Is social media beneficial to society?
- Social media is defined as 'the different forms of online communication used by people to create networks, communities, and collectives to share information, ideas, messages, and other content, such as videos.'
- Social media communication started in 1997 with the short-lived 'profile uploading' platform Six Degrees, followed by the emergence of sites like Friendster and LinkedIn in 2002, Myspace in 2003, and Facebook in 2004.
- According to Pew Research Center, in 2021, '72% of the [American] public uses some type of social media,' compared to the 5% that did in 2005 when Pew Research began tracking its use.
- Statista reveals that in both 2019 and 2020, the average time spent on social media worldwide was 145 minutes per day.
Social media keeps us connected online, but it is hurting us offline. Time spent on social media makes us less empathetic, which psychologists say is essential to happy and healthy relationships. Participants in a BYU study say that social media use decreases quality time spent between partners offline. Echoing these sentiments is a Pew Research survey that revealed 45% of internet users ages 18-29 say the internet has negatively impacted their relationship.
Social media is deteriorating our mental health. People who use a higher number of social media apps are more likely to experience anxiety and are twice as likely to isolate themselves. These effects aren't just limited to high usage. Studies show after using Facebook for just twenty minutes, moods decrease. Even more dangerous--those under the age of 25 who experience cyberbullying are twice as likely to attempt suicide.
Social media also spreads misinformation. The algorithms that place stories in feeds often lower the quality of content. Making matters worse are fake accounts known as 'bots.' Almost half of all Twitter accounts spreading misinformation about COVID-19 are fake. Even more concerning is the hacking of Facebook by foreign governments. With an increasingly divided country, social media is making matters worse.
Social media is addictive by design. A study by Harvard University states, 'Because most social media platforms are free, they rely on revenue from advertisers to make a profit. This system…has created an arms race for your attention and time.' Since the detrimental effects of social media compound as usage increases, the success of social media is directly related to behavior that isn't beneficial to society.
The advent of the internet means that, for the first time, humans have immediate access to all the collective knowledge of the world and can connect with each other no matter where they physically are. And one of the most successful applications of the internet has been social media. It allows for a grassroots flow of information that enables people to learn about events and issues in real-time from people they trust and respect.
Social media also gives a voice to those who would otherwise be unheard. Many of the movements for justice and equality that we currently see resulted from marginalized groups of people meeting up, organizing, and then speaking up collectively through online forums to create real-world change.
Additionally, for those who are physically or emotionally isolated, social media provides support networks and allows them to reach out to others in a semi-anonymous way. That can be more comfortable and safer for many than traditional, face-to-face methods.
Although social media has proven to have some detrimental side effects on individuals, this is primarily a matter of adjusting to a new paradigm in how we interact with one another. Social media is not intrinsically 'good' or 'bad'--it is just another tool we can use to socialize.
As with anything new, it takes time for people to adjust, figure out how to best use it, and then positively integrate it into society. Although social media has had some growing pains, its benefits for people to connect with each other far outweigh any perceived setbacks.