The effect of Social Media on People
Social media has forever altered the way human beings will communicate. With the ability to access the entire world from the recliner in the living room, people can feel an intense connection unlike any other. Since the mid-2000's social media has been skyrocketing in active users, the amount of content being upload, and the amount of time people spend on the sites. While this undeniably incredible access has many benefits, the negative effects are uncanny and, also, undeniable. Per minute, a staggering 2.083 million snapchat pictures are sent, 4.333 million YouTube videos are watched, and 473 thousand tweets are sent to twitter, by the almost 2.77 billion active users across the globe. (statista) The quantity of information being upload per minute does not come without its own costs. New phrases such as "Facebook depression", "smartphone addiction", and "weaponization of social media" outline the issues that social media platforms enable. In sync with the obvious problems that come from social media, it is worth discussing the possibility of regulating social media, as done with other addictive and dangerous substances. Social media needs to be regulated because it has tremendously damaging effects on society by inducing negative human psyche, habitual use, and real-life threats to privacy and security.
Social media has its grasp on humanity and is constricting it at its core. It has become a place where people tend to vent their frustrations and stresses, but also to express their happiness and excitement. However, talking about the more realistic events in life, such as, confusion, disorder, lack of passion, and other complex emotions can become taboo to mention online. Social media has been turning its head towards identifying and normalizing conversation about mental illness, but in reality, the platforms the communities utilize may cause the same complex emotions they are trying to destroy. The feelings that social media provoke, seem to be consistently negative. A common trend is social comparisons. Users are observing their lives online and comparing them so the false lives portrayed online. The issue is that it causes people to compare themselves to unrealistic expectations of what they post and what they see online. While some individuals can conclude that this may be a motivator, science disagrees and sees it as a deterrent for progress. A perfect example comes from NPR's Hidden Brain podcast. In the episode titled "Shadenfacebook", host Shankar Vedantam explores Rachel Leonard's experience with social media. One instance they discuss is a picture Leonard posted to Instagram of a scenic view from her balcony consisting of mountains and greenery. However, to the immediate left of the picture was an ugly factory that she failed to post in her picture. Why? Because it is ugly. People procure a form of life they deem acceptable to post and then post a manufactured version of reality. This creates a façade that users compare their lives to. Comparing yourself to an unrealistic post can generate animosity for those living that way and for yourself for not living up to the standards of others. Vedantam explores the idea that people only post what others want to see and therefore, "there is always another side to the story," as Leonard recalls. Leonard is correct, there is always another side to the story. While many people may post experiences that excite them, sometimes those posts are glorified, edited, or straight up lied about because online has become a place to impress those around us. Beyond the social comparison, more and more studies are linking social media with anxiety, depression, and envy. Because the overflow of information is at the press of a button, society has become hyper-aware of what surrounds the community. Imagine scrolling through Facebook and consistently seeing posts of acquaintances venting frustrations, the negativity, like in any other social situation, rubs off on the viewer. Facebook did an illegal study approaching the effect of positive and negative news feeds by observing whether more negative posts would alter the state of mind of the reader. They did this by adding more negative news stories to unknowing Facebook accounts and analyzed how often the reader would respond to negative news feed with more negative news. The results, while ethically wrong, show that negative news feed cause people to post more negatively. This is important because it gives insight into how seeing the stresses of the world affect how people view the immediate community. Comparing these results to the past can help realize that when people are not hearing the stresses of the world immediately, it does not affect the community as greatly. Overall, social media shows that mental well-being is being altered by the platforms in use. Depression, anxiety, lower life satisfaction, jealousy, and more harmful psychological effects are being increased by social media. A simple solution that many psychologists suggest is to limit usage of these platforms. Regulating the usage of the platforms can help alleviate some of the stresses that the outside world brings. It may also allow people to work on themselves rather than scrolling and becoming envious of how other people live. The psychological harm social media induces is terrible, but, even worse, is that the social networking sites create habitual users, therefore increasing how many people feel more negatively more often.
Social media is a habit-forming substance that has gone completely unregulated. One study involving college students claim that 45% of students spent 6-8 hours on social media (Bethune). Though it is not as physically harmful as drugs, social media has an addicting quality to it that behavioral addiction professor, Mark D Griffiths, says is, "Designed to get users to come back again and again." Griffiths is a distinguished professor who wrote the article called, "Adolescent social networking: How do social media operators facilitate habitual use?" In the article, Griffiths talks about his acceptance of disregarding the use of the word "addiction" when referring to social media because most users are simply labeled as "habitual users". Regardless, Social media uses unpredictable rewards, social affirmations, and social competitions to create these habits (Griffiths, Mark D). The habits that form is identical to those of addictions. Griffiths, along with Daria J Kuss, a chartered psychologist, acknowledge that, similar to addicts, habitual users of social media go through 5 symptoms of substance-based addiction: salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse. The addiction causes several negative effects in the victim such as the fear of missing out, more commonly known as FOMO, lower life satisfaction, lower moods, and lower overall well-being which all relate directly to higher usage of social media. The science behind the habits created are that social media was designed to target the reward and pleasure center of the brain. The alerts people receive on smartphones, whether a ping or a vibration, train the brain to react the same way it does with food or sex. Because the notifications are entirely randomized, each notification is just as pleasurable despite how significant it may be. Griffiths talks about the unpredictability of this reward system stating that, "Habitual social media users never know if their next message or notification will be the one that makes them feel really good. In short, random rewards keep individuals responding for longer." (Griffiths) This means that app developers target to train the brain to home in on the vibrations of the phone to immediately get the sensation of the occasional gratifying message. Similar to addictions, the pleasure that this substance provides is enough to keep people wanting more. therefore, if social media causes anxiety, depression, loneliness, envy, anger, and in more severe circumstances, hate, violence, or discrimination, then addiction can only have a detrimental effect on humanity. A rise in usage may not only see spikes in this generation's depression and anxiety levels but it may predispose future generations for higher levels of these mental illnesses. Not only mental illness, but the habitual use shows that is keeps users in an "on" mode. Before, during, and after using social media, the brain holds the user a preparation for socialization meaning that people are always ready to socialize and never have a break. For extroverted people who gain energy from socializing, this may not be such bad news. However, for the common introvert there is no time to recharge the internal battery. Next, social affirmations are an addition layer to the addiction to social media. The notorious "like" button has possibly become one of the most powerful and influential tools to humanity. The like button shows people that others agree, enjoy their post, or simply are entertained by seeing the poster in their feed. While this may seem harmless or even beneficial, the extent that users go to receive more likes is sickening. Around 250 people have died since 2011 taking selfies to achieve more likes and just recently a woman in Phoenix, Arizona was clawed by a jaguar after she leaned too close to the cage while taking a selfie. The extent that people go to attain more and more "likes" is costing people their life. Furthermore, this can be associated with the social competitions that the community ties itself up with. Friends are competing to get the most likes and comparing who has enough to pose a potential threat to their social circle. The significance place on the like button is grossly out of control. Perhaps regulating the allowance of social media would be a proper way to restart the human battery and create social positivity in real life. Not only that, but depriving addicts may seem dangerous and faulty in the beginning, but after a cleanse, addicts tend to report higher life satisfaction. Revoking unlimited access may play a key role in keeping users healthy, happy, and socially adequate because people can achieve the same affections, they receive online but in the real world. In the same way, promoting less use will keep people healthy, it may keep youths entering the technological world safer.
Recent events are showing that social media has become a weapon that is being used to scare and threaten citizens safety around the globe. A recent tragic event took place in New Zealand. An active shooter approached a mosque filled with peaceful church-goers. The shooter prepares his weapon of choice, a shotgun and a Facebook live stream. The stream consisted of 17 gory and horrific minutes. Facebook took about an hour to take down the stream and took even longer to channel out and block all the videos from appearing. Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are under public fire for allowing these videos to surge through the eye of the public. The daunting videos were seen by over 2 million viewers. While people can find a specific entity to blame, the one true community under fire should be social media platforms. What makes this event so dangerous is the spread of the true gore that happens. The final line that protects civilization from these atrocities was broken and social media is to blame. The danger in it all lies in the contagion of mass attention and the infectious nature of social media. Another grander scheme shows that politics and social media may do not mix well. Donald Trump, President of the United States poses a potential problem with social media that affects the world. Never before has a leader shown such involvement in social media and his contributions make some experts nervous because the content posted from the official Donald Trump twitter account will never disappear. The information posted to the internet will always be accessible and applicable to future negotiations done by the president. In a narrower world, Social media provides dangers to the communities that surround the people. There no longer remains true privacy in the world. In the 2014 movie "Ex-Machina" A web developer makes an AI robot designed off of data gained by social media. The developer comments during the movie that social media is "raw data" and he claims to have used it to design a human-like bot. This may just be a sci-fi movie, but that kind of raw data flow is true. Social media is an overwhelming amount of data on human behavior that social networking sites and advertisement companies have analyzed to make personalized advertisements. This however is speculation of how the data people place on the social media websites is used. Another example of the dangers of social media relate to a recent discovery in social when popular media site Tumblr found child pornography within its content. As a result of this gross discovery, porn was banned from Tumblr altogether. Immediately following the ban Tumblr took an immense hit to their active users. In December, when the ban was placed, the traffic received was 521 million down to 370 million in February. The fall is drastic and says a lot about the internet community. First, the fact that child pornography is not unheard of, but the popularity of Tumblr should deter users looking for such content. Tumblr contains some security features to ensure the audience is who they say they are (+18 years old), however, young teens and children can access the 'not safe for work' (NSFW) side of the internet by simply lying. For such inappropriate content, the lack of regulation is concerning. This NSFW content also relates to graphic images of death and violence, where young kids can access this through a simple lie. These occurrences show why social media is such a real danger to the users. The access to violent and graphic information, picture, and videos bring a kind of insensitivity to the world. Furthermore, children have access to this kind content. While most sites have simple blocks to keep children from accessing this, a simple lie claiming that people are over 18 years old is the only defense. This kind of information has drastic effects on young children and teenagers. Similar to an argument claiming the negative effects of videogames, the negative effects that can occur from intense content of social media is even more prominent in people's everyday lives. Regulations may be the only kind of solution. Perhaps, setting a profile to an entire computer rather than specific social media sites may grant children access to monitored amount of social media and this kind of regulation has the possibility of maintaining positive mindsets and moods, put control on addicts access to the kind of toxic information permitted, and regulates who sees the kind of information that can negatively persuade audiences.
In conclusion, social media has a negative relationship with users of all ages and the lack of regulation and control contributes to the amount of problems social media brings to light. Most importantly, the information above shows that overall life satisfaction and well-being is consistently negative through social media users as well as the amount of content people consume. These two issues contribute to one another in that addicted, or habitual users tend to see higher mental health issues. The third example stands alone in showing that social media has unregulated dangerous content that allows people to view graphic content at any time. This access promotes violence, graphic sexual content, and traumatic posts that could have effects later in life. Because of these three examples, social media could benefit the community. Social media under regulation may achieve what its main purpose is; to allow people to create a sense of community within the internet reaching users all across the world. At this moment, there is a toxic relationship that social media has with society and decreasing the usage may make humanity more connected with the world around. A lack of access to the constant stresses of the world can benefit communities in focusing in what is just and right in their immediate world. Social media was designed to benefit humanity and thus far has proven to be an unhealthy substance, however, with regulation, social media can achieve its purpose to reconnect humanity.