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Social media harms teens’ mental health, mounting evidence shows. what now.

Understanding what is going on in teens’ minds is necessary for targeted policy suggestions

A teen scrolls through social media alone on her phone.

Most teens use social media, often for hours on end. Some social scientists are confident that such use is harming their mental health. Now they want to pinpoint what explains the link.

Carol Yepes/Getty Images

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By Sujata Gupta

February 20, 2024 at 7:30 am

In January, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta, appeared at a congressional hearing to answer questions about how social media potentially harms children. Zuckerberg opened by saying: “The existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health.”

But many social scientists would disagree with that statement. In recent years, studies have started to show a causal link between teen social media use and reduced well-being or mood disorders, chiefly depression and anxiety.

Ironically, one of the most cited studies into this link focused on Facebook.

Researchers delved into whether the platform’s introduction across college campuses in the mid 2000s increased symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. The answer was a clear yes , says MIT economist Alexey Makarin, a coauthor of the study, which appeared in the November 2022 American Economic Review . “There is still a lot to be explored,” Makarin says, but “[to say] there is no causal evidence that social media causes mental health issues, to that I definitely object.”

The concern, and the studies, come from statistics showing that social media use in teens ages 13 to 17 is now almost ubiquitous. Two-thirds of teens report using TikTok, and some 60 percent of teens report using Instagram or Snapchat, a 2022 survey found. (Only 30 percent said they used Facebook.) Another survey showed that girls, on average, allot roughly 3.4 hours per day to TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, compared with roughly 2.1 hours among boys. At the same time, more teens are showing signs of depression than ever, especially girls ( SN: 6/30/23 ).

As more studies show a strong link between these phenomena, some researchers are starting to shift their attention to possible mechanisms. Why does social media use seem to trigger mental health problems? Why are those effects unevenly distributed among different groups, such as girls or young adults? And can the positives of social media be teased out from the negatives to provide more targeted guidance to teens, their caregivers and policymakers?

“You can’t design good public policy if you don’t know why things are happening,” says Scott Cunningham, an economist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

Increasing rigor

Concerns over the effects of social media use in children have been circulating for years, resulting in a massive body of scientific literature. But those mostly correlational studies could not show if teen social media use was harming mental health or if teens with mental health problems were using more social media.

Moreover, the findings from such studies were often inconclusive, or the effects on mental health so small as to be inconsequential. In one study that received considerable media attention, psychologists Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski combined data from three surveys to see if they could find a link between technology use, including social media, and reduced well-being. The duo gauged the well-being of over 355,000 teenagers by focusing on questions around depression, suicidal thinking and self-esteem.

Digital technology use was associated with a slight decrease in adolescent well-being , Orben, now of the University of Cambridge, and Przybylski, of the University of Oxford, reported in 2019 in Nature Human Behaviour . But the duo downplayed that finding, noting that researchers have observed similar drops in adolescent well-being associated with drinking milk, going to the movies or eating potatoes.

Holes have begun to appear in that narrative thanks to newer, more rigorous studies.

In one longitudinal study, researchers — including Orben and Przybylski — used survey data on social media use and well-being from over 17,400 teens and young adults to look at how individuals’ responses to a question gauging life satisfaction changed between 2011 and 2018. And they dug into how the responses varied by gender, age and time spent on social media.

Social media use was associated with a drop in well-being among teens during certain developmental periods, chiefly puberty and young adulthood, the team reported in 2022 in Nature Communications . That translated to lower well-being scores around ages 11 to 13 for girls and ages 14 to 15 for boys. Both groups also reported a drop in well-being around age 19. Moreover, among the older teens, the team found evidence for the Goldilocks Hypothesis: the idea that both too much and too little time spent on social media can harm mental health.

“There’s hardly any effect if you look over everybody. But if you look at specific age groups, at particularly what [Orben] calls ‘windows of sensitivity’ … you see these clear effects,” says L.J. Shrum, a consumer psychologist at HEC Paris who was not involved with this research. His review of studies related to teen social media use and mental health is forthcoming in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Cause and effect

That longitudinal study hints at causation, researchers say. But one of the clearest ways to pin down cause and effect is through natural or quasi-experiments. For these in-the-wild experiments, researchers must identify situations where the rollout of a societal “treatment” is staggered across space and time. They can then compare outcomes among members of the group who received the treatment to those still in the queue — the control group.

That was the approach Makarin and his team used in their study of Facebook. The researchers homed in on the staggered rollout of Facebook across 775 college campuses from 2004 to 2006. They combined that rollout data with student responses to the National College Health Assessment, a widely used survey of college students’ mental and physical health.

The team then sought to understand if those survey questions captured diagnosable mental health problems. Specifically, they had roughly 500 undergraduate students respond to questions both in the National College Health Assessment and in validated screening tools for depression and anxiety. They found that mental health scores on the assessment predicted scores on the screenings. That suggested that a drop in well-being on the college survey was a good proxy for a corresponding increase in diagnosable mental health disorders. 

Compared with campuses that had not yet gained access to Facebook, college campuses with Facebook experienced a 2 percentage point increase in the number of students who met the diagnostic criteria for anxiety or depression, the team found.

When it comes to showing a causal link between social media use in teens and worse mental health, “that study really is the crown jewel right now,” says Cunningham, who was not involved in that research.

A need for nuance

The social media landscape today is vastly different than the landscape of 20 years ago. Facebook is now optimized for maximum addiction, Shrum says, and other newer platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, have since copied and built on those features. Paired with the ubiquity of social media in general, the negative effects on mental health may well be larger now.

Moreover, social media research tends to focus on young adults — an easier cohort to study than minors. That needs to change, Cunningham says. “Most of us are worried about our high school kids and younger.” 

And so, researchers must pivot accordingly. Crucially, simple comparisons of social media users and nonusers no longer make sense. As Orben and Przybylski’s 2022 work suggested, a teen not on social media might well feel worse than one who briefly logs on. 

Researchers must also dig into why, and under what circumstances, social media use can harm mental health, Cunningham says. Explanations for this link abound. For instance, social media is thought to crowd out other activities or increase people’s likelihood of comparing themselves unfavorably with others. But big data studies, with their reliance on existing surveys and statistical analyses, cannot address those deeper questions. “These kinds of papers, there’s nothing you can really ask … to find these plausible mechanisms,” Cunningham says.

One ongoing effort to understand social media use from this more nuanced vantage point is the SMART Schools project out of the University of Birmingham in England. Pedagogical expert Victoria Goodyear and her team are comparing mental and physical health outcomes among children who attend schools that have restricted cell phone use to those attending schools without such a policy. The researchers described the protocol of that study of 30 schools and over 1,000 students in the July BMJ Open.

Goodyear and colleagues are also combining that natural experiment with qualitative research. They met with 36 five-person focus groups each consisting of all students, all parents or all educators at six of those schools. The team hopes to learn how students use their phones during the day, how usage practices make students feel, and what the various parties think of restrictions on cell phone use during the school day.

Talking to teens and those in their orbit is the best way to get at the mechanisms by which social media influences well-being — for better or worse, Goodyear says. Moving beyond big data to this more personal approach, however, takes considerable time and effort. “Social media has increased in pace and momentum very, very quickly,” she says. “And research takes a long time to catch up with that process.”

Until that catch-up occurs, though, researchers cannot dole out much advice. “What guidance could we provide to young people, parents and schools to help maintain the positives of social media use?” Goodyear asks. “There’s not concrete evidence yet.”

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Just How Harmful Is Social Media? Our Experts Weigh-In.

A recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook was aware of mental health risks linked to the use of its Instagram app but kept those findings secret. Internal research by the social media giant found that Instagram worsened body image issues for one in three teenage girls, and all teenage users of the app linked it to experiences of anxiety and depression. It isn’t the first evidence of social media’s harms. Watchdog groups have identified Facebook and Instagram as avenues for cyberbullying , and reports have linked TikTok to dangerous and antisocial behavior, including a recent spate of school vandalism .

As social media has proliferated worldwide—Facebook has 2.85 billion users—so too have concerns over how the platforms are affecting individual and collective wellbeing. Social media is criticized for being addictive by design and for its role in the spread of misinformation on critical issues from vaccine safety to election integrity, as well as the rise of right-wing extremism. Social media companies, and many users, defend the platforms as avenues for promoting creativity and community-building. And some research has pushed back against the idea that social media raises the risk for depression in teens . So just how healthy or unhealthy is social media?

Two experts from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia Psychiatry share their insights into one crucial aspect of social media’s influence—its effect on the mental health of young people and adults. Deborah Glasofer , associate professor of psychology in psychiatry, conducts psychotherapy development research for adults with eating disorders and teaches about cognitive behavioral therapy. She is the co-author of the book Eating Disorders: What Everyone Needs to Know. Claude Mellins , Professor of medical psychology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Sociomedical Sciences, studies wellbeing among college and graduate students, among other topics, and serves as program director of CopeColumbia, a peer support program for Columbia faculty and staff whose mental health has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. She co-led the SHIFT research study to reduce sexual violence among undergraduates. Both use social media.

What do we know about the mental health risks of social media use?

Mellins : Facebook and Instagram and other social media platforms are important sources of socialization and relationship-building for many young people. Although there are important benefits, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health. Girls and young people who identify as sexual and gender minorities can be especially vulnerable as targets. Young people’s brains are still developing, and as individuals, young people are developing their own identities. What they see on social media can define what is expected in ways that is not accurate and that can be destructive to identity development and self-image. Adolescence is a time of risk-taking, which is both a strength and a vulnerability. Social media can exacerbate risks, as we have seen played out in the news. 

Although there are important benefits, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health. – Claude Mellins

Glasofer : For those vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, social media may be especially unhelpful because it allows people to easily compare their appearance to their friends, to celebrities, even older images of themselves. Research tells us that how much someone engages with photo-related activities like posting and sharing photos on Facebook or Instagram is associated with less body acceptance and more obsessing about appearance. For adolescent girls in particular, the more time they spend on social media directly relates to how much they absorb the idea that being thin is ideal, are driven to try to become thin, and/or overly scrutinize their own bodies. Also, if someone is vulnerable to an eating disorder, they may be especially attracted to seeking out unhelpful information—which is all too easy to find on social media.

Are there any upsides to social media?

Mellins : For young people, social media provides a platform to help them figure out who they are. For very shy or introverted young people, it can be a way to meet others with similar interests. During the pandemic, social media made it possible for people to connect in ways when in-person socialization was not possible.  Social support and socializing are critical influences on coping and resilience. Friends we couldn’t see in person were available online and allowed us important points of connection. On the other hand, fewer opportunities for in-person interactions with friends and family meant less of a real-world check on some of the negative influences of social media.

Whether it’s social media or in person, a good peer group makes the difference. A group of friends that connects over shared interests like art or music, and is balanced in their outlook on eating and appearance, is a positive. – Deborah Glasofer

Glasofer : Whether it’s social media or in person, a good peer group makes the difference. A group of friends that connects over shared interests like art or music, and is balanced in their outlook on eating and appearance, is a positive. In fact, a good peer group online may be protective against negative in-person influences. For those with a history of eating disorders, there are body-positive and recovery groups on social media. Some people find these groups to be supportive; for others, it’s more beneficial to move on and pursue other interests.

Is there a healthy way to be on social media?

Mellins : If you feel social media is a negative experience, you might need a break. Disengaging with social media permanently is more difficult­—especially for young people. These platforms are powerful tools for connecting and staying up-to-date with friends and family. Social events, too. If you’re not on social media then you’re reliant on your friends to reach out to you personally, which doesn’t always happen. It’s complicated.

Glasofer : When you find yourself feeling badly about yourself in relation to what other people are posting about themselves, then social media is not doing you any favors. If there is anything on social media that is negatively affecting your actions or your choices­—for example, if you’re starting to eat restrictively or exercise excessively—then it’s time to reassess. Parents should check-in with their kids about their lives on social media. In general, I recommend limiting social media— creating boundaries that are reasonable and work for you—so you can be present with people in your life. I also recommend social media vacations. It’s good to take the time to notice the difference between the virtual world and the real world.

Is social media use bad for young people’s mental health? It’s complicated.

Laura Marciano

July 17, 2023 – On May 23, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning about the potential dangers of social media for the mental health of children and teens . Laura Marciano , postdoctoral research fellow at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness and in the  Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says that social media use might be detrimental for young people’s well-being but can also have positive effects.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Surgeon General’s advisory?

A: The advisory highlighted compelling evidence published during the last decade on the potential harmful impact of social media on children and adolescents. Some of what young people experience online—including cyberbullying, online harassment and abuse, predatory behaviors, and exposure to violent, sexual, and hate-based content—can undoubtedly be negative. But social media experiences are not limited to these types of content.

Much of the scientific literature on the effects of social media use has focused on negative outcomes. But the link between social media use and young people’s mental health is complicated. Literature reviews show that study results are mixed: Associations between social media use and well-being can be positive, negative, and even largely null when advanced data analyses are carried out, and the size of the effects is small. And positive and negative effects can co-exist in the same individual. We are still discovering how to compare the effect size of social media use with the effects of other behavioral habits—such as physical activity, sleep, food consumption, life events, and time spent in offline social connections—and psychological processes happening offline. We are also still studying how social media use may be linked positively with well-being.

It’s important to note that many of the existing studies relied on data from people living in so-called WEIRD countries (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), thus leaving out the majority of the worldwide population living in the Global South. In addition, we know that populations like minorities, people experiencing health disparities and chronic health conditions , and international students can find social media extremely helpful for creating and maintaining social communities to which they feel they belong.

A number of large cohort studies have measured social media use according to time spent on various platforms. But it’s important to consider not just time spent, but whether that time is displacing time for other activities promoting well-being, like physical activity and sleep. Finally, the effects of social media use are idiosyncratic, meaning that each child and adolescent might be affected differently, which makes it difficult to generalize about the effects.

Literature reviews on interventions limiting social media use present a more balanced picture. For example, one comprehensive review on the effects of digital detox—refraining from using devices such as smartphones—wasn’t able to draw any clear conclusions about whether such detox could be effective at promoting a healthy way of life in the digital era, because the findings were mixed and contradictory.

Q: What has your research found regarding the potential risks and benefits of social media use among young people?

A: In my work with Prof. Vish Viswanath , we have summarized all the papers on how social media use is related to positive well-being measures, to balance the ongoing bias of the literature on negative outcomes such as depression and anxiety. We found both positive and negative correlations between different social media activities and well-being. The most consistent results show a link between social media activities and hedonic well-being (positive emotions) and social well-being. We also found that social comparison—such as comparing how many likes you have with how many someone else has, or comparing yourself to digitally enhanced images online—drives the negative correlation with well-being.

Meanwhile, I am working on the “ HappyB ” project, a longitudinal project based in Switzerland, through which I have collected data from more than 1,500 adolescents on their smartphone and social media use and well-being. In a recent study using that cohort, we looked at how social media use affects flourishing , a construct that encompasses happiness, meaning and purpose, physical and mental health, character, close social relationships, and financial stability. We found that certain positive social media experiences are associated with flourishing. In particular, having someone to talk to online when feeling lonely was the item most related to well-being. That is not surprising, considering that happiness is related to the quality of social connections.

Our data suggest that homing in on the psychological processes triggered during social media use is key to determining links with well-being. For example, we should consider if a young person feels appreciated and part of a group in a particular online conversation. Such information can help us shed light on the dynamics that shape young people’s well-being through digital activities.

In our research, we work to account for the fact that social media time is a sedentary behavior. We need to consider that any behavior that risks diminishing the time spent on physical activity and sleep—crucial components of brain development and well-being—might be detrimental. Interestingly, some studies suggest that spending a short amount of time using social media, around 1-2 hours, is beneficial, but—as with any extreme behavior—it can cause harm if the time spent online dominates a child’s or adolescent’s day.

It’s also important to consider how long the effects of social media last. Social media use may have small ephemeral effects that can accumulate over time. A step for future research is to disentangle short- versus long-term effects and how long each last. In addition, we should better understand how digital media usage affects the adolescent brain. Colleagues and I have summarized existing neuroscientific studies on the topic, but more multidisciplinary research is needed.

Q: What are some steps you’d recommend to make social media use safer for kids?

A: I’ll use a metaphor to answer this question. Is a car safe for someone that is not able to drive? To drive safely, we need to learn how to accelerate, recognize road signs, make safe decisions according to certain rules, and wear safety belts. Similarly, to use social media safely, I think we as a society—including schools, educators, and health providers—should provide children and families with clear, science-based information on both its positive and negative potential impacts.

We can also ask social media companies to pay more attention to how some features—such as the number of “likes”—can modulate adolescent brain activity, and to think about ways to limit negative effects. We might even ask adolescents to advise designers on how to create social media platforms specifically for them. It would be extremely valuable to ask them which features would be best for them and which ones they would like to avoid. I think that co-designing apps and conducting research with the young people who use the platforms is a crucial step.

For parents, my suggestion is to communicate with your children and promote a climate of safety and empathy when it comes to social media use. Try to use these platforms along with them, for example by explaining how a platform works and commenting on the content. Also, I would encourage schools and parents to collaborate on sharing information with young people about social media and well-being.

Also, to offset children’s sedentary time spent on social media, parents could offer them alternative extracurricular activities to provide some balance. But it’s important to remember that social well-being depends on the quality of social connections, and that social media can help to promote this kind of well-being. So I’d recommend trying to keep what is good—according to my research that would include instant messaging, the chance to talk to people when someone is feeling lonely, and funny or inspirational content—and minimizing what’s negative, such as too much sedentary time or too much time spent on social comparison.

– Karen Feldscher

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How Harmful Is Social Media?

By Gideon Lewis-Kraus

A socialmedia battlefield

In April, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published an essay in The Atlantic in which he sought to explain, as the piece’s title had it, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Anyone familiar with Haidt’s work in the past half decade could have anticipated his answer: social media. Although Haidt concedes that political polarization and factional enmity long predate the rise of the platforms, and that there are plenty of other factors involved, he believes that the tools of virality—Facebook’s Like and Share buttons, Twitter’s Retweet function—have algorithmically and irrevocably corroded public life. He has determined that a great historical discontinuity can be dated with some precision to the period between 2010 and 2014, when these features became widely available on phones.

“What changed in the 2010s?” Haidt asks, reminding his audience that a former Twitter developer had once compared the Retweet button to the provision of a four-year-old with a loaded weapon. “A mean tweet doesn’t kill anyone; it is an attempt to shame or punish someone publicly while broadcasting one’s own virtue, brilliance, or tribal loyalties. It’s more a dart than a bullet, causing pain but no fatalities. Even so, from 2009 to 2012, Facebook and Twitter passed out roughly a billion dart guns globally. We’ve been shooting one another ever since.” While the right has thrived on conspiracy-mongering and misinformation, the left has turned punitive: “When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And, unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.” Haidt’s prevailing metaphor of thoroughgoing fragmentation is the story of the Tower of Babel: the rise of social media has “unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.”

These are, needless to say, common concerns. Chief among Haidt’s worries is that use of social media has left us particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias, or the propensity to fix upon evidence that shores up our prior beliefs. Haidt acknowledges that the extant literature on social media’s effects is large and complex, and that there is something in it for everyone. On January 6, 2021, he was on the phone with Chris Bail, a sociologist at Duke and the author of the recent book “ Breaking the Social Media Prism ,” when Bail urged him to turn on the television. Two weeks later, Haidt wrote to Bail, expressing his frustration at the way Facebook officials consistently cited the same handful of studies in their defense. He suggested that the two of them collaborate on a comprehensive literature review that they could share, as a Google Doc, with other researchers. (Haidt had experimented with such a model before.) Bail was cautious. He told me, “What I said to him was, ‘Well, you know, I’m not sure the research is going to bear out your version of the story,’ and he said, ‘Why don’t we see?’ ”

Bail emphasized that he is not a “platform-basher.” He added, “In my book, my main take is, Yes, the platforms play a role, but we are greatly exaggerating what it’s possible for them to do—how much they could change things no matter who’s at the helm at these companies—and we’re profoundly underestimating the human element, the motivation of users.” He found Haidt’s idea of a Google Doc appealing, in the way that it would produce a kind of living document that existed “somewhere between scholarship and public writing.” Haidt was eager for a forum to test his ideas. “I decided that if I was going to be writing about this—what changed in the universe, around 2014, when things got weird on campus and elsewhere—once again, I’d better be confident I’m right,” he said. “I can’t just go off my feelings and my readings of the biased literature. We all suffer from confirmation bias, and the only cure is other people who don’t share your own.”

Haidt and Bail, along with a research assistant, populated the document over the course of several weeks last year, and in November they invited about two dozen scholars to contribute. Haidt told me, of the difficulties of social-scientific methodology, “When you first approach a question, you don’t even know what it is. ‘Is social media destroying democracy, yes or no?’ That’s not a good question. You can’t answer that question. So what can you ask and answer?” As the document took on a life of its own, tractable rubrics emerged—Does social media make people angrier or more affectively polarized? Does it create political echo chambers? Does it increase the probability of violence? Does it enable foreign governments to increase political dysfunction in the United States and other democracies? Haidt continued, “It’s only after you break it up into lots of answerable questions that you see where the complexity lies.”

Haidt came away with the sense, on balance, that social media was in fact pretty bad. He was disappointed, but not surprised, that Facebook’s response to his article relied on the same three studies they’ve been reciting for years. “This is something you see with breakfast cereals,” he said, noting that a cereal company “might say, ‘Did you know we have twenty-five per cent more riboflavin than the leading brand?’ They’ll point to features where the evidence is in their favor, which distracts you from the over-all fact that your cereal tastes worse and is less healthy.”

After Haidt’s piece was published, the Google Doc—“Social Media and Political Dysfunction: A Collaborative Review”—was made available to the public . Comments piled up, and a new section was added, at the end, to include a miscellany of Twitter threads and Substack essays that appeared in response to Haidt’s interpretation of the evidence. Some colleagues and kibbitzers agreed with Haidt. But others, though they might have shared his basic intuition that something in our experience of social media was amiss, drew upon the same data set to reach less definitive conclusions, or even mildly contradictory ones. Even after the initial flurry of responses to Haidt’s article disappeared into social-media memory, the document, insofar as it captured the state of the social-media debate, remained a lively artifact.

Near the end of the collaborative project’s introduction, the authors warn, “We caution readers not to simply add up the number of studies on each side and declare one side the winner.” The document runs to more than a hundred and fifty pages, and for each question there are affirmative and dissenting studies, as well as some that indicate mixed results. According to one paper, “Political expressions on social media and the online forum were found to (a) reinforce the expressers’ partisan thought process and (b) harden their pre-existing political preferences,” but, according to another, which used data collected during the 2016 election, “Over the course of the campaign, we found media use and attitudes remained relatively stable. Our results also showed that Facebook news use was related to modest over-time spiral of depolarization. Furthermore, we found that people who use Facebook for news were more likely to view both pro- and counter-attitudinal news in each wave. Our results indicated that counter-attitudinal exposure increased over time, which resulted in depolarization.” If results like these seem incompatible, a perplexed reader is given recourse to a study that says, “Our findings indicate that political polarization on social media cannot be conceptualized as a unified phenomenon, as there are significant cross-platform differences.”

Interested in echo chambers? “Our results show that the aggregation of users in homophilic clusters dominate online interactions on Facebook and Twitter,” which seems convincing—except that, as another team has it, “We do not find evidence supporting a strong characterization of ‘echo chambers’ in which the majority of people’s sources of news are mutually exclusive and from opposite poles.” By the end of the file, the vaguely patronizing top-line recommendation against simple summation begins to make more sense. A document that originated as a bulwark against confirmation bias could, as it turned out, just as easily function as a kind of generative device to support anybody’s pet conviction. The only sane response, it seemed, was simply to throw one’s hands in the air.

When I spoke to some of the researchers whose work had been included, I found a combination of broad, visceral unease with the current situation—with the banefulness of harassment and trolling; with the opacity of the platforms; with, well, the widespread presentiment that of course social media is in many ways bad—and a contrastive sense that it might not be catastrophically bad in some of the specific ways that many of us have come to take for granted as true. This was not mere contrarianism, and there was no trace of gleeful mythbusting; the issue was important enough to get right. When I told Bail that the upshot seemed to me to be that exactly nothing was unambiguously clear, he suggested that there was at least some firm ground. He sounded a bit less apocalyptic than Haidt.

“A lot of the stories out there are just wrong,” he told me. “The political echo chamber has been massively overstated. Maybe it’s three to five per cent of people who are properly in an echo chamber.” Echo chambers, as hotboxes of confirmation bias, are counterproductive for democracy. But research indicates that most of us are actually exposed to a wider range of views on social media than we are in real life, where our social networks—in the original use of the term—are rarely heterogeneous. (Haidt told me that this was an issue on which the Google Doc changed his mind; he became convinced that echo chambers probably aren’t as widespread a problem as he’d once imagined.) And too much of a focus on our intuitions about social media’s echo-chamber effect could obscure the relevant counterfactual: a conservative might abandon Twitter only to watch more Fox News. “Stepping outside your echo chamber is supposed to make you moderate, but maybe it makes you more extreme,” Bail said. The research is inchoate and ongoing, and it’s difficult to say anything on the topic with absolute certainty. But this was, in part, Bail’s point: we ought to be less sure about the particular impacts of social media.

Bail went on, “The second story is foreign misinformation.” It’s not that misinformation doesn’t exist, or that it hasn’t had indirect effects, especially when it creates perverse incentives for the mainstream media to cover stories circulating online. Haidt also draws convincingly upon the work of Renée DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, to sketch out a potential future in which the work of shitposting has been outsourced to artificial intelligence, further polluting the informational environment. But, at least so far, very few Americans seem to suffer from consistent exposure to fake news—“probably less than two per cent of Twitter users, maybe fewer now, and for those who were it didn’t change their opinions,” Bail said. This was probably because the people likeliest to consume such spectacles were the sort of people primed to believe them in the first place. “In fact,” he said, “echo chambers might have done something to quarantine that misinformation.”

The final story that Bail wanted to discuss was the “proverbial rabbit hole, the path to algorithmic radicalization,” by which YouTube might serve a viewer increasingly extreme videos. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that this does happen, at least on occasion, and such anecdotes are alarming to hear. But a new working paper led by Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth, found that almost all extremist content is either consumed by subscribers to the relevant channels—a sign of actual demand rather than manipulation or preference falsification—or encountered via links from external sites. It’s easy to see why we might prefer if this were not the case: algorithmic radicalization is presumably a simpler problem to solve than the fact that there are people who deliberately seek out vile content. “These are the three stories—echo chambers, foreign influence campaigns, and radicalizing recommendation algorithms—but, when you look at the literature, they’ve all been overstated.” He thought that these findings were crucial for us to assimilate, if only to help us understand that our problems may lie beyond technocratic tinkering. He explained, “Part of my interest in getting this research out there is to demonstrate that everybody is waiting for an Elon Musk to ride in and save us with an algorithm”—or, presumably, the reverse—“and it’s just not going to happen.”

When I spoke with Nyhan, he told me much the same thing: “The most credible research is way out of line with the takes.” He noted, of extremist content and misinformation, that reliable research that “measures exposure to these things finds that the people consuming this content are small minorities who have extreme views already.” The problem with the bulk of the earlier research, Nyhan told me, is that it’s almost all correlational. “Many of these studies will find polarization on social media,” he said. “But that might just be the society we live in reflected on social media!” He hastened to add, “Not that this is untroubling, and none of this is to let these companies, which are exercising a lot of power with very little scrutiny, off the hook. But a lot of the criticisms of them are very poorly founded. . . . The expansion of Internet access coincides with fifteen other trends over time, and separating them is very difficult. The lack of good data is a huge problem insofar as it lets people project their own fears into this area.” He told me, “It’s hard to weigh in on the side of ‘We don’t know, the evidence is weak,’ because those points are always going to be drowned out in our discourse. But these arguments are systematically underprovided in the public domain.”

In his Atlantic article, Haidt leans on a working paper by two social scientists, Philipp Lorenz-Spreen and Lisa Oswald, who took on a comprehensive meta-analysis of about five hundred papers and concluded that “the large majority of reported associations between digital media use and trust appear to be detrimental for democracy.” Haidt writes, “The literature is complex—some studies show benefits, particularly in less developed democracies—but the review found that, on balance, social media amplifies political polarization; foments populism, especially right-wing populism; and is associated with the spread of misinformation.” Nyhan was less convinced that the meta-analysis supported such categorical verdicts, especially once you bracketed the kinds of correlational findings that might simply mirror social and political dynamics. He told me, “If you look at their summary of studies that allow for causal inferences—it’s very mixed.”

As for the studies Nyhan considered most methodologically sound, he pointed to a 2020 article called “The Welfare Effects of Social Media,” by Hunt Allcott, Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, and Matthew Gentzkow. For four weeks prior to the 2018 midterm elections, the authors randomly divided a group of volunteers into two cohorts—one that continued to use Facebook as usual, and another that was paid to deactivate their accounts for that period. They found that deactivation “(i) reduced online activity, while increasing offline activities such as watching TV alone and socializing with family and friends; (ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization; (iii) increased subjective well-being; and (iv) caused a large persistent reduction in post-experiment Facebook use.” But Gentzkow reminded me that his conclusions, including that Facebook may slightly increase polarization, had to be heavily qualified: “From other kinds of evidence, I think there’s reason to think social media is not the main driver of increasing polarization over the long haul in the United States.”

In the book “ Why We’re Polarized ,” for example, Ezra Klein invokes the work of such scholars as Lilliana Mason to argue that the roots of polarization might be found in, among other factors, the political realignment and nationalization that began in the sixties, and were then sacralized, on the right, by the rise of talk radio and cable news. These dynamics have served to flatten our political identities, weakening our ability or inclination to find compromise. Insofar as some forms of social media encourage the hardening of connections between our identities and a narrow set of opinions, we might increasingly self-select into mutually incomprehensible and hostile groups; Haidt plausibly suggests that these processes are accelerated by the coalescence of social-media tribes around figures of fearful online charisma. “Social media might be more of an amplifier of other things going on rather than a major driver independently,” Gentzkow argued. “I think it takes some gymnastics to tell a story where it’s all primarily driven by social media, especially when you’re looking at different countries, and across different groups.”

Another study, led by Nejla Asimovic and Joshua Tucker, replicated Gentzkow’s approach in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and they found almost precisely the opposite results: the people who stayed on Facebook were, by the end of the study, more positively disposed to their historic out-groups. The authors’ interpretation was that ethnic groups have so little contact in Bosnia that, for some people, social media is essentially the only place where they can form positive images of one another. “To have a replication and have the signs flip like that, it’s pretty stunning,” Bail told me. “It’s a different conversation in every part of the world.”

Nyhan argued that, at least in wealthy Western countries, we might be too heavily discounting the degree to which platforms have responded to criticism: “Everyone is still operating under the view that algorithms simply maximize engagement in a short-term way” with minimal attention to potential externalities. “That might’ve been true when Zuckerberg had seven people working for him, but there are a lot of considerations that go into these rankings now.” He added, “There’s some evidence that, with reverse-chronological feeds”—streams of unwashed content, which some critics argue are less manipulative than algorithmic curation—“people get exposed to more low-quality content, so it’s another case where a very simple notion of ‘algorithms are bad’ doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It doesn’t mean they’re good, it’s just that we don’t know.”

Bail told me that, over all, he was less confident than Haidt that the available evidence lines up clearly against the platforms. “Maybe there’s a slight majority of studies that say that social media is a net negative, at least in the West, and maybe it’s doing some good in the rest of the world.” But, he noted, “Jon will say that science has this expectation of rigor that can’t keep up with the need in the real world—that even if we don’t have the definitive study that creates the historical counterfactual that Facebook is largely responsible for polarization in the U.S., there’s still a lot pointing in that direction, and I think that’s a fair point.” He paused. “It can’t all be randomized control trials.”

Haidt comes across in conversation as searching and sincere, and, during our exchange, he paused several times to suggest that I include a quote from John Stuart Mill on the importance of good-faith debate to moral progress. In that spirit, I asked him what he thought of the argument, elaborated by some of Haidt’s critics, that the problems he described are fundamentally political, social, and economic, and that to blame social media is to search for lost keys under the streetlamp, where the light is better. He agreed that this was the steelman opponent: there were predecessors for cancel culture in de Tocqueville, and anxiety about new media that went back to the time of the printing press. “This is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis, and it’s absolutely up to the prosecution—people like me—to argue that, no, this time it’s different. But it’s a civil case! The evidential standard is not ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ as in a criminal case. It’s just a preponderance of the evidence.”

The way scholars weigh the testimony is subject to their disciplinary orientations. Economists and political scientists tend to believe that you can’t even begin to talk about causal dynamics without a randomized controlled trial, whereas sociologists and psychologists are more comfortable drawing inferences on a correlational basis. Haidt believes that conditions are too dire to take the hardheaded, no-reasonable-doubt view. “The preponderance of the evidence is what we use in public health. If there’s an epidemic—when COVID started, suppose all the scientists had said, ‘No, we gotta be so certain before you do anything’? We have to think about what’s actually happening, what’s likeliest to pay off.” He continued, “We have the largest epidemic ever of teen mental health, and there is no other explanation,” he said. “It is a raging public-health epidemic, and the kids themselves say Instagram did it, and we have some evidence, so is it appropriate to say, ‘Nah, you haven’t proven it’?”

This was his attitude across the board. He argued that social media seemed to aggrandize inflammatory posts and to be correlated with a rise in violence; even if only small groups were exposed to fake news, such beliefs might still proliferate in ways that were hard to measure. “In the post-Babel era, what matters is not the average but the dynamics, the contagion, the exponential amplification,” he said. “Small things can grow very quickly, so arguments that Russian disinformation didn’t matter are like COVID arguments that people coming in from China didn’t have contact with a lot of people.” Given the transformative effects of social media, Haidt insisted, it was important to act now, even in the absence of dispositive evidence. “Academic debates play out over decades and are often never resolved, whereas the social-media environment changes year by year,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting around five or ten years for literature reviews.”

Haidt could be accused of question-begging—of assuming the existence of a crisis that the research might or might not ultimately underwrite. Still, the gap between the two sides in this case might not be quite as wide as Haidt thinks. Skeptics of his strongest claims are not saying that there’s no there there. Just because the average YouTube user is unlikely to be led to Stormfront videos, Nyhan told me, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry that some people are watching Stormfront videos; just because echo chambers and foreign misinformation seem to have had effects only at the margins, Gentzkow said, doesn’t mean they’re entirely irrelevant. “There are many questions here where the thing we as researchers are interested in is how social media affects the average person,” Gentzkow told me. “There’s a different set of questions where all you need is a small number of people to change—questions about ethnic violence in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, people on YouTube mobilized to do mass shootings. Much of the evidence broadly makes me skeptical that the average effects are as big as the public discussion thinks they are, but I also think there are cases where a small number of people with very extreme views are able to find each other and connect and act.” He added, “That’s where many of the things I’d be most concerned about lie.”

The same might be said about any phenomenon where the base rate is very low but the stakes are very high, such as teen suicide. “It’s another case where those rare edge cases in terms of total social harm may be enormous. You don’t need many teen-age kids to decide to kill themselves or have serious mental-health outcomes in order for the social harm to be really big.” He added, “Almost none of this work is able to get at those edge-case effects, and we have to be careful that if we do establish that the average effect of something is zero, or small, that it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about it—because we might be missing those extremes.” Jaime Settle, a scholar of political behavior at the College of William & Mary and the author of the book “ Frenemies: How Social Media Polarizes America ,” noted that Haidt is “farther along the spectrum of what most academics who study this stuff are going to say we have strong evidence for.” But she understood his impulse: “We do have serious problems, and I’m glad Jon wrote the piece, and down the road I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a fuller handle on the role of social media in all of this—there are definitely ways in which social media has changed our politics for the worse.”

It’s tempting to sidestep the question of diagnosis entirely, and to evaluate Haidt’s essay not on the basis of predictive accuracy—whether social media will lead to the destruction of American democracy—but as a set of proposals for what we might do better. If he is wrong, how much damage are his prescriptions likely to do? Haidt, to his great credit, does not indulge in any wishful thinking, and if his diagnosis is largely technological his prescriptions are sociopolitical. Two of his three major suggestions seem useful and have nothing to do with social media: he thinks that we should end closed primaries and that children should be given wide latitude for unsupervised play. His recommendations for social-media reform are, for the most part, uncontroversial: he believes that preteens shouldn’t be on Instagram and that platforms should share their data with outside researchers—proposals that are both likely to be beneficial and not very costly.

It remains possible, however, that the true costs of social-media anxieties are harder to tabulate. Gentzkow told me that, for the period between 2016 and 2020, the direct effects of misinformation were difficult to discern. “But it might have had a much larger effect because we got so worried about it—a broader impact on trust,” he said. “Even if not that many people were exposed, the narrative that the world is full of fake news, and you can’t trust anything, and other people are being misled about it—well, that might have had a bigger impact than the content itself.” Nyhan had a similar reaction. “There are genuine questions that are really important, but there’s a kind of opportunity cost that is missed here. There’s so much focus on sweeping claims that aren’t actionable, or unfounded claims we can contradict with data, that are crowding out the harms we can demonstrate, and the things we can test, that could make social media better.” He added, “We’re years into this, and we’re still having an uninformed conversation about social media. It’s totally wild.”

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How bad is social media, actually?

The scientific community is still divided on the effects of social media on your mental health, kohava mendelsohn • february 21, 2024.

Darkly lit photo of a woman staring at her phone leaning on a couch. She looks bored.

Social media may just be a scapegoat for our other worries, say some psychologists [Photo Credit: mikito.raw | Pexels ]

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On Oct 24, 2023, 41 states banded together to sue the international tech giant Meta for intentionally making social media addictive for children and causing them to have worse mental health. New York City has now joined them. And some would say these states have a point. Haven’t we known for years that social media is terrible for us?

Science paints a more complex story. 

On a global scale, greater use of Facebook is not linked to any effect on well-being, says a study from Oxford University published August 2023. Andrew Przybylski and Matti Vuorre , psychologists at Oxford’s Internet Institute, analyzed well-being indicators among residents of 72 countries, alongside data that tracked how much people in those countries used Facebook.

Looking at data from almost one million people over the course of 12 years, they found no link between using Facebook and experiencing worse mental health. In fact, in a given year, if a country increased the proportion of its citizens using Facebook, “it was likely that the well-being levels in that country were also slightly elevated,” Vuorre says. This is completely contrary to the conventional wisdom that social media has a negative association with mental health.

These findings confirmed the results of many other studies over the years, including ones from Brock University and Oxford , that have either found positive links between social media and mental health, or none at all. 

Studies that take a more granular look at the connection between social media use and mental health, however, do sometimes manage to find a negative correlation. As Vuorre puts it, “this field is full of extremely mixed results.”

One such study was conducted recently by Andrea Irmer and Florian Shmiedek at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. They conducted an experiment over two weeks, where a group of 200 children aged 10 to 14 reported on their social media use and mental health. On average, those who used social media more were more likely to think other people had better lives than they did — called upward comparisons — and to report more negative well-being. These correlations were also consistent in each child on a day-to-day basis. On a day where a child used social media more than average, they “had stronger upwards comparisons and felt worse than they generally do,” says Shmiedek. Other studies also show correlations between social media use and poorer mental health.

So given the mixed evidence on the effect of social media, why has all the focus been on the negative findings like the one from the small study in Germany? Christopher Ferguson , a psychology researcher for over 20 years, has a theory: a media-based moral panic. Ferguson says there is a pattern where an older group of people are uncomfortable with new technologies that they haven’t grown up with. They get scared, and blame current societal issues on a new thing they don’t understand. 

For other examples, Ferguson says, just look back through history. “Twenty years ago, we kind of had a similar thing over particularly violent video games ,” he says. There was a time when everyone was worried about television, and before that, comic books. “And for a while, everybody agrees that [the] thing is bad. And then after about 20 years, everybody thinks that [the] thing is okay again,” says Ferguson.

Because of this push from some older generations, the media tends to only cover the studies that support the panic, which can lead to a cycle where no one is aware that other studies even exist, says Ferguson. The older people have more money, more power and vote more, so they are listened to. 

That’s what he thinks is going on with the current lawsuit against Meta. “Politicians have to make us [older people] happy,” Ferguson says.

Another important thing to note, in any scientific study, is that just because two things (like social media use and poor mental health) are correlated, that doesn’t  mean that we can definitely know one caused the other, or even which one caused which. “You could take Beyoncé’s salary year to year, and correlate that against the temperature of the Earth, you know, and you will find a probably pretty strong correlation,” Ferguson says, “but we wouldn’t say Beyoncé is literally making the world hotter … maybe figuratively, but not literally.” Scientists and lawmakers should always use caution when exploring why two variables are linked.

It might take years for this lawsuit to play out, but Ferguson says he wouldn’t be surprised if social media issues eventually make their way to the Supreme Court. He doesn’t know exactly how it would go, but a video game violence lawsuit titled Brown v. Entertainment Merchants made it to the Supreme Court in 2011. The court failed to find a link between violent video games and harm to children, and ruled that the sale of violent video games was legal. Ferguson will be watching to see if history repeats itself — or not.

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Kohava Mendelsohn

Kohava is a science and technology writer from Toronto, Canada. She has an undergraduate degree in Robotics Engineering from the University of Toronto. She loves explaining math, science, and technology concepts to all ages and experiences level, and believes anyone can learn anything if it’s taught well.

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Ulrich Boser

Social Media Can Damage Mental Health

Here’s how we can change that..

Posted September 9, 2021 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods

  • There is a connection between poor mental health and social media usage.
  • We need to lessen the impact social media use is having on our health, particularly that of our teens.
  • Many people know that social media use is correlated to increased anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, yet few want to make any changes.

With alarming frequency, the research reports hit my inbox, my newspaper, and—yes—my Twitter feed.

“ Excess screen time impacting teen mental health ”

“ Teens around the world are lonelier than a decade ago. The reason may be smartphones. ”

“ This Is Our Chance to Pull Teenagers Out of the Smartphone Trap ”

And that’s just from the last few weeks.

Irina Strelnikova/Shutterstock

As a parent and as a professional who works in the field of education , the connection between poor mental health and smartphone usage—and more specifically, social media apps—is downright scary. That more doctors, schools, governments, and community groups aren’t speaking out is disheartening.

A recent piece from Helen Lee Bouygues recommends we declare social media a public mental health crisis and wage a campaign against it, much like we did with tobacco. I often work with Bouygues’s Reboot Foundation and wondered: What would that look like? What would it be like to have a public campaign?

For starters, it would include PSAs, educational outreach, both short-term and long-term research, and age restrictions on who can use social media platforms, according to Bouygues.

While I’m not sure that would work in my house, or with the teens I know—they’re too practiced to be dissuaded by a warning label, and too tech savvy to be defeated by an age restriction—I do think Bouygues is generally right. We need to mitigate the impact social media is having on our children’s mental health.

What we must do is give technology users, and teenagers especially, the critical thinking skills necessary to interpret what they see online, so that they can contextualize it and ultimately assess whether the latest meme or trending topic is worth their time or consideration.

This past spring the Reboot Foundation surveyed more than 1,000 Americans on their social media usage and its impact on their mental health, and the results were alarming. More than half of the people who took part in the survey acknowledged that their social media use intensified their feelings of anxiety , depression , or loneliness . They also knew that it contributed to feelings of low self-esteem and made it harder for them to concentrate.

So what did users do about this? Basically, nothing. Only about a third said that they took steps to limit their social media use. That same survey revealed that 40 percent of the respondents said they would give up their cars, TV, and their pets before they would give up their social media accounts.

See what we're up against?

Critical thinking begins with reflective thinking. This requires us to step back and examine our own thinking process, and to notice when we are thinking irrationally or unproductively. This type of thinking is also called “ metacognition .”

Social media apps and platforms were designed to discourage reflective thinking. The algorithms that control our feeds have been perfected to supply their users high octane emotional content that’s easy to share and amplify, regardless if it’s good for society, or for your mental health.

Teaching young people to be reflective thinkers would give them tools to resist conclusions based on raw emotion or knee-jerk reactions. This would go a long way to helping slow the spread of harmful content online.

Another way improved critical thinking skills would help address the mental health crisis teens face online is by giving them the confidence to think independently and to resist group pressure. This cool, rational thought is often called objective thinking and allows users to free themselves of the “hivemind” and to recognize that just because something is trending on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s worthy of your attention .

In short, good critical thinkers reflect on and correct their thinking. They’re objective and rational, even when things get heated or the facts get muddy.

Heated arguments and muddy facts. Doesn’t that sound like social media these days?

The good news is that these critical thinking skills can be taught and there is overwhelming public support for doing so . The bad news is that most schools don’t teach these skills very well.

That needs to change. Our’s kids’ mental health depends on it.

Ulrich Boser

Ulrich Boser is the founder of The Learning Agency and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He is the author of Learn Better, which Amazon called “the best science book of the year.”

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Why Can Social Media Have Such a Negative Effect On Us?

Social media, for better and worse, is a part of most of our lives, trainee psychotherapist emma kilburn explores two psychological theories that explain why social media is addictive .

We all know that too much time spent on social media can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Too much time spent scrolling through feeds and stories can have a numbing effect and can sometimes unhelpfully distract us from people, situations and thoughts that require our attention. Social media also notoriously feeds our FOMO , and research has also shown that the comparisons it encourages us to make with the shiny, edited highlights of other people’s lives also has a negative psychological effect, whether or not we feel we are better off than the friends or celebrities with whose posts we are making comparisons. Psychological theories can develop our understanding of the deleterious effects of social media further, and help us make informed decisions about how and how much we engage with it.

One reason social media is so addictive is because of the way in which it fulfils our ego needs. According to Freud, our minds are made up of three components: the id, the super-ego and the ego. The id is the instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive drives, and hidden memories. Our super-ego is our moral conscience, and the ego is the most realistic part of the mind, which mediates between the id and the super-ego, between the internal world and the external world. The ego aims to make the desires of the id socially acceptable. 

For Freud, those desires were primarily related to libido, or sexual energy. The ego would convert the id’s raw desire into something more socially acceptable, such as making oneself attractive to others. Today, our understanding of the id’s instinctual desires has expanded to include a more general desire to relate to others. Social networks are a useful tool that enable us to do this. As has been frequently discussed, they also enable us to present an idealised image of ourselves as we would like to seem and to be seen. Both practically and psychically, this can lead to an over insistence on the outward presentation of the ego, at the expense of more inward expressions of our identities and the elements of ourselves – perhaps those parts that we consider vulnerable or shameful – that we do not want to share with other people. This can create a psychological imbalance and reinforce our negative perception of those aspects of our identity that we feel the need to conceal. 

Alongside this, our super-ego can bring its harsh judgement to bear on the face we are presenting to the outside world, if it feels we are not succeeding. Our super-ego encourages us to compare ourselves negatively to other people and in this respect is perfectly aligned with the way in which social media pushes us to be aspirational and to make comparisons with profiles, feeds and stories we see online. Again, this can be to the detriment of a healthy ego and a more complete sense of self.

The false self

The ways in which social media encourages us to present online, and the manner in which this can feed the less healthy aspects of our ego and super-ego can lead us to establish a false self. It was psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott who first defined the notion of the false self. As children develop, they begin to realise which feelings are OK and which are not OK (feelings like anger, rage, anxiety and unhappiness). If the behaviour of adults around them teaches them to hide that second group of feelings away, they can then develop a false self, the acceptable face that they present to the outside world, which hides and protects their true self. 

The false self behaves and interacts in a way that is expected and accepted, while the true self is concealed, still feeling all the things that have been deemed to be unacceptable. To a certain extent, the false self is an adaptation to our need to mediate our interactions with the outside world, with society. But it can be maladaptive in the sense that our interaction is partial, leaving vast parts of ourselves unrecognised. This can lead to a sense of alienation, to feelings of shame and even to depression . Social media can feed and support this maladaptive relationship with our sense of self, since it requires us to be wearing a social and socially acceptable mask.

Our awareness that multiple audiences see our posts and stories can create a tension between our daily lives and what of them we choose to share – have you ever gone to post a picture of a night out and hesitated, aware that your gran and your work colleagues will see it, as well as your closest friends? Navigating multiple relationships and aspects of self via a single online identity can be difficult, and can limit our self-expression. Our tendency to present an idealised version of our lives online can also lead to a sense of disconnection. And however much control we have over what we choose to post, we then have very little control over how others respond to and use that information, which can lead us to feel we have lost our sense of ownership of what is most personal to us: our identity. 

Internal objects

The final theory it can be helpful to draw upon when seeking to explain why social media can have such an adverse effect is Melanie Klein’s Theory of Internal Objects. Melanie Klein was a psychotherapist who was the main figure in the development of object relations theory. 

Object relations refers to dynamic, internalised relationships between the self and significant others, or ‘objects’. There are three main components to an object relation: the object as it is perceived by the self, the self in relation to the object and the relationship between self and object. The object as it is perceived by the self is an ‘internal object’, an emotional and mental image of another person that has been internalised. 

We initially form these internal objects in infancy, through our experiences with our caregivers – particularly mothers. In healthy development, these mental representations evolve over time, and change depending on our experiences in relationships with others. In less healthy development they can remain at a more immature level, and there is a tendency to see relationships and people in black and white terms, as either good or bad. This can occur particularly if a mother is not able to meet a child’s emotional needs. Where a mother is emotionally available, a child will come to merge the negative and positive aspects of that mother into an integrated and more realistic whole. Since the child has internalised the relationship and her representation of the mother, this integration extends to the child’s own sense of identity. Conversely, if the mother is at times emotionally absent, the child is likely to repress bad aspects of the mother’s identity and of the self. This repression is not sustainable – i.e. these negative aspects will re-emerge and cause difficulties in terms of self-esteem and relationships with others. These damaged internal objects can also lead to anxiety and undermine our sense of wellbeing.

These difficult feelings can be linked to and be exacerbated by our use of social media. Melanie Klein identified ways in which infants protect themselves against negative feelings, and the processes she describes can also apply to adults who are struggling with anxiety or low self-esteem . In Klein’s model, we project hate and ‘badness’ onto other people, to get rid of our own negative feelings. This process of projection is closely aligned with the ways in which we might use social media to help us feel good about ourselves, by getting drawn into comparisons with other people’s feeds and stories. This can be harmful in two ways. 

Firstly, as mentioned, research has shown that comparisons can have an adverse effect, even if we emerge on the positive side of the comparison. Secondly, we are just as likely to compare ourselves negatively to other people. Then, rather than projecting the bad, we introject it, and use others’ social media feeds to reinforce our negative feelings about ourselves. While Melanie Klein saw healthy projection and introjection as a way to cope with anxiety and to form links with others, she also recognised that if they are used excessively, they can sabotage our sense of a secure, coherent self, and a reliable other. Social media can encourage us to do just that. 

Klein also made a clear link between a lack of the strong sense of self and envy – an emotion that can be fuelled by social media. What makes envy so destructive is that it is an urge to destroy not badness but goodness. Envy makes it impossible to benefit from goodness, leading us to discard or destroy positive possibilities in terms of relationships. According to Klein, an insecure sense of self also leads us to fragment our identity, and those of others. The limited and edited versions of an individual’s identity presented by social media accounts support this sense of fragmentation, which leads us further away from more positive and rounded relationships with ourselves and others.

As ever, the fact remains that social media can play a vital role in connecting people and in creating opportunities for self-expression. However, an awareness of some of the ways that it can exacerbate psychological tendencies we may already have, or undermine our sense of self, can help us take a more measured and considered approach social networks. If time online leaves us feeling low or empty, we can reflect on why this might be, and seek out other forms of social interactions that can support our psychological wellbeing.

Emma Kilburn is a trainee psychotherapist and writer

Further reading

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Too much social media can be harmful, but it’s not addictive like drugs

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essay on why social media is bad

Senior Lecturer in Psychology of Relationships, University of South Wales

Disclosure statement

Bev John has received funding from European Social Funds/Welsh Government, Alcohol Concern (now Alcohol Change), Research Councils and the personal research budgets of a number of Welsh Senedd members. She is an invited observer of the Cross-Party Group on Problem Gambling at the Welsh Parliament and sits on the “Beat the Odds” steering group that is run by Cais Ltd.

Martin Graff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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If you spend hours of the day on your phone checking social media, you’re not unusual. The average internet user spends two hours a day on various social media sites. But does your habit of checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok every few hours make you a social media “addict”?

The term “social media addiction” is being increasingly used to describe people who spend a lot of time on these websites and apps. Doing so can be harmful to people in a variety of ways – causing low self esteem, bad sleep and increasing stress .

The main focus when considering addiction to substances tends to be on three key elements: compulsion (or loss of control), tolerance (needing to increase amount to achieve the same effect) and withdrawal (unpleasant side effects when use stops). Other factors to consider relate to craving, preoccupation and continuing use despite it causing obvious problems. It’s easy to see how these factors apply to drugs, but what about shopping, gambling or, indeed, social media use?

Increasing interest in these and other behavioural “addictions” – like gaming, sex or the internet – has resulted in broadening definitions of what addiction is. Psychologists talk of excessive appetites and powerful motivational drives to engage in particular behaviours that have the power to do considerable unintended harm .

As researchers in social media and addiction, we have spent the last 25 years understanding different kinds of addiction. Our research tells us that social media addiction is not the same as an addiction to substances, like alcohol and other drugs.

Social media use

Too much social media can certainly be damaging. One major feature of social media is it allows users some control over how they present themselves to others. People can edit their online appearance and sometimes present themselves inaccurately while seeking validation from others.

This can cause all kinds of harm. In a study in 2019, we found when female users looked at the platforms for around one and a half hours per day, this was related to an increased desire to be thin , a heightened awareness of how they think other people judge them and motivation to exercise for the purposes of losing weight.

Read more: Why is celebrity abuse on Twitter so bad? It might be a problem with our empathy

And in 2016, we investigated the ways people seek validation on social media. We looked at how often people manipulate posts to increase the number of likes received, use social media to boost spirits or blindly post about issues with which they did not necessarily agree.

We found when this kind of online behaviour increased, self-esteem decreased. But our findings didn’t necessarily show a compulsion to use social media – something key in making it an addiction. Other social factors, such as fear of missing out and narcissistic personality traits, may drive the need to use social media to an unhealthy degree.

Social media addiction

In 2020, we undertook a study into harmful gambling that might help answer the question of whether social media addiction is real.

We found that rapid technological developments in the ease and speed of access of phone and tablet apps are leading to increased levels of gambling harm. Similar psychological processes may be at work on social media platforms, where need for validation, craving and checking likes is amplified.

Behavioural explanations for how addictions develop emphasise the power of reinforcement. Gambling products often use the most powerful form of reinforcement: random pay outs . This, again, is potentially similar to the way users receive validation in the form of “likes” on social media.

A group of five people taking a selfie.

There are some who might argue that chronic overuse of social media can be seen as an addiction, but it not is currently recognised as such by the American Psychiatric Association .

There are important differences between excessive social media use and substances in terms of addiction. For example, withdrawal from the latter is often physically unpleasant and sometimes dangerous without medical supervision. Users often suffer stigma, which can be a barrier to seeking help. In comparison, it hasn’t yet been established that there are physical withdrawal effects when people stop using social media.

Considering social media use more as a continuum of possible harm might allow more scope for appropriately targeted messages that could prevent problems developing in the first place.

There are clearly elements of social media use that resonate with certain characterisations of addiction, such as psychological notions of excessive appetites or powerful motivations, and the built-in platform mechanisms of reinforcement through random affirmations or “likes”. It’s also clear that this can be harmful in terms of negative impact on some users’ self-esteem and body image.

But despite these factors, the most useful question might be how to create a healthy balance of interaction in our virtual and real worlds.

It’s worth remembering that behavioural addictions, like those to substances, often occur alongside other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, suggesting that vulnerability may be multifaceted. This may also be true of excessive social media use.

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June 20, 2022

Why Social Media Makes People Unhappy—And Simple Ways to Fix It

Research suggests platform designs make us lose track of time spent on them and can heighten conflicts, and then we feel upset with ourselves

By Daisy Yuhas

Woman surrounded by sad emojies.

Matthew Holland

Disrupted sleep, lower life satisfaction and poor self-esteem are just a few of the negative mental health consequences that researchers have linked to social media. Somehow the same platforms that can help people feel more connected and knowledgeable also contribute to loneliness and disinformation. What succeeds and fails, scientists say, is a function of how these platforms are designed. Amanda Baughan, a graduate student specializing in human-computer interaction at the University of Washington, studies how social media triggers what psychologists call dissociation, or a state of reduced self-reflection and narrowed attention. She presented results at the 2022 Association for Computing Machinery Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Baughan spoke with Mind Matters editor Daisy Yuhas to explain how and why apps need to change to give the people who use them greater power.

[ An edited transcript of the interview follows .]

You’ve shown how changing social media cues and presentations could improve well-being, even when people strongly disagree on issues. Can you give an example?

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The design of social media can have a lot of power in how people interact with one another and how they feel about their online experiences. For example, we’ve found that social media design can actually help people feel more supportive and kind in moments of online conflict, provided there’s a little bit of a nudge to behave that way. In one study, we designed an intervention that encouraged people who start talking about something contentious in a comment thread to switch to direct messaging. People really liked it . It helped to resolve their conflict and replicated a solution we use in-person: people having a public argument move to a private space to work things out.

You’ve also tackled a different problem coming out of social media usage called the 30-Minute Ick Factor. What is that?

We very quickly lose ourselves on social media. When people encounter a platform where they can infinitely scroll for more information, it can trigger a similar neurocognitive reward system as in anticipating a winning lottery ticket or getting food. It’s a powerful way that these apps are designed to keep us checking and scrolling.

The 30-Minute Ick Factor is when people mean to check their social media briefly but then find that 30 minutes have passed, and when they realize how much time they have spent, they have this sense of disgust and disappointment in themselves. Research has shown that people are dissatisfied with this habitual social media use. A lot of people frame it as meaningless, unproductive or addictive.

You’ve argued this experience is less a matter of addiction and more an issue of dissociation. Why?

Dissociation is a psychological process that comes in many forms. In the most common, everyday dissociation, your mind is so absorbed that you are disconnected from your actions. You could be doing the dishes, start daydreaming and not pay attention to how you are doing the dishes. Or you might seek immersive experiences—watching a movie, reading a book or playing a game—that pass the time and cause you to forget where you are.

During these activities, your sense of reflective self-consciousness and the passage of time is reduced. People only realize that they dissociated in hindsight. Attention is restored with the sense of “What just happened?” or “My leg fell asleep while we were watching that movie!”

Dissociation can be a positive thing, especially if it’s an absorbing experience, meaningful activity or a needed break. But it can also be harmful in certain cases, as in gambling, or come in conflict with people’s time-management goals, as with social media scrolling.

How do you measure people’s dissociation on social media?

We worked with 43 participants who used a custom mobile app that we created called Chirp to access their Twitter accounts. The app let people interact with Twitter content while allowing us to ask them questions and test interventions. So when people were using Chirp, after a given number of minutes, we would send them a questionnaire based on a psychological scale for measuring dissociation. We asked how much they agreed with the statement “I am currently using Chirp without really paying attention to what I’m doing” on a scale of 1 to 5. We also did interviews with 11 people to learn more. The results showed dissociation occurred in 42 percent of our participants, and they regularly reported losing track of time or feeling “all-consumed.”

You designed four interventions that modified people’s Twitter experience on Chirp to reduce dissociation. What worked?

The most successful were custom lists and reading history labels. In custom lists, we forced users to categorize the content they followed, such as “sports” or “news” or “friends.” Then, instead of interacting with Twitter’s main feed, they engaged only with content on these lists. This approach was coupled with a reading history intervention in which people received a message when they were caught up on the newest tweets. Rather than continuing to scroll, they were alerted to what they had already seen, and so they focused on just the newest content. Those interventions reduced dissociation, and when we did interviews, people said they felt safer checking their social media accounts when these modifications were present.

In another design, people received timed messages letting them know how long they had been on Chirp and suggesting they leave. They also had the option of viewing a usage page that showed them statistics such as how much time they’d spent on Chirp in the past seven days. These two solutions were effective if people opted to use them. Many people ignored them, however. Also, they thought the timed messages were annoying. Those findings are interesting because a lot of the popular time-management tools available to people look like these time-out and usage notifications.

So what could social media companies be doing differently? And is there any incentive for them to change?

Right now there is a lot working against people who use social media. It’s impossible to ever fully catch up on a social media feed, especially when you consider the algorithmically inserted content such as Twitter’s trending tweets or TikTok’s “For You” page. But I think that there is hope that relatively simple tweaks to social media design, such as custom lists, can make a difference. It’s important to note that the custom lists significantly reduced dissociation for people—but they did not significantly affect time spent using the app. To me, that points out that reducing people’s dissociation may not be as antithetical to social media companies’ revenue goals as we might intuitively think.

What’s most important for people using social media now to know?

First, don’t pile a bunch of shame onto your social media habits. Thousands of people are employed to make you swipe your thumb up on that screen and keep you doing what you’re doing. Let’s shift the responsibility of designing safe and fulfilling experiences from users to the companies.

Second, get familiar with the well-being tools that are already offered. TikTok has a feature that, every hour, will tell you that you’ve been scrolling for a while and should consider a break. On Twitter, custom lists are a feature that already exists; it’s just not the default option. If more people start using these tools, it could convince these companies to refine them.

Most important, vote for people who are interested in regulating technology because I think that’s where we’re going to see the biggest changes made.

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How Social Networking Can Ruin Your Life: Negative Effects of Social Media

How Social Networking Can Ruin Your Life: Negative Effects of Social Media essay

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Why is social media bad for mental health, why social media is bad: a conclusion.

  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive Medicine Reports, 15, 100928.
  • Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., ... & Primack, B. A. (2016). Association between social media use and depression among US young adults. Depression and Anxiety, 33(4), 323-331.
  • Rosen, L. D., Whaling, K., Carrier, L. M., Cheever, N. A., & Rokkum, J. (2013). The media and technology usage and attitudes scale: An empirical investigation. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2501-2511.
  • Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., ... & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PloS one, 8(8), e69841.
  • Turel, O., & Qahri-Saremi, H. (2016). Problematic use of social media: Antecedents and consequences. Information Systems Journal, 26(2), 99-118.

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Is social media bad for teens’ mental health, there are risks, but they can be avoided..

A boy works on his laptop

If you were born after 1995 then you won’t remember life before the Internet. Being connected through smartphones and social media is now just a part of growing up for many children and adolescents. Most of them have positive experiences online, but there are risks involved, including whether the excessive use of social media can ultimately harm their mental health. Research in this area is still in its early stages, but the significance of social media in the lives of many young people is clear.

Designed for excessive use

It is no secret that social media platforms were deliberately designed to hold users' attention as long as possible, tapping into psychological biases and vulnerabilities relating to our desire for validation and fear of rejection. Too much passive use of social media – just browsing posts – can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy , inadequa cy  and less satisfaction with life . Studies have even suggested that it can lead to ADHD symptoms , depression, anxiety  and sleep deprivation . 

More evidence is necessary before we can consider these findings conclusive. However, with depression on the rise worldwide and half of all mental illnesses starting at age 14 though, the potential issues warrant further exploration.

Many governments , sociologists and psychologists have also expressed concerns that children today are spending too much time interacting with their phones and missing out on other important social experiences.

Exacerbating loneliness

The feelings triggered by a ‘like’ can temporarily relieve feelings of loneliness, but they cannot replace socializing altogether. When adolescents who feel lonely offline use social media to compensate for less developed social skills, they may end up feeling even more lonely in the long run.

The meaningful relationships we build face to face, through both verbal and non-verbal cues, are a deep and lasting source of personal satisfaction and happiness . An emoji or an ‘LOL’ can elicit superficial feelings of connection, but face-to-face communication builds more meaningful bonds through body language, touch and facial expressions, along with the interpretation of feelings through tone and nuance – all things that are often lost in the in the digital world.

Adolescents often speak online to people they have existing relationships with offline. In moderation, using social media in this way allows teens to keep in touch with friends, classmates and relatives and can potentially improve their offline relationships. But it can become problematic if talking online comes to dominate all social interaction, or in the case of excessive passive browsing, when teens are consuming more information than they are engaging with.

Rather than promoting meaningful communication, the ‘like’ feature can be a substitute for exchanging comments. It can also feel like a public ranking system that makes some teens feel judged and excluded, something many adolescents are already highly sensitive about. Seventeen-year-old Ashley from Singapore echoes this sentiment in this blog post , “how can we prevent ourselves and our peers from spiralling deeper down this rabbit hole of self-doubt and yearning?”


Insecurities are easily exacerbated by peers on social media. Bullies can disseminate violent, hurtful and humiliating words and images with the tap of a key.

Though the violence may be perpetrated digitally, the repercussions are tangible. Research  shows that victims of cyberbullying are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and skip school than other students. They also are more likely to receive poor grades and experience low self esteem and health problems. In extreme situations, cyberbullying has led to suicide.

A girl plays on her spart phone

Building healthy habits

Quality control

Building healthy social media habits is crucial to avoiding potential mental health risks. Usage should be moderate and balanced with real social time with family and friends. Deciding how much is too much inevitably depends on the individual’s age, character traits and the culture they are living in. However, the influences of the content adolescents encounter and the activities they participate in online are more important than actual time spent online.

Instead of using social media for the kind of public broadcasting and passive browsing that may lead them to compare ‘likes’, it may be more beneficial to use it to reinforce relationships by having more one-on-one interactions with close friends through comments and messaging.

Listen to teens

While adults rightly worry about the implications of excessive social media use, adolescents have a right to have their voices heard in matters that concern them. But they are rarely consulted in these debates. Teens’ own voices and experiences are important to guide emerging policy and practice. After all, young people often have more expertise with these technologies and grew up with them as their major form of communication, entertainment and information.

The private sector’s role

As both the drivers and benefactors of the social media revolution, tech companies and designers should offer a range of user friendly tools that help parents create age-appropriate environments. They could also change the design to create an environment that is conducive to more meaningful conversations and less browsing and liking. While it may go against their financial incentives, a more ethical design would go a long way toward helping teens build healthier social media habits.

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Everyone Says Social Media Is Bad for Teens. Proving It Is Another Thing.

Parents, scientists and the surgeon general are worried. But there isn’t even a shared definition of what social media is.

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essay on why social media is bad

By Claire Cain Miller

There have been increasingly loud public warnings that social media is harming teenagers’ mental health — most recently from the United States surgeon general — adding to many parents’ fears about what all the time spent on phones is doing to their children’s brains.

While many scientists share the concern, there is little research to prove that social media is harmful — or to indicate which sites, apps or features are problematic. There isn’t even a shared definition of what social media is. It leaves parents, policymakers and other adults in teenagers’ lives without clear guidance on what to be worried about.

“We have some evidence to guide us, but this is a scenario where we just need to know more,” said Jacqueline Nesi, a psychologist at Brown who studies the topic.

What counts as social media when it comes to teenagers’ health?

The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, warned last month that social media carried a “profound risk of harm,” but he didn’t name any apps or websites. His report acknowledged that “there isn’t a single, widely accepted scholarly definition of social media.”

Most studies look at platforms with user-generated content, where people can interact. But that raises a lot of questions. Does it matter if teenagers see posts from people they know or don’t know? Does it make a difference if they post or just view? Do multiplayer games count? Dating apps? Group texts?

YouTube illustrates the challenge. It’s the most popular site among teenagers by far: 95 percent use it, and almost 20 percent say they do so “almost constantly,” Pew Research Center found . It has all the features of social media, yet it hasn’t been included in most studies.

How Often Teens Say They Use Each Platform

Some researchers speculated that YouTube may not have as many detrimental effects, because teenagers often consume it passively, like TV, and don’t post or comment as often as they do on other apps. Or, researchers said, it may carry the same risks — it offers endless scrolling and algorithmic recommendations, similar to TikTok. There is no clear data either way.

What don’t we know?

Reviews of the existing studies on social media use and adolescents’ mental health have found the bulk of them to be “ weak,” “inconsistent, ” “ inconclusive ,” “ a bag of mixed findings ” and “ weighed down by a lack of quality” and “conflicting evidence. ”

Research has not yet shown which sites, apps or features of social media have which effects on mental health. “We don’t have enough evidence to tell parents to get rid of a particular app, or cut it off after a particular number of hours,” said Sophia Choukas-Bradley, a psychologist and director of the Teen and Young Adult Lab at the University of Pittsburgh.

It’s also hard to prove that social media causes poor mental health, versus being correlated with it. Most studies measure time spent on social media and mental health symptoms, and many, though not all, have found a correlation. But other researchers say measuring time spent isn’t enough: In these studies, it’s unclear if time on social media is the problem, or if it’s time away from other things like exercising or sleeping. And the studies obscure, for instance, if someone is spending hours on screens to escape mental duress or to seek support from friends.

A few studies have tried novel approaches around these problems. One , early in Facebook’s rollout in the mid-2000s, compared college campuses that had received access to it with those that hadn’t, and found that its arrival had a negative effect on students’ mental health.

A carefully designed study, Project Awesome at the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, looks at both the average effects of social media on 1,000 teenagers it surveys and how they differ by individual, and follows adolescents over time. It has found that time spent on social media is less of a factor than teenagers’ moods while using it .

Other studies have used brain scans to show that when adolescents looked at likes or frequently checked feeds , it activated brain sensitivity to social rewards and punishments.

What else does the research show?

“We most often find a small, negative correlation” between social media use and mental health, said Amy Orben, a psychologist who leads the Digital Mental Health Group at the University of Cambridge. “But we don’t know what’s underlying that. It could be that those who feel worse start using more social media, it could be that social media makes them feel worse, or it could be socioeconomic status or something else causing that link.”

Overall, research finds that social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful, and its effects depend on individuals and what they see.

“We can’t say, ‘Don’t do X, Y is fine, stay away from Z,’” said Amanda Lenhart, head of research at Common Sense Media. “Unlike TV or movies, it’s impossible to know what children will see on social media ahead of time. Sometimes it’s hair dye or dance videos, but sometimes it’s white supremacy or eating disorder content.”

Teenagers with certain vulnerabilities — such as those with low self-esteem , poor body image or social struggles — seem to be most at risk. One experiment found that exposure to manipulated images directly led to worse body image, particularly for girls more prone to compare themselves with others. Another found that using social media to compare oneself to others and seek approval was associated with depressive symptoms, especially for teens who struggle socially.

Social media often has positive and negative effects on the same person. Project Awesome found that its use is associated with higher levels of both depression or anxiety and happiness or well-being.

In a Common Sense report , teenage girls with symptoms of depression were more likely than girls without symptoms to say social media made other people’s lives seem better than theirs — and also more likely to say it enhanced their social connections. They found mental health resources on social media, as well as harmful suicide-related content. Overall, the largest share of girls said the effects of social media features were neutral.

How Teenage Girls Believe Each Social Media Feature Affects Them

Why isn’t there more solid research.

Academic research takes a long time — often years to get funding, develop studies, hire staff, recruit participants, analyze data and submit for publication. Recruiting minors is even harder. By the time a study is out, teenagers have often moved on to a different platform — much of the research about specific platforms, for example, is on Facebook , which most teens no longer use. Tech companies have also not shared enough data to help researchers understand their products’ impacts, the surgeon general’s report said.

How could future studies be more conclusive?

Experts said they would like to see research that examines specific types of social media content, and things like how social media use in adolescence affects people in adulthood, what it does to neural pathways and how to protect youth against negative effects.

Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge, psychologists who have expressed great concern about social media’s effect on teenagers, have proposed an experiment in which entire middle schools are randomly assigned to avoid social media or not.

What should parents do in the meantime?

Experts agreed that waiting for research wasn’t an option. They also mostly agreed that some level of social media use was beneficial . “There are harmful negative developmental implications to not using social media at all, given this is where the social interaction happens,” Professor Choukas-Bradley said.

Researchers said social media rules should depend on individual teenagers’ maturity and their challenges, and said addressing the risks should also be the responsibility of tech companies and policymakers, not just parents. They agreed on a few steps parents could take now:

Set limits , especially around bedtime.

Don’t give a young teenager a smartphone right away. Start with a smartwatch or a phone without internet.

Talk to your teenagers: Have them show you what they’re seeing, ask them how it makes them feel and discuss privacy and safety.

Make a family screen time plan that takes into account which activities increase stress versus provide long-term satisfaction.

Model responsible internet use yourself.

It’s not about monitoring certain apps, said Caleb T. Carr, a professor of communication at Illinois State: “Instead, parents should engage with their kids. Just like parents did pre-social media, talk about being good humans and citizens, talk about respect for others and themselves, and talk about how their day was.”

Alicia Parlapiano contributed graphics

Claire Cain Miller writes about gender, families and the future of work for The Upshot. She joined The Times in 2008 and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. More about Claire Cain Miller

A Parent’s Guide to Kids and Social Media

Does your child have an unhealthy relationship with social media? This is what problematic use could look like .

We asked experts for one practical strategy that parents can use with their kids to help mitigate the harms of social media. Here’s what they told us .

There are many tools that allow parents to monitor and set limits on their children’s screen time. Here’s what to know about them .

If you’ve already given your teen full access to social media, these three strategies can help them cut back .

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The negative effects of social media on the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work

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The aim of this study was to understand the social identity levels of adolescents and to analyze the negative effects of social media on their social identity from the perspective of social work. The researcher used a descriptive-analytical technique in this study. The study's sample consisted of 200 adolescents (male and female) in the secondary stage at age group (15–18 years). The researcher designed a questionnaire based on the four main levels of James Marcia's theory of social identity. The results showed a variety of negative effects of social media on the social identity of adolescents in terms of "achievement - postponement - closure - dispersion", this requires taking serious measures from the family, the school, and other institutions to care for the family and the child to strengthen how to face these risks to protect the identity of adolescents from violating their privacy and negatively affecting their intellectual principles.

Negative Effects; Social Media; Social Identity; Adolescents; Social Work.

1. Introduction

Adolescence is the stage of cultural and social formation, it is the most critical juncture for children and youth. If there is no guidance, care, and follow-up from the adolescent's family and his school, the adolescent, in his quest to develop a sense of social identity, spends most of his time thinking, reviewing, and reflecting on the general values and behaviors he observes ( Bakkar, 2010 , p55). He must decide how to succeed in friendships with his peers, exercise his social roles as appropriate, and choose between multiple beliefs, ideas, and options that will give him a sense of distinct and independent existence working towards building his own future. In this light, adolescents are exposed to what is known as an identity crisis ( Levesque, 2011 , p.109, p.109).

The crisis of social identity is the main problem people must tackle during adolescence. The crisis starts with the beginning of the formation of a personality where the adolescent asks a number of questions to himself such as: Who am I? What is my role in society? How do I prove my existence? How do I succeed? Here, the adolescent finds himself faced with multiple questions, contradictory demands, and ideas, which force him to deal with multiple conflicts, especially in light of physical, mental, social, psychological, emotional, and family changes. If these changes are negative, it will result in the failure of the adolescent to successfully form his identity, in addition to facing many problems such as social role disorder, identity confusion, or the adoption of negative identity, harming the adolescent's life and future ( Salima and Fayza, 2014 . p.384).

1.1. Definition of social identity from the perspective of social work

The thinker Alex Mitchell considered that identity is an integrated system of physical, psychological, moral and social data involving a pattern of cognitive integration processes ( Mitchell et al., 2016 , pp12-16). It is characterized by its unity, which is embodied in the inner spirit, and has the characteristic of the sense of identity and intelligence ( Mitchell et al., 2016 , pp127-138). Identity is the unity of internal feelings ( Asiri, 2004 , p.122), which is the unity of physical elements, differentiation, permanence, and central effort. This means that identity is a unit of integrated physical, social and psychological elements, which makes a person distinct from others, and enables him to feel his own unity ( Dawaq, 2016 , p.26).

Erik Erikson believes that the identity of an individual is formed during a long struggle, which begins in adolescence, and focuses on the composition of two element ( Erikson, 1994 , p15). The first is the acquisition of the ability to create a relationship with the surroundings, and the second a sense of integration into a suitable moral world. We believe that both elements are necessary and complementary to each other because the individual needs to identify himself within his society. When people ask us who we are, they do not usually mean the name we carry, but our position in the social network, that is, the small circle that we belong to within the great social circle, and the job that we do within this circle ( Salima and Fayza, 2014 , p.390). Therefore, the individual does not just mention his first name, but adds to him the last name, and then the functional definition, which refers to occupation, hobby or status. This leads us to the second element, namely, the need for an individual to have a meaningful world in which to enjoy his or her abilities and receive the appropriate reward for what he does. This is why all people seek to build relationships with a group, because much of the pleasure of life, or happiness, is achieved through interaction between individuals. Hence, it is said that those who dispense with people lose the sense of beauty of life ( Al-Shammasi, 2006 , p.23) because in fact they lose the need for the daily challenge posed by the physical and moral interaction between the individual and his environment ( Cillessen and Rose, 2008 , p.143). It is the need for integration that imposes on the individual a pattern of personal choices and descriptions that may not necessarily be the best for them but are necessary to make their way into the community. On the other hand. groups may vary in their susceptibility to the integration of new individuals, in the sense that they may set difficult conditions, require the individual to give up his own choices in return for enjoying the virtues of social living, or simply refuse to integrate any new individual unless they are fully identical with them in psychological and social growth ( Al-Hafian, 2004 , p.30).

1.2. James Marcia's theory and levels of social identity

The theory of Marcia is based on a significant assumption that a well-defined and independently determined identity exists for the mature and well-adjusted person. This presumption expresses an implicit collection of shared principles, with a putting great emphasis on human interests, rights, and freedoms. Therefore, maturity in terms of a highly developed sense of an individual self is only natural, and maturity is characterized by the willingness to subjugate individual pursuits and desires in the service of the greater good of the group ( Morelli, 2020 , pp.12–24).

There are four key points or milestones that James Marcia's theory has descriptively defined along the continuum of identity growth. Such stations or points describe very different states of identity, ranging from a diffuse and indeterminate individual identity to a precise and extremely specific individual identity. Marcia assumed that such conditions and events (called 'crises') act as catalysts for movement along this continuum and through the different status of identity. These crises cause internal tension and emotional upheaval, forcing teenagers to analyze their values, beliefs, and aspirations and doubt them. They can develop new beliefs, accept different values, and make different choices as they explore new possibilities. Every identity status is a basic configuration of the progress of an adolescent with regard to identity exploration and dedication to the values, beliefs, and goals that contribute to identity ( Marcia, 1966 , p 551), Marcia used the concept of identity status to identify four stations or points of unique developmental identity as follows:

Social identity achievement: This status of identity reflects both a high degree of experimentation and a high level of dedication. It is said that teenagers have achieved their identity through an active discovery phase and a deep commitment to a clear set of values, beliefs, and life goals that have resulted from this active exploration and analysis. Adolescents will have determined what ideals and priorities are most important to them at this identity status, and what purpose or task will drive their life. individuals at the status of identity achievement may prioritize what is relevant to them and have sorted who they want to be by the many possibilities. They would have experimented and examined their journey in life with several different convictions and values. Young people need to feel optimistic and secure in their choices and beliefs to truly achieve this form of identity ( Marcia James, 2011 , p101). In addition to achieving a goal as a result of the individual's experience after a temporary period of exploration, including testing values, beliefs, goals, and roles, selecting what was meaningful or personal and of social value, and then demonstrating a true commitment to what was chosen to implement it ( Al-Ghamdi, 2001 , p.86).

Social identity postponement: This identity status reflects a high level of experimentation but a low degree of dedication. At this point, teenagers are in the midst of a crisis of identity that has prompted them to explore and experiment with various values, beliefs, and goals. They have not, however, made any definitive decisions as to which principles and beliefs are most important to them, and which values should guide their lives. Therefore, they are not committed to a specific identity yet. They keep their choices and alternatives open ( Marcia, 1966 , p 550). In addition to continuing to try and test the available options without reaching a final decision and without making a real commitment to specific options, which causes the individual to change his choices from time to time in an attempt to reach what is appropriate ( Abu Arad, 2008 , p.18), including but not limited to changing the field of study, profession, identities or friends ( Steinberg, 2002 , p.33).

Social identity closure: This status of identification indicates a low level of discovery but a high degree of dedication. Adolescents do not consciously seek to decide what is important to them in this identity status. The principles and beliefs they have been taught are not questioned. Instead, by clearly embracing the ideals and values of their families and community culture, these teenagers obtain their identity. In a way, the personality given to them is passively embraced by them. Although these young people are committed to their assigned ideals and life goals, they do not ask why they should be, nor do they suggest any alternatives ( Marcia, 1980 , pp.159–187), in addition to their avoidance of any subjective attempt to reveal beliefs, goals and social roles of meaning or value in life, but they are contented with satisfaction of the roles as determined by external forces such as family and society ( Al-Zu'bi, 2001 , p.477).

Social identity dispersion: This identity status describes adolescents who have neither explored any real identity nor committed to it. This status of identity thus reflects a low level of experimentation and a low level of dedication. These teenagers have not at all considered their identity, and have not set any goals for life. They are reactive, floating through life passively, and dealing with every situation as it arises. Their main motivation is hedonism, avoiding discomfort, and gaining pleasure ( Marcia James, 2011 , p101), in addition to the lack of individual sense of the need to form a philosophy, goals, or specific roles in life, on the one hand, with the absence of commitment to the roles which led by chance on the other. This happens with the aim of avoiding the individual researching and testing to preferring compatibility with problems or solving them by postponing and disrupting ( Khader, 2018 , p.89).

In light of the above, the individual's identity is formed solely by the interaction of the individual with others, and the individual's view of others is partly shaped by the way others view that individual. According to the theory of symbolic reactivity (role theory) ( Al-Murshidi, 2007 , p.27), people continue to possess their individuality but are not entirely distinct from society ( Ali, 2007 , p.83), and identity acts as a bridge between the individual and those around him ( Mohsen, 2018 ), for this reason, we must work hard to monitor and follow up our children in their way of life especially after the recent boom in electronic means of communication and the spread of social media which has become a remarkable presence all over the world, especially among children and young people and despite the positive effect of some social media, but the social media can also have a destructive influence on social relations between adolescents and their families, in addition to the negative effect on the academic achievement of adolescents.

1.3. Definition of social media

The phenomenon of social media began in 1997, and the site "Six" was the first of these sites providing the opportunity for users to create profiles, comment on news, and exchange messages with other participants ( Mohamed, 2019 , p.6). Although the site "Six" is the pioneer of social networking, "My" has opened wide horizons and achieved tremendous success since its inception in 2003 ( Hayaty, 2018 , p.3). Then successively began the emergence of social media, but the milestone is the emergence of ‘’ which enables users to share information among themselves and allow friends to access their profiles ( Al-Shareef, 2014 , p73), for this reason, the use of various social media has become a daily occurrence in modern times ( Mashaal, 2018 , p.56).

Some scholars define social media as virtual places where communication through the means of dialogue, chat, comment, photography, and interaction between users can take place without borders or breaks ( Al-Jazi, 2018 , p.14). So, the internet is described as a virtual space because it is considered a liberating place where no one party owns it ( Asur and Huberman, 2010 , p.40), and defines social media as services that are created and programmed by major companies to gather the largest number of users and friends who share activities and interests, searching for more friendships and the interests and activities of other people with whom they share one of the intellectual contributions ( Bailey et al., 2009 , p. 10 & Salim, 2008 , p.56). These social media provide features such as instant messaging, public and private messaging, and multimedia sharing of voice, video, image, and files ( Rajah, 2019 , p.86), which has attracted millions of users from around the world. ( Mansour, 2014 , pp.287–288), and also social media are an electronic social structure made from individuals, groups, or institutions, the basic composition (such as an individual) of which is called a term (node) where these nodes are connected to different types of relationships ( Al-Mu'ti, 2016 , p.93). Such as supporting a specific sports team, belonging to a company or nationality of a country in the world and these relationships may reach deeper degrees ( Ali, 2019 , p.102), such as social status, beliefs, or class to which the person belongs ( Salima and Fayza, 2014 , p.391), and there are many types of social media used by children and adolescents such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc ( Hamed, 2018 , p.7).

1.4. Advantages for children and adolescents of using social media from the perspective of social work

Provide the opportunity to connect with friends, family, and colleagues who share the same interests, and share pictures, ideas, and fun moments with each other ( O'Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, 2011 , p127).

Provide an opportunity to join in community service projects through what is known as “e-volunteering”.

Developing individual and collective creativity through exchanging technical projects and benefitting from innovative experiences ( Muzayd, 2012 , p.42).

Promoting educational opportunities developing ideas and raising intelligence through the creation of blogs, videos, and game sites ( Ito et al., 2008 , p.15).

There are ways to regulate and control privacy and confidentiality rules not based on reparation or compulsion but rather on choice, and users can block or report inappropriate or unacceptable interventions and materials.

Provide an opportunity to learn, to exchange respect, tolerance, and constructive dialogue on global humanitarian issues to promote human identity and social skills ( Abdul Jalil, 2011 , p.247).

1.5. Risks for children and adolescents of using social media from the perspective of social work

Threat and harassment through the Internet: through the dissemination of false information, embarrassing or hostile interaction from others. This is one of the biggest risks of using the internet for adolescents, it is a risk from peer to peer and can cause profound social and psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety, isolation, and tragic suicide ( Nomar, 2012 , p.193).

Send sexual messages (sexting): through the sending and receiving of sexual messages and images through mobile phones, computers, and other digital receivers where images become rapidly spread via mobile phone and the internet. This phenomenon can be seen in recent research which has shown that 20% of adolescents published pictures of their own showing themselves naked or semi-naked, with some of them having been accused and convicted on charges of felony publishing porn ( AL-Oubli, 2011 , p.826).

Facebook depression: which occurs in adolescents as a result of spending a lot of time on social media sites such as Facebook and then beginning to show symptoms of depression through social isolation from their environment and their families, with some resorting to using dangerous sites and blogs, which may promote addiction or sexual relations and/or destructive, self-aggressive behaviors. Social media sites lead to the isolation and destruction of family relations ( Hosni, 2011 , p. 101).

The collapse of the idea of the reference group in its traditional sense. The virtual society is not determined by the place, but by the common interests that bring people together, who did not necessarily know each other before meeting electronically. They are sleepless societies; one can find a contact with another around the clock. Virtual societies are highly decentralized and gradually result in the dismantling of the concept of traditional identity. The disintegration of identity is not confined to national or resident identity, but also to personal identity, because those who use social media often use pseudonyms and avatars, and some have more than one account ( Al-Obaidi, 2019 , p.18).

Digital Footprint and Privacy concerns: This is related to the lack of privacy for adolescents, due to a lack of experience in the safe use of social media sites, who exchange a lot of private information or disseminate false information related to them or others putting their privacy at risk. In addition, the presence of the property is collected and user information recorded on the internet resulting in something called a "digital fingerprint." ( Zain Al Abdeen, 2013 , p.2).

1.6. Previous studies

Several studies have indicated that one of the most significant difficulties experienced by adolescents is a conflict of values linked to their continuous search for identity and belonging ( Bouchey and Furman, 2013 , p.319). This is compounded with a desire to achieve self-direction by going into the unknown; interacting with strangers on social media sites and entering into a network of virtual relationships via the internet. This corresponds with the study ( Laith, 2011 ) on “The Impact of Using Social Media site "Facebook" on Youth Self-Esteem” which demonstrated the role Facebook plays in modern upbringing through providing a platform for children and young people to discover ideas and convictions that greatly shape their future character values and determine their life trends. Traditional upbringing institutions lack the ability to monitor new behavioral patterns resulting from friction with the outside world caused by social media. The study also noted that a large number of young people have become isolated from their communities, hiding behind computer screens to connect with the virtual community instead. The study recommended the need to regulate the method and hours of social media use, while determining the quality of permitted sites and programs, and considering the increasing need for periodic supervision on children by their families. In this context, according to recent statistics, 22% of adolescents access their favorite social sites more than ten times a day and more than half of adolescents enter these sites more than once a day 75% of adolescents have a mobile phone, 25% of them use their phones to access these sites. and 54% use it to send SMS, whilst 24% use it for instant messaging. Thus, much of the social and emotional development of this generation takes place online via mobile phone ( Zain Al Abdeen, 2013 , p.2). And study ( Safar, 2017 ), entitled “The role of social networks in the consolidation of the values of citizenship from the perspective of the Omani youth,” This study aimed to identify the role of social networks in establishing the values of citizenship from the viewpoint of the university youth in Oman, The study used the descriptive-analytical approach and relied on the questionnaire tool, It was applied to a random sample of 477 students from Sultan Qaboos University, The study concluded several results, including The social networks, reinforced the value of brotherhood among citizens and emphasized the cohesion Patriotism among community members, Social networks were used to promote solidarity, cooperation and assistance to the needy, The results showed that many social media sites were the most used among the sample members They are in order Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter. And study ( Hamdi, 2018 ), University Youth Dependence on Social Media for Access to Information, “A Survey Study at the University of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia”, The main objective of the study is to know the degree of dependence of Saudi youth on the communication sites Social In knowing the information and news they are looking for, and the study relied on the descriptive method and the questionnaire tool, It was applied to a sample of 401 students from the University of Tabuk in Saudi Arabia. The most important results of the study were the most important motives for the use of social networking sites by Saudi youth is entertainment and leisure time, then get news and information, then for social relations with friends and relatives.

Several studies have indicated there are the effects of social media on an individual's life, his academic achievement, and his progress in life such as study ( Awad, 2013 ) entitled: “The effects of the use of social media sites on the educational attainment of children in Tulkarm governorate from the point of view of housewives”, which stressed the importance of the role played by mothers of teenage children who use social media sites. The study reached the important conclusion that social media sites have a negative impact on the educational attainment of children, especially in cases where mothers worked more hours. Therefore, it is necessary to target mothers with awareness campaigns and workshops, to raise the level of awareness of how they can monitor their children's use of these sites, and advise them of the need to establish rules and controls to monitor banned and destructive sites, so users cannot access pornographic sites. And study ( AL-Aag, 2013 ) entitled: The use of the Internet in the study and its relationship to motivation for learning in adolescents (12–14 years). The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between the use of the Internet and motivation for learning among teenage pupils, the researcher used the descriptive method, and relied on a simple random sample, the sample size represents 110 pupils. One of the most important results of the study, the proportion of males who use the Internet is estimated at 50% of the total sample, while the percentage of students who are highly motivated to learning 91.81%, and students with low motivation to learning 9.19%. And study ( Hattat, 2014 ), entitled (psychosocial problems of school-age adolescents internet users), This study aimed at detecting the prevalence of psychosocial problems in terms of internet addiction, social isolation, lack of concentration, and depression in a sample of adolescents studying “internet users in Ouargla”, the sample of the basic study consisted of 406 students using the internet who were chosen intentionally among the students studying during the 2013–2014 school year, one of the most important results of the study was that the prevalence of psychological and social problems was low, where the percentage of Internet addiction was 2.95 %, 0.73% for social isolation and 2.70% for the problem of alienation. And study ( Zawana, 2015 ), entitled ‘The degree of using social networks as a tool for learning among Jordanian university students and the achieved satisfaction’, the aim of this study was to investigate the degree of use of social media by Jordanian university students as a learning tool, the study used the descriptive approach in the field survey of the study community consisting of the University of Jordan as a public university and the Universities of the Middle East and Petra as private universities, the questionnaire was applied to a total sample of 400 students, they were asked closed questions on the five axes of the tool on the degree of use and the satisfaction of saturation, the results include: YouTube ranked first, followed by Facebook and Twitter respectively, students resort to the university's website in the first degree to learn the dates of the quarterly and monthly tests. In addition to studying ( Bu-Abdullah, 2016 ), entitled " Internet uses and their impact on students Adolescents "Secondary Field Study of Khadr Ramadan Omash-Biskra", this study aimed to identify the uses of the Internet and its impact on teenage pupils and this study is descriptive, and selected the sample was random, Where included 26 students in high school, the questionnaire was used as a study tool, the study reached the following results: It was emphasized that the use of the internet leads to delayed level of academic achievement in adolescent pupils, the availability of the Internet inside the home increases the duration of use of the teenager, it was also emphasized that parents should know the programs which watching their teenage child is on the Internet to guide to the useful things on this network. And also study ( Hinnawi, 2016 ), entitled " Uses of Middle Teen Students for Networks Social networking in Nablus city schools in Palestine, this study aimed to investigate the reality of the use of students adolescence to social networking, the study used the descriptive method and the sample of the study was 217 singles, one of the most important findings of the study is that the majority of students have at least one subscription on social networking sites by 97%, And 63% of them use smartphones as the main device in the use of social networks. And study ( Kehinde and Adegbilero. 2016 ), entitled "Use of social media by science students in public universities in Southwest Nigeria", this study aimed to identify the extent of the use of social media in academic activities by students of the State University in southwestern Nigeria, The study was based on a descriptive curriculum and a purposive sample of 140 students from three educational institutions in southwestern Nigeria, the results of the study indicated that the students are a user of social networking sites in high rates, with 93.48% use Facebook, then Google by 63.77%, In addition, two-thirds of users use it for staying informed about events/news, then for leisure and entertainment, the most important obstacles facing them in the use of social networks are receiving unsolicited messages and power outages.

1.7. The present study and it questions

The present study is concerned with studying the negative effects of social media on the social identity of adolescents in terms of "achievement - postponement - closure - dispersion" from the perspective of social work, and this is a new aspect not addressed before. In order to do so, this research asks the following research questions:

Q1: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "achievement" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

Q2: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "postponement" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

Q3: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "closure" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

Q4: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "dispersion" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

Q5: Does the degree of awareness adolescents of the negative effects of social media on levels of their social identity vary according to gender, adjective, age, number years of using, and favorite app?

2. Methodological procedures

2.1. sample.

The study community is represented by all adolescent students in the secondary stage, an estimated (3836) students "males - females". As for the research sample, the sample was chosen randomly. The researcher used a simple random survey (a representative sample of the study population of adolescent students in secondary school), and the sample size was estimated (200) "males - females" adolescent student. The researcher used Cochran's Equation to calculate a sample size as shown in Eq. (1) ( Cochran, 1963 , p.75, p.75):

Where n is denotes the sample size in limited communities, which applies to the study population, n 0 is denotes the sample size in infinite communities (open communities), and N is denotes the size of the study population, where the researcher identified the study population from the official data issued by the department of student affairs at the secondary school, which is estimated from the reality of records of 3836 adolescent students.

The researcher used Smith's Equation to calculate a n 0 as shown in Eq. (2) ( Smith, 1983 , p.90, p.90):

Where n 0 is the sample size, z is the abscissa of the normal curve that cuts off an area α at the tails and the researcher determined it by 99% at the level of significance of 1%, which is estimated at ± 2.58., e is the desired level of precision (in the same unit of measure as the variance) which was determined by the researcher as only one degree, and σ is the variance of an attribute in the population.

By doing the calculations it was→: n 0 = ( 2.58 ) 2 × ( 5,63 ) 2 = 211 ( 1 ) 2

The sample size in the study population can be calculated as follows: -

In the present research, the sample consisted of 200 adolescents (males 98 and females 102) form students the secondary stage. (see Table 1 , Figure 1 shows the demographic information on participants).

Table 1

Demographic information on participants.

Figure 1

In light of these results, it is clear that the percentage of females represents the highest rate at 51%, and followed Male at 49%. This converges with study ( AL-Aag, 2013 ) which indicated that the proportion of males is less than or equal to females who use the internet is estimated at 50% (Any half of the total users). This may be justified because most of the girls in the Arab world after the end of their school day spend their spare time for long periods at home because they do not have the same space of freedom as the boys to spend fun time with their friends. This may be why girls are more attracted to using social media as an outlet to entertain themselves and socialize with many people online. The majority of adolescents are those in the age group of 15 years at 36%, followed by 16 years at 33.5%. It is clear that the majority of adolescents are users of social media on a large scale of 95%. This resulted from the ease of use and access of the internet, indoors, and outdoors through the various systems offered by telecommunications companies that are commensurate with the nature of the material possibilities of each individual. That corresponds with the study ( Hinnawi, 2016 ), which confirmed the majority of students have at least one subscription on social media at the rate of 97%. besides, it is clear that the number years of using social media sites of adolescents is (7–10 years) by 40.5% of a user, followed by (4–6) by 34%. This is a significant indicator since these two stages represent the stage of early and middle childhood from the age of 8 years and above. Once the child reached adolescence, he was already addicted to the use of social media because he has spent most of his leisure time using it. In addition to, it turns out that the most popular social media sites frequented by adolescents are Facebook, at 39.5%, followed by WhatsApp, at 18.5%, followed by Instagram, at 18%. This is because these sites offer multiple features that increase the interaction between subscribers at no cost to the user, and it corresponds to the study ( Kehinde and Adegbilero, 2016 ) the indicated that the adolescents are using Facebook in the rate of 93.48%, and also it corresponds to the study ( Zawana, 2015 ) and study ( Safar, 2017 ) which showed that a number of social media sites were the most used among the members They are in order: Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter.

2.2. Ethical approval

This study was approved by the Scientific Research Ethics Committee of Ajman UAE. In addition to that, all participants provided informed consent before beginning the survey, besides, confirmation that the researcher complied with all relevant ethical regulations to maintain the confidentiality of the participants' information.

2.3. Study instrument

2.3.1. questionnaire.

The researcher designed a new and innovative questionnaire that reflects the four main axes of James Marcia's theory of social identity (see 1.2. in 1. Introduction) in order to evaluate the impact of social media sites on the levels of social identity for adolescents. The questionnaire consists of 40 phrases, and the researcher managed the sincerity and reliability of the questionnaire as follows:

Validity of the questionnaire: The research tool was confirmed by the virtual validity method for the questionnaire by presenting it in its initial form with a list of study questions, to ten members of the teaching staff of universities, all of whom were doctorate holders in social work, sociology, psychology, and education. The content was adjusted according to their recommendations.

Reliability of the questionnaire: The researcher verified the reliability of the questionnaire by using the test-retest method. The questionnaire was applied to a small random sample consisting of 30 adolescents in secondary school, and fifteen days after the test was reapplied to the same sample of adolescents. After that, the Spearman correlation coefficient between the two applications was calculated, it is worth noting that the reliability coefficient was calculated according to Spearman's law of correlation coefficient as shown in Eq. (3) : -

]In light of these results, the total reliability coefficient of 0.80 was considered appropriate for the purposes of this study as shown in Table 2 , and the stability of the questionnaire is evident with a high confidence degree = 0.80 = 89%, It is a high coefficient, so the questionnaire has its validity, reliability and a high level of internal consistency.

Table 2

Shows the stability of the questionnaire and its variables.

2.4. Data analysis measures

To find out the views of adolescents about the degree of the negative effects of the means of social communication on levels their social identity, a three-dimensional Likert scale is adopted as follows: agree (3), neutral (2), and disagree (1), as shown in Table 3 with the options used to evaluate counting periods.

Table 3

The evaluation of scale data based on the options of scale and score intervals.

2.5. Methods of analyzing

The researcher used descriptive analysis to collect, analyze, and interpret the data for the study methodology, this is because this study falls under the descriptive research pattern aimed at describing and analyzing the variables of the study so that the researcher can obtain accurate data ( Mohammed, 2012 , p.48) and information depicting the reality of the situation ( Mowaffaq, 2006 , p55). Descriptive analysis is defined as a method of study and a systematic and objective way to explain and measure phenomena ( Sandelowski, 1995 , pp 372, 374). The description is then linked by comparison and interpretation to reach accurate results as to the nature of the dimensions of the social identity of adolescents and the extent of the negative effects of social media on them and determine the most popular social media used by adolescents, in addition to determining the differences between users and non-users of the areas of social identity associated with each of its four dimensions. This is in light of the monitoring, analysis, and interpretation of the data that was accessible from the study sample, extracting accurate conclusions and recommendations.

2.6. Analysis of statistics

The researcher used the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) analytical software for conducting the descriptive statistical analysis of data to analyze and interpret the data, in addition to some statistical coefficients were used to answer the study questions, which were (frequencies, percentage, arithmetic mean, and standard deviation) to characterize sample data. in addition to (T-test) and was used to study gender differences in social identity, as well as differences in the use of gender communication networks, as well as differences in the levels of social identity in terms of (achievement - postponement - closure - dispersion). and one-way ANOVA test to find out the significance of the differences between averages.

3.1. Study findings related to RQ1

The question was: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "achievement" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

The total weights, weighted relative weight, percentage of the negative effects of social media on the level of " achievement " in the social identity of adolescents were calculated by using the Questionnaire instrument and then arranging the negative effects of social media on the level of "achievement" according to their total weights, weighted relative weight, and percentage from High to low (see Table 4 , Figure 2 ).

Table 4

The negative effects of social media on the level of "achievement" in the social identity of adolescents.

Figure 2

We note from the results that the negative effects of the social media on the level of "achievement” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (4020), weighted relative weight of (67%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. It is clear from the analysis that the phrase (I believe that the future depends on the intelligence of the individual in how he uses the benefits of social media to delight himself more than serve society) showed the highest percentage of all the negative effects of social media on the level of " achievement " in the social identity of adolescents, with total weights (454), Weighted relative weight (75.67), percentage of 11.3 % and Ranking (1).

3.2. Study findings related to RQ2

The question was: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "postponement" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

The total weights, weighted relative weight, percentage of the negative effects of social media on the level of "postponement " in the social identity of adolescents were calculated by using the Questionnaire instrument and then arranging the negative effects of social media on the level of "postponement" according to their total weights, weighted relative weight, and percentage from High to low (see Table 5 , Figure 3 ).

Table 5

The negative effects of social media on the level of "postponement" in the social identity of adolescents.

Figure 3

We note from the results that the negative effects of the social media on the level of "postponement” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (4076), weighted relative weight of (67.93%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. It is clear from the analysis that the phrase (I learned from my friends through social media that achieving a self does not require logic in thinking and does not require speed in decision-making for any reason) showed the highest percentage of all the negative effects of social media on the level of " postponement " in the social identity of adolescents, with total weights (456), Weighted relative weight (76), percentage of 11.18 % and Ranking (1).

3.3. Study findings related to RQ3

The question was: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "closure" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

The total weights, weighted relative weight, percentage of the negative effects of social media on the level of " closure " in the social identity of adolescents were calculated by using the Questionnaire instrument and then arranging the negative effects of social media on the level of " closure " according to their total weights, weighted relative weight, and percentage from High to low (see Table 6 , Figure 4 ).

Table 6

The negative effects of social media on the level of "closure" in the social identity of adolescents.

Figure 4

The negative effects of social media on the level of " closure " in the social identity of adolescents.

We note from the results that the negative effects of the social media on the level of "closure” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (3897), weighted relative weight of (64.95 %). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. It is clear from the analysis that the phrase (The presence of my family members on my social media account is imposed on me, and I am inside me I don't agree on it) showed the highest percentage of all the negative effects of social media on the level of " closure " in the social identity of adolescents, with total weights (507), Weighted relative weight (84.5), percentage of 13.01% and Ranking (1).

3.4. Study findings related to RQ4

The question was: What are the negative effects of social media on the level of "dispersion" in the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work?

The total weights, weighted relative weight, percentage of the negative effects of social media on the level of " dispersion" in the social identity of adolescents were calculated by using the Questionnaire instrument and then arranging the negative effects of social media on the level of "dispersion" according to their total weights, weighted relative weight, and percentage from High to low (see Table 7 , Figure 5 ).

Table 7

The negative effects of social media on the level of "dispersion" in the social identity of adolescents.

Figure 5

The negative effects of social media on the level of " dispersion " in the social identity of adolescents.

We note from the results that the negative effects of the social media on the level of "dispersion” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (4065), weighted relative weight of (67.75%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. It is clear from the analysis that the phrase (I don't have close friends on social media, I just want to be among the participants on the social media pages in order for me to feel the importance me of being in life) showed the highest percentage of all the negative effects of social media on the level of " dispersion " in the social identity of adolescents, with total weights (449), Weighted relative weight (74.83), percentage of 11.05% and Ranking (1).

3.5. Study findings related to RQ5

The question was: Does the degree of awareness adolescents of the negative effects of social media on levels of their social identity vary according to gender, adjective, age, number years of using, and favorite app?

In order to answer the fifth research question of the study, the investigator measured the mean scores and standard deviations. In order to find out the importance of the variations between averages, the investigator then conducted an independent T-test and a one-way ANOVA test. In the following section, the findings are detailed.

3.5.1. Gender

An independent sample test (T) was used by the researcher to determine the importance of the discrepancies between averages of adolescents' awareness of the negative impact of social media on their social identity levels. The results were measured by gender (see Table 8 ).

Table 8

Mean and SD by gender of the adolescent's responses.

The results in Table 8 show that the computed value of (T) was (-3,017), which is greater than that of the table of (T). This implies that at the significance level of (0.000), which is less than the required statistical significance level (0.05), there are substantial differences between the mean value of male and female, where females are preferred over males.

3.5.2. Adjective

An independent sample test (T) was used by the researcher to determine the importance of the discrepancies between averages of adolescents' awareness of the negative impact of social media on their social identity levels. The results were measured by adjective (see Table 9 ).

Table 9

Mean and SD by an adjective of the adolescent's responses.

The results in Table 9 show that the computed value of (T) was (-4.019), which is greater than that of the table of (T). This implies that at the significance level of (0.000), which is less than the required statistical significance level (0.05), there are substantial differences between the mean value of Users of networks and Non-users of networks, where the User of networks are favored over the Non-user of networks.

Table 10 . Shows the ANOVA one-way test results to evaluate the responses of the adolescent according to age.

Table 10

One-way ANOVA of the responses of adolescents by age.

∗Statistically significant at (α 0.05).

In Table 10 . There are no statistically significant variations in the viewpoints of teenagers according to the age variable at 0.178, which is greater than the required statistical significance level of 0.05.

3.5.4. Number years use of social media

Table 11 . Shows the ANOVA one-way test results to evaluate the responses of the adolescents according to number years use of social media.

Table 11

One-way ANOVA of the responses of adolescents by number years use of social media.

In Table 11 . There are no statistically significant variations in the viewpoints of teenagers according to the number years use of social media variable at 0.142, which is greater than the required statistical significance level of 0.05.

3.5.5. Favorite app

Table 12 . Shows the ANOVA one-way test results to evaluate the responses of the adolescents according to favorite app.

Table 12

One-way ANOVA of the responses of adolescents by favorite app.

In Table 12 . There are no statistically significant variations in the viewpoints of teenagers according to the favorite app variable at 0.123, which is greater than the required statistical significance level of 0.05.

4. Discussion

This study aimed to identify the negative effects of social media on "levels" the social identity of adolescents in the secondary stage from the perspective of social work, the results showed that the negative effects of the social media on the level of "achievement” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (4020), weighted relative weight of (67%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. The obtained results, are shown in Table 4 , and concern the extent negative effects of social media on the level of "achievement" of the social identity of adolescents. We have noticed that most adolescent responses are indicating a lack of interest in the effective role in normal life, and rather transforming themselves into being united with an electronic world where the quality of values and principles are different from that of previous generations. Here we see that some teenagers are trying to have an entity and a role but many of them cannot because of the dangerous and influential role of the internet which depends on dazzling and attracting the longest number of hours in front of social media. Although, James Marcia believes this level is the most mature level of identity because it integrates and develops the growth of the personality of the teenager through the development and identification of tasks and pledges clearly and specifically. However, the adolescent cannot reach a strong level due to the fact that many of them are driven towards the negative impact of these sites. This corresponds with a study ( Bu-Abdullah, 2016 ) which indicated to emphasized that the use of the Internet leads to a lack of interest in the effective role in their life and Delayed level of academic achievement in adolescent pupils as well, the obtained results, are shown in Table 5 , and concern the negative effects of the social media on the level of "postponement” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (4076), weighted relative weight of (67.93%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. We note from the results and It is clear from the analysis that the negative effects of social media on the level of "Postponement" of the social identity of adolescents indicating the inability of an adolescent to come up with a clear idea of the things he wants. Besides, his goals in life are almost clear but he cannot make decisions about them, he is a person whose character is fluctuating and contradictory for fear of taking responsibility or committing to specific promises to himself or the community around him. This agrees with James Marcia's opinion that the teenager in this rank is in a period of exploration and has unclear and vague commitments. and has not set his position on many of his life issues This corresponds with a study ( Bu-Abdullah, 2016 ) which indicated to emphasized, the availability of the Internet inside the home increases the duration of use of the adolescent to a social network, and this too leads postponing adolescents for many of the goals in addition to the Fluctuation in opinion and inability to make clear decisions.

Results also showed in Table 6 , that the negative effects of the social media on the level of "closure” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (3897), weighted relative weight of (64.95 %). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. Moreover, the obtained results, as shown in Table 5 , and concern the extent the negative effects of social media on the level of "closure" of the social identity of adolescents indicating that the adolescent is ineffective and awaits solutions and results from others, whether power, friends or society. This result reflects the extent of the turbulence experienced by adolescents with their lack of self-confidence due to lack of ability to choose and lack of self-confidence, whether at the future social level or at the religious level and that he cannot make a decision or take responsibility. James Marcia expresses this rank that the teenager does not have clear and specific commitments, but takes them ready from his parents or those around him. This contradicts the study ( Hattat, 2014 ) which indicated that social networks reduce the degree of social isolation, but, the exact scores and percentages reached by the current study prove that social networking sites have a significant negative impact that leads to more of closure with their lack of self-confidence due to lack of ability to choose and lack of self-confidence as well, the obtained results, are shown in Table 7 , and concern the negative effects of the social media on the level of "dispersion” in the social identity of adolescents obtained a total weight of (4065), weighted relative weight of (67.75%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average. We note from the results and It is clear from the analysis that the negative effects of social media on the level of "dispersion" of the social identity of adolescents, indicating the adolescent is less accepting of himself and his community. He sees himself as "inferior", making his thoughts and behaviors immature. In addition, he is also closer to the character of aggressiveness and may evolve to be psychopathic. This is consistent with James Marcia's assertion in his theory that the rank of "dispersion" of the lowest ranks of identity and it characterized that teenager does not have clear commitments and does not try to discover other options or alternatives and fails to adhere to a fixed ideology. This contradicts the study ( Hattat, 2014 ) which indicated that social networks reduce lack of concentration but the accurate scores and percentages reached by the present study prove that social media have a significant negative impact that leads to more distractions, anxiety, lack of concentration and dispersion.

On the other hand, the obtained results, as shown in Tables 8 and 9, ​ 9,10, 10 , ​ ,11, 11 , and ​ and12 12 pertained to whether the degree of awareness adolescents of the negative effects of social media on levels of their social identity vary according to gender, adjective, age, number years of using, and favorite app. The results indicated that the degree of adolescent's awareness varies according to gender and adjective, with females being more aware of the negative effects of social media than males. maybe due to the fact that females' adolescents are more fearful and cautious about themselves as a result of socialization since childhood started and keener because the amount of accountability of parents to their daughter in the Arab world for the mistakes she makes is more severe and violent than the boy, which is why the girl is more cautious in her relationships with others through social media. It is also worth noting no statistically significant differences in adolescent's awareness were found based on the variables of age, number years of using, and favorite app.

5. Conclusions

From the results above, we can conclude that the value of all negative effects of social media on "levels" the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work came to a total weight of (16058), weighted relative weight of (66.9%). This indication is a medium, indicating that the level of impact is average for all negative effects of social media on the levels of social identity in adolescents. It ranked first "Postponement level" at 25.4%, It is followed by the ranked second “Dispersion level" at 25.31%, Then came third place "Achievement level" at 25.03%, Finally in fourth place "Closure level" at 24.26% (see Table 13 , Figure 6 ).

Table 13

Ranking levels of the social identity of adolescents after all negative effects of social media on it.

Figure 6

5.1. In light of this, we reach an important conclusion, which is that

It is necessary taking serious measures from the family, school, and institutions that care for the family and children to pay attention to how to face negative effects of social media on social identity to children and adolescents. Besides working to encourage children and adolescents do not get lost their time and take the largest part of their free time in practicing sports and cultural activities. That corresponds with the study ( Hamdi, 2018 ) which was emphasized in it that the most important motives for the use of social networking sites are entertainment for loss of time.

In addition to another important conclusion is train parents to help their children to make the best use of these sites so as not to be exposed to problems resulting from open communication without restrictions. and this corresponds to a study ( Bu-Abdullah, 2016 ) which was emphasized that parents should know the programs which watching it their teenager child is on the Internet to guide them to useful things on social networks. Hence, the researcher presents her following recommendations.

6. Recommendations

Urge parents to follow their children continuously and guide them in the use of social networking sites.

Educating children about the need to observe the privacy of their information and data, so that it is not accessible to everyone, including strangers.

Educating the awareness of children not to accept video conversations or written conversations or requests for friendship from strangers.

Educating children's awareness of the need to not display their own pictures in public so as not to be copied by strangers and exploited inappropriately.

Urge children to inform their parents of any threat or blackmail they may face from anyone on the internet.

Urge parents to fill the leisure time of their children by encouraging them to practice a hobby or sport they love.

Urge parents not to excessively pamper their children or give them extra money so as not to spoil them.

Increase educational institution awareness seminars for students, giving information on the pros and cons of social networking sites.

Urge parents to establish a bridge of communication between them and their children and follow the method of persuasion, and not intimidation, when adapting their child's behavior on the internet.


Author contribution statement.

W. Elsayed: Conceived and designed the experiments; Performed the experiments; Analyzed and interpreted the data; Contributed reagents, materials, analysis tools or data; Wrote the paper.

Funding statement

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability statement

Declaration of interests statement.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

No additional information is available for this paper.

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Home — Essay Samples — Sociology — Social Media — Negative Effects Of Social Media: Relationships And Communication


Negative Effects of Social Media: Relationships and Communication

  • Categories: Effects of Social Media Negative Impact of Technology Social Media

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Words: 904 |

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 904 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

A Good Hook Examples for “Why Social Media is Bad” Essay

  • A Modern Dilemma: In an era dominated by likes, shares, and filters, have you ever paused to consider the darker side of social media? Join me as we unveil the reasons why this digital phenomenon may be more harmful than we realize.
  • An Eye-Opening Statistic: Did you know that the average person spends nearly two and a half hours on social media every day? Let’s dive into the implications of this staggering statistic and why it’s cause for concern.
  • A Thought-Provoking Quote: Plato once warned, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” But in the age of social media, is the touch of love being replaced by the click of a button? Explore with me how these platforms can dilute genuine human connections.
  • A Personal Awakening: As someone who has experienced the negative effects of social media firsthand, I invite you to join me in reflecting on the ways in which these platforms may be undermining our mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.
  • A Societal Wake-Up Call: Social media is no longer just a personal choice; it’s a societal force. Discover how it has reshaped our culture, influenced our behaviors, and potentially posed a threat to the fabric of our society.

Works Cited

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essay on why social media is bad

7 Negative Effects of Social Media on People and Users

If you're a heavy social media user, it's wise to think about the negative impacts of social media on you and your peers.

If you can't imagine your life without social media, you've probably fallen victim to the strong power that social networking sites have over the public. Chances are that you've also experienced some of the negative effects social media has on people.

Unfortunately, the bad effects of social media are all too real for a lot of us. Let's look at the negative impacts of social media on real people, so you can recognize these symptoms and get help if needed.

How Social Media Is Bad for You

You might be surprised to learn that the negative effects of social media are both physical and mental. They can change your perception of the world and yourself. While social media does have some positive effects , and there are certainly positive social media stories , it also has a lot in the drawback column.

Don't believe this? Read on for a list of social media's negative effects. If you recognize any of them as issues in your own life, it may be time to reduce your usage or even stop using social media altogether.

1. Depression and Anxiety

Do you spend several hours per day browsing through social media? Spending too long on social networking sites could adversely affect your mood. In fact, chronic social users are more likely to report poor mental health, including symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It doesn't take much thinking to figure out why. Social media lets you see the carefully selected best parts of everyone else's lives, which you then compare to the negatives in your own life (that only you see). Comparing yourself to other people is a sure path to anxiety and unhappiness, and social media has made this much easier to do.

So how do you use social media without causing yourself psychological distress? If you turn to the same research (and common sense), the recommended amount of time you should spend on social networks is around half an hour per day. As with many other potential ills in life, it's all about moderation.

If you find yourself upset after a social media session , also consider the networks you use and the people you follow. You're much more likely to feel anxious after reading political arguments and doomsday news than you are after seeing fun updates from your favorite musicians or photos of your friends' pets.

2. Cyberbullying

Before social media, bullying was something that was only possible to do face-to-face. However, now people can bully others online—anonymously or not. Today everyone knows what cyberbullying is , and most of us have seen what it can do to a person.

While social media makes it easier to meet new people and make friends, it also enables cruel people to tear into others with little effort. Perpetrators of bullying can use the anonymity that (some) social networks provide to gain people's trust and then terrorize them in front of their peers. For instance, they might create a fake profile and act friendly to a classmate, then later betray and embarrass them online.

These online attacks often leave deep mental scars and even drive people to hurt themselves or take their own lives, in some cases. And as it turns out, cyberbullying doesn't just affect kids. Adults can become victims of online abuse, too. Since screens hide our faces, you can end up being a jerk on social media and other websites without even realizing it.

Learn how to make your Instagram profile more private , and apply the same advice to other social networks, if you suffer from this issue.

3. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a phenomenon that became prominent around the same time as the rise of social media. Unsurprisingly, it's one of the most widespread negative effects of social media on society.

FOMO is just what it sounds like: a form of anxiety that you get when you're scared of missing out on a positive experience that someone else is having. For example, you might constantly check your messages to see if anyone has invited you out, or focus on your Instagram feed all day to make sure that nobody is doing something cool without you. You may also see pictures of something fun that your friends were able to do, feeling left out that you couldn't go because you had another responsibility.

This fear receives constant fuel from what you see on social media. With increased social network use, there's a better chance for you to see that someone is having more fun than you are right now. That's exactly what causes FOMO, so if you're prone to this, know how to prevent FOMO when using social media (or cut back on using it altogether).

4. Unrealistic Expectations

As most people are probably aware, social media forms unrealistic expectations of life and friendships in our minds.

Most social media sites have a severe lack of online authenticity. People use Snapchat to share their exciting adventures, post about how much they love their significant other on Facebook, and load up their Instagram page with heavily staged photos.

But in reality, you have no way of knowing whether this is all a farce. While it looks great on the surface, that person could be in massive debt, on bad terms with their significant other, or desperate for Instagram likes as a form of validation.

One simple way out of this mess is for everyone to quit lying on social media. But in the era of Instagram influencers and YouTubers who earn millions from being inauthentic, that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Remember an important adage: you should not judge your everyday life against the highlights of someone else's.

5. Negative Body Image

Speaking of Instagram celebrities, if you look at popular Instagram accounts, you'll find unbelievably beautiful people wearing expensive clothes on their perfectly shaped bodies.

And to nobody's surprise, body image is now an issue for almost everyone. Of course, seeing so many people who are supposedly perfect (according to society's standards) on a daily basis makes you conscious of how different you look from those pictures. And not everyone comes to healthy conclusions in this situation.

It's really important to remember that everybody is human. No one wakes up every day looking like a supermodel, and while many people have gone to great lengths to train their bodies, that's not the case for everyone who looks fit. Many people, in search of social media fame, have definitely taken unhealthy routes to appear more attractive.

Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, and you won't have to stress about fake Instagram beauty.

6. Unhealthy Sleep Patterns

On top of increasing the cases of anxiety and depression, another bad thing about social media is that spending too much time on it can lead to poor sleep. Numerous studies have shown that increased use of social media has a negative effect on your sleep quality.

If you feel that your sleep patterns have become irregular, leading to a drop in productivity, try to cut down on the amount of time you browse social media.

This is especially the case when using your phone in bed at night. It's all too easy to tell yourself that you'll spend five minutes checking your Facebook notifications, only to realize an hour later that you've been mindlessly scrolling through some nonsense on Twitter you don't even care about.

Don't let social media algorithms, which are designed to keep your attention for as long as possible, steal your valuable sleep too. Getting less sleep, combined with that sleep being lower quality, is a dangerous, unhealthy combination.

7. General Addiction

Social media can be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. It has a powerful draw for many people that leads to them checking it all the time without even thinking about it.

If you're not sure whether you're addicted to social networks, try to remember the last time you went a full day without checking any social media accounts. Do you feel rejected if someone unfollows you? And if your favorite social networks completely disappeared tomorrow, would the absence make you feel empty and depressed?

At the end of the day, social media sites want to keep you scrolling for as long as possible so they can show you lots of ads and make more money. Because of the attention economy , these sites need your eyes on them for as long as possible. Apps like TikTok feed you a constant barrage of quick videos that destroy your attention span over time.

Just because you've been going overboard on social media use doesn't mean you necessarily need to wipe out all your social networking accounts. However, if you think quitting is the best solution for you, it isn't a bad idea. See our guide to quitting social media for good if you'd like help.

How to Handle the Negative Effects of Social Media

As with everything else, there are good and bad aspects of social media. We've discussed some of the negative impacts social media has for many, but you're the one who must decide whether there's more help or harm in it for you personally.

If you find that social media is having a negative impact on your life, stop using it. However, if you decide to stay, there are ways to waste less time on social media, and thus maintain a healthier relationship with it.

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Many Americans find value in getting news on social media, but concerns about inaccuracy have risen

Social media plays a crucial role in Americans’ news consumption . Half of all U.S. adults say they at least sometimes get news there, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey .

Those who get news on social media name a variety of things that they like about it, including convenience, speed and the element of social interaction. But some social media news consumers also express concerns about news there being inaccurate, low quality and politically biased. The share who say inaccuracy is the aspect they dislike most has increased from 31% to 40% in the past five years.

These findings come from a broader Center survey of U.S. adults’ news habits . The survey asked Americans who get news on social media to describe – in their own words – the things they like and dislike most about getting news there. Their responses were then sorted into categories.

Pew Research Center asked two open-ended questions about what people like and dislike most about getting news on social media as part of a survey on U.S. adults’ news habits. The survey of 8,842 U.S. adults was conducted from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, 2023.

Everyone who completed the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the  ATP’s methodology .

We asked all respondents who say they get news on social media to answer the open-ended questions. Responses were manually coded into categories. In total, we coded 4,507 open-end responses on what respondents like the most and 4,453 responses on what respondents dislike the most.

Here are the  questions used for the fall 2023 survey , along with responses, and its  methodology .

We asked whether Americans prefer social media or news outlets for various types of information on a separate ATP survey conducted March 20-26, 2023, among 3,576 U.S. adults. Here are the questions used for the spring 2023 survey , along with responses, and its  methodology .

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

What Americans like about getting news on social media

A bar chart showing that social media news consumers like the convenience and speed of getting news there most.

The aspects of getting news on social media that Americans value have not changed much since 2018 , the last time we asked these questions. Convenience remains the top thing people like most about getting news on social media. One-in-five social media news consumers say this, with responses such as “It’s at my fingertips,” “I can easily get it” and “It’s available all the time and anywhere.”

Another 9% say they like the speed with which they can get news there, describing news on social media as “fast and to the point” and “quick and easy to digest.”

Smaller shares say they like interaction with others , the up-to-date nature of the news, the content or format , and the variety of sources and stories .

Meanwhile, 7% of Americans who get news on social media say they don’t like anything about the experience, and an additional 32% did not offer a response.

What Americans dislike about getting news on social media

A dot plot showing the increased share of Americans who get news from social media say inaccuracy is what they dislike most.

Many social media news consumers also see downsides to getting news this way. Four-in-ten Americans who get news from social media say inaccuracy is the thing they dislike most about it – an increase of 9 percentage points since 2018. This category of responses includes concerns about unverified facts, misinformation, “fake news” and unreliable sources.

A much smaller share of social media news consumers (8%) say they dislike the low quality of news there, with some giving clickbait or a lack of in-depth coverage as examples. Others say the news on social media is too biased or political (6%) or they don’t like the way people behave there (5%).

Another 1% of social media news consumers say censorship is what they dislike most. This category – which we used for the first time in the 2023 survey – includes responses such as “Too much censorship by the sites” and “I really dislike when some of my view points are removed.” There are no significant differences in the shares of Democratic and Republican social media news consumers who say they’re concerned about news censorship on social media. In fact, there are no partisan differences within any of these complaint categories.

Just 4% of respondents say they don’t dislike anything about getting news on social media. Another 31% did not answer the question.

Social media posts versus news outlets: Which do Americans prefer for certain types of information?

The perceived downsides of getting news on social media may help explain why many Americans prefer to go directly to news outlets instead. In a separate Center survey, U.S. adults who say they at least sometimes get news on social media were asked whether they prefer reading social media posts or going directly to news outlets for five different types of information. Those types of information include the basic facts about an issue or event as well as in-depth information and opinions on it.

A bar chart showing that Americans prefer news outlets to social media for several types of news information.

Americans prefer to get four of the five types of information from news outlets over social media. However, a substantial share say they like getting each type of information from news outlets and social media about the same.

For example, 45% of respondents say they prefer news outlets for getting the most in-depth information about an issue or event, while only 11% prefer social media posts for this. An additional 34% say they value both sources equally, while 8% say they prefer neither option.

Social media news consumers also tend to prefer news outlets over social media to get:

  • The basic facts about an issue or event (39% vs. 14%)
  • Up-to-date information about an event as it is happening (34% vs. 21%)
  • Information about how an issue or event impacts them (31% vs. 15%)

In each of these cases, roughly four-in-ten or more say they like social media and news outlets about the same.

In contrast, equal shares of Americans prefer news outlets and social media when it comes to opinions on an issue (22% each).

Previous Center research has shown that younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to prefer getting news from social media , and that pattern also appears in the findings of this survey. Adults under 30 express a clear preference for using social media over news outlets to get opinions on an issue (36% vs. 13%) and up-to-date information as an event is happening (35% vs. 21%). Americans ages 65 and older are much more likely to prefer news outlets over social media for every type of information we asked about. 

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Luxuan Wang is a research associate at Pew Research Center

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Naomi Forman-Katz is a research analyst focusing on news and information research at Pew Research Center

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NPR suspends veteran editor as it grapples with his public criticism

David Folkenflik 2018 square

David Folkenflik

essay on why social media is bad

NPR suspended senior editor Uri Berliner for five days without pay after he wrote an essay accusing the network of losing the public's trust and appeared on a podcast to explain his argument. Uri Berliner hide caption

NPR suspended senior editor Uri Berliner for five days without pay after he wrote an essay accusing the network of losing the public's trust and appeared on a podcast to explain his argument.

NPR has formally punished Uri Berliner, the senior editor who publicly argued a week ago that the network had "lost America's trust" by approaching news stories with a rigidly progressive mindset.

Berliner's five-day suspension without pay, which began last Friday, has not been previously reported.

Yet the public radio network is grappling in other ways with the fallout from Berliner's essay for the online news site The Free Press . It angered many of his colleagues, led NPR leaders to announce monthly internal reviews of the network's coverage, and gave fresh ammunition to conservative and partisan Republican critics of NPR, including former President Donald Trump.

Conservative activist Christopher Rufo is among those now targeting NPR's new chief executive, Katherine Maher, for messages she posted to social media years before joining the network. Among others, those posts include a 2020 tweet that called Trump racist and another that appeared to minimize rioting during social justice protests that year. Maher took the job at NPR last month — her first at a news organization .

In a statement Monday about the messages she had posted, Maher praised the integrity of NPR's journalists and underscored the independence of their reporting.

"In America everyone is entitled to free speech as a private citizen," she said. "What matters is NPR's work and my commitment as its CEO: public service, editorial independence, and the mission to serve all of the American public. NPR is independent, beholden to no party, and without commercial interests."

The network noted that "the CEO is not involved in editorial decisions."

In an interview with me later on Monday, Berliner said the social media posts demonstrated Maher was all but incapable of being the person best poised to direct the organization.

"We're looking for a leader right now who's going to be unifying and bring more people into the tent and have a broader perspective on, sort of, what America is all about," Berliner said. "And this seems to be the opposite of that."

essay on why social media is bad

Conservative critics of NPR are now targeting its new chief executive, Katherine Maher, for messages she posted to social media years before joining the public radio network last month. Stephen Voss/Stephen Voss hide caption

Conservative critics of NPR are now targeting its new chief executive, Katherine Maher, for messages she posted to social media years before joining the public radio network last month.

He said that he tried repeatedly to make his concerns over NPR's coverage known to news leaders and to Maher's predecessor as chief executive before publishing his essay.

Berliner has singled out coverage of several issues dominating the 2020s for criticism, including trans rights, the Israel-Hamas war and COVID. Berliner says he sees the same problems at other news organizations, but argues NPR, as a mission-driven institution, has a greater obligation to fairness.

"I love NPR and feel it's a national trust," Berliner says. "We have great journalists here. If they shed their opinions and did the great journalism they're capable of, this would be a much more interesting and fulfilling organization for our listeners."

A "final warning"

The circumstances surrounding the interview were singular.

Berliner provided me with a copy of the formal rebuke to review. NPR did not confirm or comment upon his suspension for this article.

In presenting Berliner's suspension Thursday afternoon, the organization told the editor he had failed to secure its approval for outside work for other news outlets, as is required of NPR journalists. It called the letter a "final warning," saying Berliner would be fired if he violated NPR's policy again. Berliner is a dues-paying member of NPR's newsroom union but says he is not appealing the punishment.

The Free Press is a site that has become a haven for journalists who believe that mainstream media outlets have become too liberal. In addition to his essay, Berliner appeared in an episode of its podcast Honestly with Bari Weiss.

A few hours after the essay appeared online, NPR chief business editor Pallavi Gogoi reminded Berliner of the requirement that he secure approval before appearing in outside press, according to a copy of the note provided by Berliner.

In its formal rebuke, NPR did not cite Berliner's appearance on Chris Cuomo's NewsNation program last Tuesday night, for which NPR gave him the green light. (NPR's chief communications officer told Berliner to focus on his own experience and not share proprietary information.) The NPR letter also did not cite his remarks to The New York Times , which ran its article mid-afternoon Thursday, shortly before the reprimand was sent. Berliner says he did not seek approval before talking with the Times .

NPR defends its journalism after senior editor says it has lost the public's trust

NPR defends its journalism after senior editor says it has lost the public's trust

Berliner says he did not get permission from NPR to speak with me for this story but that he was not worried about the consequences: "Talking to an NPR journalist and being fired for that would be extraordinary, I think."

Berliner is a member of NPR's business desk, as am I, and he has helped to edit many of my stories. He had no involvement in the preparation of this article and did not see it before it was posted publicly.

In rebuking Berliner, NPR said he had also publicly released proprietary information about audience demographics, which it considers confidential. He said those figures "were essentially marketing material. If they had been really good, they probably would have distributed them and sent them out to the world."

Feelings of anger and betrayal inside the newsroom

His essay and subsequent public remarks stirred deep anger and dismay within NPR. Colleagues contend Berliner cherry-picked examples to fit his arguments and challenge the accuracy of his accounts. They also note he did not seek comment from the journalists involved in the work he cited.

Morning Edition host Michel Martin told me some colleagues at the network share Berliner's concerns that coverage is frequently presented through an ideological or idealistic prism that can alienate listeners.

"The way to address that is through training and mentorship," says Martin, herself a veteran of nearly two decades at the network who has also reported for The Wall Street Journal and ABC News. "It's not by blowing the place up, by trashing your colleagues, in full view of people who don't really care about it anyway."

Several NPR journalists told me they are no longer willing to work with Berliner as they no longer have confidence that he will keep private their internal musings about stories as they work through coverage.

"Newsrooms run on trust," NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben tweeted last week, without mentioning Berliner by name. "If you violate everyone's trust by going to another outlet and sh--ing on your colleagues (while doing a bad job journalistically, for that matter), I don't know how you do your job now."

Berliner rejected that critique, saying nothing in his essay or subsequent remarks betrayed private observations or arguments about coverage.

Other newsrooms are also grappling with questions over news judgment and confidentiality. On Monday, New York Times Executive Editor Joseph Kahn announced to his staff that the newspaper's inquiry into who leaked internal dissent over a planned episode of its podcast The Daily to another news outlet proved inconclusive. The episode was to focus on a December report on the use of sexual assault as part of the Hamas attack on Israel in October. Audio staffers aired doubts over how well the reporting stood up to scrutiny.

"We work together with trust and collegiality everyday on everything we produce, and I have every expectation that this incident will prove to be a singular exception to an important rule," Kahn wrote to Times staffers.

At NPR, some of Berliner's colleagues have weighed in online against his claim that the network has focused on diversifying its workforce without a concomitant commitment to diversity of viewpoint. Recently retired Chief Executive John Lansing has referred to this pursuit of diversity within NPR's workforce as its " North Star ," a moral imperative and chief business strategy.

In his essay, Berliner tagged the strategy as a failure, citing the drop in NPR's broadcast audiences and its struggle to attract more Black and Latino listeners in particular.

"During most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed. We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding," Berliner writes. "In recent years, however, that has changed."

Berliner writes, "For NPR, which purports to consider all things, it's devastating both for its journalism and its business model."

NPR investigative reporter Chiara Eisner wrote in a comment for this story: "Minorities do not all think the same and do not report the same. Good reporters and editors should know that by now. It's embarrassing to me as a reporter at NPR that a senior editor here missed that point in 2024."

Some colleagues drafted a letter to Maher and NPR's chief news executive, Edith Chapin, seeking greater clarity on NPR's standards for its coverage and the behavior of its journalists — clearly pointed at Berliner.

A plan for "healthy discussion"

On Friday, CEO Maher stood up for the network's mission and the journalism, taking issue with Berliner's critique, though never mentioning him by name. Among her chief issues, she said Berliner's essay offered "a criticism of our people on the basis of who we are."

Berliner took great exception to that, saying she had denigrated him. He said that he supported diversifying NPR's workforce to look more like the U.S. population at large. She did not address that in a subsequent private exchange he shared with me for this story. (An NPR spokesperson declined further comment.)

Late Monday afternoon, Chapin announced to the newsroom that Executive Editor Eva Rodriguez would lead monthly meetings to review coverage.

"Among the questions we'll ask of ourselves each month: Did we capture the diversity of this country — racial, ethnic, religious, economic, political geographic, etc — in all of its complexity and in a way that helped listeners and readers recognize themselves and their communities?" Chapin wrote in the memo. "Did we offer coverage that helped them understand — even if just a bit better — those neighbors with whom they share little in common?"

Berliner said he welcomed the announcement but would withhold judgment until those meetings played out.

In a text for this story, Chapin said such sessions had been discussed since Lansing unified the news and programming divisions under her acting leadership last year.

"Now seemed [the] time to deliver if we were going to do it," Chapin said. "Healthy discussion is something we need more of."

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp and Managing Editor Gerry Holmes. Under NPR's protocol for reporting on itself, no NPR corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

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    We all know that too much time spent on social media can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Too much time spent scrolling through feeds and stories can have a numbing effect and can sometimes unhelpfully distract us from people, situations and thoughts that require our attention. Social media also notoriously feeds our FOMO, and research ...

  13. 64% in U.S. say social media have a mostly negative effect on country

    About two-thirds of Americans (64%) say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted July 13-19, 2020. Just one-in-ten Americans say social media sites have a mostly positive effect on the way things are going, and one-quarter say ...

  14. Too much social media can be harmful, but it's not addictive like drugs

    The term "social media addiction" is being increasingly used to describe people who spend a lot of time on these websites and apps. Doing so can be harmful to people in a variety of ways ...

  15. Why Social Media Makes People Unhappy--And Simple Ways to Fix It

    Disrupted sleep, lower life satisfaction and poor self-esteem are just a few of the negative mental health consequences that researchers have linked to social media. Somehow the same platforms ...

  16. How Social Networking Can Ruin Your Life: Negative Effects of Social Media

    This essay sample explores how social media can ruin your life by causing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. It cites several studies and provides examples of the harmful effects of social media on people's well-being.

  17. Is social media bad for teens' mental health?

    Too much passive use of social media - just browsing posts - can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy, inadequa cy and less satisfaction with life. Studies have even suggested that it can lead to ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation . More evidence is necessary before we can consider these findings ...

  18. Everyone Says Social Media Is Bad for Teens. Proving It Is Another

    By Claire Cain Miller. June 17, 2023. There have been increasingly loud public warnings that social media is harming teenagers' mental health — most recently from the United States surgeon ...

  19. The negative effects of social media on the social identity of

    1. Introduction. Adolescence is the stage of cultural and social formation, it is the most critical juncture for children and youth. If there is no guidance, care, and follow-up from the adolescent's family and his school, the adolescent, in his quest to develop a sense of social identity, spends most of his time thinking, reviewing, and reflecting on the general values and behaviors he ...

  20. Negative Effects of Social Media: Relationships and Communication

    Phoon (2017) in his essay explains why social media is bad for people's communication as it "has robbed people's ability to find trust and comfort in one another, replacing our need for warm, supportive interaction and fellowship with a virtual, hollow connection". Most people will just depend on their virtual friends on social media ...

  21. 7 Negative Effects of Social Media on People and Users

    6. Unhealthy Sleep Patterns. On top of increasing the cases of anxiety and depression, another bad thing about social media is that spending too much time on it can lead to poor sleep. Numerous studies have shown that increased use of social media has a negative effect on your sleep quality.

  22. What Americans like and dislike about getting news on social media

    What Americans like about getting news on social media. The aspects of getting news on social media that Americans value have not changed much since 2018, the last time we asked these questions. Convenience remains the top thing people like most about getting news on social media. One-in-five social media news consumers say this, with responses such as "It's at my fingertips," "I can ...

  23. Potential risks of content, features, and functions: The science of how

    Hypersensitivity to social feedback. Brain development starting at ages 10-13 (i.e., the outset of puberty) until approximately the mid-twenties is linked with hypersensitivity to social feedback/stimuli. iv In other words, youth become especially invested in behaviors that will help them get personalized feedback, praise, or attention from peers.. AI-recommended content has the potential to ...

  24. NPR Editor Uri Berliner suspended after essay criticizing network : NPR

    NPR suspended senior editor Uri Berliner for five days without pay after he wrote an essay accusing the network of losing the public's trust and appeared on a podcast to explain his argument.