassan, a Digital Marketing Expert and blogger for Socialnomics, a website exploring the correlation between digital and social trends, examines the many downsides of social media on mental health. Hassan claims, “Social [media] addiction can inflict a lot of damage on your psyche and mental health, which can lead to long-term effects on your personality and confidence, thereby influencing your future.” While heightened levels of narcissism and fluctuations in self-esteem can be predictors of social media addiction, issues such as stress, fatigue, social anxiety, insecurity, as well as emotional suppression can also be developed or exacerbated as a result of excessive social media use (Hassan).
The purpose of social media, put simply, is to connect users to one another. However, Hassan discusses how this does not match the need for, or satisfaction of, actual human interaction. Users become dependent on social media use, decreasing or eliminating face-to-face interactions, ultimately resulting in the development or increase of social anxiety. Social media can also be used as a form of emotional suppression. Users with an addiction, become susceptible to turning to social media as a means of distracting themselves from “real-life” problems or responsibilities (Hassan).
Often times, social media is not an accurate representation of users’ real lives. Users have the freedom to present themselves in the best light, withholding negative aspects of their lives. This creates an illusion that can result in unwarranted jealousy or the resentment of others, increasing levels of insecurity in those already prone to emotional sensitivity. Similarly, exposing oneself to the internet via social media opens users up to the potential of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, or bullying that happens virtually, allows a bully to hide behind a screen, and sometimes remain anonymous. This can have an extreme effect on those suffering from insecurities or even depression.
The development of addiction to social media can, no doubt, worsen existing mental health issues. However, those without mental illness, or without the propensity for addiction, stand to benefit from the use of social media. As with anything, overconsumption can have a negative impact. However social media, for all its shortcomings, does not need to be demonized. As internet access has spread, and social media use has expanded, understanding of this phenomenon, from a mental health perspective, must too evolve. The key to enjoying social media, is in finding balance, and use with the intended purpose in mind.
ŞAHİN, Cengiz, and Hatice KUMCAĞIZ. “The Predictive Role of Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Social Media Addiction.” International Journal of Eurasia Social Sciences, vol. 8, no. 30, 13 Dec. 2017, pp. 2136–2155. Academic Search Complete, 0-web.b.ebscohost.com.aspen.ald.lib.co.us/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=88799a01-2749-4c70-ac76-d27a6cf886d3@sessionmgr120.
Hassan, Waqar. “How Social Media Addiction Is Bad for Mental Health.” Socialnomics, 8 Jan. 2018, socialnomics.net/2016/01/08/how-social-media-addiction-is-bad-for-mental-health/.