Social Media: The Common Addiction

In modern times, social media is a popular and almost essential tool for people to communicate with others all across the world. Every day, the social media platforms we all know like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram boast more and more users — yet the consequences also become greater. I can’t tell you how much less stress I feel now that I’ve quit all the aforementioned apps. My buddy just got a new promotion and my cousin just got married? Cool, I still heard about it and it wasn’t from a post after scrolling for half an hour on Facebook.


You’ve seen it yourself — there are growing numbers of hateful comments on online platforms, along with the prevalence of rising mental health concerns and heightened suicide rates that can be attributed to the overstimulation of social media. Most recently, all fresh in our minds is Etika and may he rest in peace. Social media has intended recreational use as a positive way to maintain relationships with others, yet it can pose serious threats to people by causing physical and mental health problems and normalizing inappropriate behavior online — it’s important to be aware of the consequences.


Overuse of social media and social media addiction can be the root of or exacerbate both mental and physical health problems. Mental health has become increasingly prominent in our society with more common diagnoses such as depression and anxiety, but of course, it’s not necessarily visible. As a result, people tend not to take mental health risks as seriously as physical risks.


A study conducted by interviewing adolescents with depression regarding their use of social media detailed the following, “Adolescents also described negative experiences — especially themselves or others sharing attention-seeking posts (e.g. suggestive pictures, smoking, drinking, inappropriate clothing, sneaking out, videos of fighting) with the purpose of being noticed or comparing themselves to others”⁵.


Social media’s influence has encouraged young adults to engage in risky behavior due to its inherently competitive nature of showing off the best life for all to see, which can in turn spur jealous behavior. Additionally, the quality of sleep that social media users experience each night has become impacted due to “fear of missing out” or FOMO. That notification is just taunting you. It’s so easy to keep scrolling down the infinite abyss of Facebook or Reddit and watch the time disappear before you realize. Sleep is important though and you should be making sure you get plenty (I hypocritically type at almost 3 AM).


This is talked about much less, but there are also potential joint problems from the constant holding of mobile devices¹. Arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, anyone? When people are bored or want something to do while waiting for the bus to come or it’s time for a lunch break, it’s far too easy to pick up their mobile device and get lost in the overwhelming amount of posts of your social media network. People have become so accustomed to the point that they don’t realize what they’re doing, and naturally click a social media app to see what’s going on after unlocking their phone.


Plus, the ability to be anonymous on social media has led to more and more people leaving comments of hateful or negative words that they would not normally say in everyday life — in other words, trolls or haters are more commonplace. The lack of immediate repercussion from social media gives people the distorted sense that they can say or do anything they want without any consequences to their offline lives.


Posting on social media also allows for a wide, unseen audience to be reached — there’s no easy way of telling who has seen what and if it’s been re-posted on other places⁴. Many people don’t seem to understand that once something is online, it’s nearly impossible to permanently delete.


There’s also been an increase in cyberbullying and cyber harassment that’s rarely taken with the seriousness that it deserves. In the previously mentioned study that interviewed depressed adolescents, the subjects discuss that some peers purposefully remained anonymous to post disparaging comments on a social media platform called AskFM⁵. It’s very likely that the reason they commented negatively in the first place is the result of the ability to stay anonymous — AskFM is specifically designed to allow people to ask anonymous questions, which easily allows people to harass others in a way that that they would not do in person. It’s important to teach and to practice good social media etiquette — just like face-to-face etiquette — as it will encourage people to be conscious of their fellow human beings and remind them that good manners are universal: “Treat others the way that you would like to be treated.”


As we all know, people will often say whatever is on their mind on social media, posting before thinking — this increases people’s likeliness to be exposed to sensitive topics such as suicide and self-destructive behaviors. Negative reactions to a post from others can contribute to a person’s suicidal ideation, which is a serious threat to one’s self.


Social media sites were originally created to be a place for people to gather and bond over common interests; such interests may include shared mental health diagnoses to find support in a community with similar hardships. However, this can also include shared suicide ideation and encouragement to engage in self-harm instead of seeking help. There were 34 suicides in 2003 in Japan which became 91 in 2005, alongside the rise in popularity of social media since there are documented methods to commit suicide readily available to find online for anyone with Internet access. In 2008, the number sadly jumped to 220 cases of attempted suicides by hydrogen sulfide gas in Japan with an approximate 94.5% success rate³. The prospect of using gas originated on a forum message board — ideas are contagious, and people can be influenced easily especially from what they read and/or see.


On the flip side, a completely valid counterargument that I’ve found is that social media’s intended use is to keep in touch with people and can be used in a healthy and safe manner, which is absolutely true. Just like alcohol can be safely consumed in a responsible manner, social media can also be safely used to keep in touch with loved ones and friends. For example, there have been cancer patients with depression studied using social media, where it was beneficial as they found a community that they felt like they belonged to².


But people can and will abuse it — whether or not they are consciously aware of what they’re doing. They feel the natural inclination to check their social media every free second possible; how’s that post I made doing? How many likes does my selfie have? What’s Bob eating for his 4 PM pre-dinner snack?


If you, as a reader, disagree, try this challenge: abstain from using your social media for a full twenty-four hours. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Tumblr, YouTube, you name it! If you’re currently a frequent user of social media, it’s likely that you’ll struggle and naturally reach for a social media platform when you are looking for something to do to fill your time — if you find yourself doing this, then maybe it’s time to consider how to overcome this addiction by designating certain hours for social media time or focusing on in-person interactions when you are out in public. Social media can wait — just like you can wait to respond to a text message while driving your car. Healthy moderation for people to get over the addiction to social media can lead to being more productive in other aspects of life.


Social media definitely has benefits as a communication tool that it was intended to be, don’t get me wrong — but it can 100% encourage people to act in ways that they would not offline. The disconnect from the human bond that people experience while using social media platforms can cause irreversible damage before we even realize it.


So you’ve just had the epiphany: you’re addicted to social media and you’re freaking out. What can we do about this, you ask? Awareness and taking a step back from the constant use. Just like alcohol and tobacco, social media can be used responsibly by people who are acutely aware of the potential consequences and can strive to be mindful of usage. Alcohol and tobacco are notorious for being addictive and have both an age limit before use and support groups available as a resource — meanwhile, anyone who has access to the Internet can access social media platforms regardless of age (people still aren’t reading the terms and conditions!) and social media addiction is hardly talked about in comparison. Addiction is a serious matter, whether social media, alcohol, tobacco or something else.


Moderation is key. Go take a break from the Internet and step away from the social media site. Listen to some of your favorite jams, read that half-finished book you’ve been guiltily eyeing for months now, take a walk and enjoy the fresh air with your dog, meet up with a friend and catch up in person instead of a status, go learn that language you keep telling yourself you will, practice that instrument that’s been collecting dust in the corner, write an article and kick that writer’s block’s ass. You can always come back later.


References


[1] Community Practitioner. (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.communitypractitioner.co.uk/news/2017/07/instagram-ranked-worst-young-peoples-mental-health-report-finds


[2] Farpour, H., Habibi, L., & Owji, S. (2017). Positive Impact of Social Media Use on Depression in Cancer Patients. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 18 (11), pp. 2985–2988. Retrieved from https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.ezproxy.snhu.edu/pmc/articles/PMC5773781/


[3] Luxton, D. D., June, J. D., & Fairall, J. M. (2012). Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective. American Journal of Public Health, 102(2), pS195-S200. 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300608


[4] Patterson, L. J., Allan, A., & Cross, D. (2016). Adolescent bystanders’ perspectives of aggression in the online versus school environments. Journal Of Adolescence, 4960–76. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.02.003


[5] Radovic, A., Gmelin, T., Stein, B. D., & Miller, E. (2016). Depressed adolescents’ positive and negative use of social media. Journal of Adolescence, 55, 5–15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.12.002

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