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The Negative Effects of Social Media

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The Negative Effects of Social Media
Christine M. Boyd
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Social media is something that has become a part of the lives of millions. Every day we see people constantly posting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Some think that these media outlets unite people together, but I’m beginning to think the contrary is closer to the truth. It’s common to see multiple people in a room glued to their phones instead of actually engaging with each other. In this paper, I will investigate why people have developed an obsession with social media, how social media creates a false reality, and how social media can be harmful to our mental health. There are a variety of reasons why people have developed an obsession with social media, making it harder to cut ties with it. According to the article Technology Addiction in Adolescents by Vivek Agarwal and Sujit Kumar Kar, “Companies making mobile phones, made them compatible for other technologies like – games, videos, internet browsing and many other applications which facilitate their wide circulation and making them more addicting objects” (pg. 171). When people have constant internet access through their smart phones, it makes it extremely difficult to avoid social media. Smart phones usually vibrate or make a noise when you get a Facebook or Twitter notification, which can increase your likelihood of checking the application. Along with constant internet access, excessive social media use has been linked with a need for social interaction. According to the study Social Competence and Psychological Vulnerability as Predictors of Facebook Addiction, people who are unhappy with their social lives are more likely to become addicted to Facebook. These people often feel less vulnerable and anxious on Facebook than they do with face to face interactions (Statici et al. 2014). To some, posting on social media feels more safe and secure than regular interactions do. Being hidden behind a screen makes it easier for people to express themselves without feeling as judged.
I’ve also noticed that there are many people who consistently use social media for attention. According to Brunskill (2014), “….’narcissism also ‘predicts higher levels of social activity in the online community, and more self-promoting content’ [41] (such as attractive photos and glowing written descriptions of the self)” (pg. 405). The journal also explains that narcissists frequent social media because it gives them the positive attention they crave, and validates their own inflated opinions about themselves. I see this frequently on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. People are constantly posting “selfies” and bragging about all their accomplishments. It’s as if they need to prove themselves to hundreds of people at a time. They also feel the need to make their lives seem extremely eventful, posting videos of every concert, party, or bar crawl. I sometimes wonder if these people are actually enjoying themselves, or if they just want others to think that they are.
Social media addiction can potentially be very damaging. The Milbourne (2015) article states that “the phenomenon of Internet addiction is prevalent in a number of societies….and in significant cases of overuse may result in poor work performance, broken relationships, poor academic performance and low grade point average “ (pg. 2). When something affects your work/school performance in a negative way, it could also affect your future in a negative way. People get very caught up in social media without realizing that they’re hurting themselves.
This leads to the topic of social media creating a false reality. Online we have social avatars, which represent what we want others to see. The problem is that these avatars can be drastically different from who we are offline (Brunkill 2014). When you post a picture on Instagram you can edit and heavily filter it to the point where it looks completely different from the original. You can also tweet things that are favorable to how you want to be perceived by others, and share posts on Facebook that make you look “cool”. What you post on social media can have absolutely nothing to do with who you actually are. People rarely post about their fears, weaknesses, and shortcomings in order to be perceived in a better light. The following excerpt taken from an online forum gives a good example of this:
“I was able to project a successful image to the outside world but I knew that my life was an illusion. I was very unhappy because I was trying to be who I thought would be acceptable to others, rather than live my life in a way which pleased myself, and not according to a false image of success that had formed in my psyche over years of conditioning” (Brunkill 2014 pg. 395). It’s sad that social media has led to people valuing a virtual image instead of more important things. Brunksill relates this to how humans in real life are always trying to impress others. They wear their best clothes to church on Sunday and use their “best china” when having guest over. The difference is that it is much easier to portray a good image online than it is in person (Brunskill 2014). Not everyone has the financial ability to impress people in reality, but in the virtual world it’s easy to only show your favorable attributes. People want to be accepted by others, and It’s easy to become accepted through social media outlets that are only telling half of the story. It is even being argued that this virtual reality is ruining our face to face relationships. According to Lori Wagner, people in today’s society prefer mediated interaction as opposed to personal interaction. This means that people would rather communicate through texting or social media than they would in person (Wagner 2015). When people do this they are risking real relationships with the people around them. In person interactions also lose some of their richness when people become accustom to interacting without using as many of their senses. When speaking to someone through social media, you don’t hear their tone of voice, or see their facial expressions (Wagner 2015). It’s hard to form a meaningful relationship with someone if you’re in person interactions are limited. There are cases of people forming online relationships who realize that they’re far less compatible when they meet in person. When you talk to someone through Facebook, you have time to think about what you say before you actually say it. When you do this the response becomes less genuine. You can simply say things that you don’t necessarily mean just to get a favorable response from someone else. It’s also hard to communicate on social media if you don’t know the person very well. They could get the wrong impression of you just because it’s hard to interpret an online message at times.
Not only can the false reality of social media potentially discredit in person interactions, it can also be harmful for our mental health. In the article Online Social Networking and Mental Health by Igor Pantic, frequent social media use can lead to signs of depression. When people spend a lot of time on the internet, they are spending less time with their friends and family. This can lead to feelings of loneliness (Pantic 2014). As mentioned earlier, connecting with people through social media isn’t as meaningful. This means that someone could still feel lonely even if they’re connecting with many others through Facebook or Twitter. The Pantic article also suggests that outlets like Facebook can have a negative effect on one’s self esteem. Users with lower self esteem are likely to post more self inflating content to the site (Pantic 2014). This relates to the Brunskill Journal mentioned earlier talking about narcissism. It’s possible that Facebook users are perceived as “narcissists” for posting self inflating content, but in reality they might just have low self esteem. Along with self esteem issues, excessive social media use can also lead to compartmentalization, or the separation of certain personality aspects. Compartmentalization can lead to poor mental health because keeping parts of our personality together is important for our psychological well being (Pantic 2014). When people pick and choose what personal attributes they want to post on social media, they’re compartmentalizing. Brunskill argues that offline identities are highly likely to be completely different from online avatars. This wide gap can lead to “..Internal conflict, emotional distress, and a psychological erosion of the congruence necessary for psychological authenticity and well-being in the longer term” (Brunskill 2014, pg. 403). When social media users compare themselves to their social avatars, they are likely to feel dissatisfied. This can lead to feelings of envy, jealousy, and sadness (Brunskill 2014).
In this paper, I investigated why people have developed an obsession with social media, how social media creates a false reality, and how social media can be harmful to our mental health. People have been shown to have an obsession with social media because of constant internet access, unhappiness with social circumstances, and narcissistic tendencies. Social media creates a false reality when users create social avatars unlike themselves, and when users lack genuineness in their communication with others. Lastly, social media can be harmful to our mental health by leading to signs of depression, low self esteem, and feelings of dissatisfaction. This paper only examined only a few of the negative aspects of social media. With more research done in the future, further negative aspects will come to light.

Agarwal, V., & Kar, S. K. (2015, July). Technology addiction in adolescents. Journal of Indian Association for Child & Adolescent
Mental Health. pp. 170-174.
PSYCHE. Journal Of Current Issues In Media & Telecommunications, 6(4), 391-415.
Milbourne, C. C., & Wilkinson, J. S. (2015). Chasing Infinity: The Fear of
Disconnecting. American Communication Journal, 17(2), 1-14.
Pantic, I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, Behavior And Social Networking, 17(10), 652-657
Wagner, L. A. (2015). When your smartphone is too smart for your own good: How social media alters human relationships. The Journal Of Individual Psychology,71(2), 114-121.

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