How online social media persona affects personal identity
We have heard so much being said about social media. When we reference the term social media we speak of computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and social networking services. There are obvious advantages provided by social media, inclusive of the ability to connect with persons worldwide; the ease of communication especially for persons who may have social anxiety and shy away from direct face to face contact; it is generally fun and enjoyable to many; BUT the disadvantages related to the use of social media can in some instances cancel out the advantages.
Why Social Media Is Bad for Mental Health
Use of social media needs to be carefully managed though, because it could lead to practices that can adversely affect your mental health:
Comparing yourself to others — Social media makes it easy to compare your life to others, and that is not good for your mental health. As humans, we cannot help being somewhat competitive. We tend to judge ourselves by comparing our lives to other people’s lives. When it comes to reporting their “news” on social media, though, people tend to make their lives look better than they really are.
The result is that you are comparing yourself to a highly polished version of a moment in someone else’s life, which can lead to feelings of low self-worth.
Using it as a way to escape — Many times, people turn to social media for a break — they are looking to get away from what they are doing for a little while. Their expectation is a relaxing, entertaining or recreational experience, after which they will feel good. In reality, many people experience feelings of isolation and depression after using social media. The effect on mental health is the opposite of having an in-person social interaction.
Establishing a false sense of being social — Although using social media may appear to connect you with other people, it is a solitary activity and not social. Facebook, Twitter and the like simulate social interaction, but the result can be one of loneliness. People who use social media throughout the day tend to become sad or feel disconnected from the people in their lives.
Relying too much on the image — Social media platforms track the number of connections you have and in most cases display the number publicly. People who spend more time on social media tend to collect more connections or “friends.” The number of connections becomes a status and a means of judging how social you are.
Having friends on social media, however, is not the same as friends in real life. Often, those who have many connections on social media actually lead a more anti-social existence — there is more to keep up with and more enticement to spend additional time with social media.
The chicken or the egg scenario:
Most studies examining social media and mental health are not able to determine whether spending more time on social media leads to depression or anxiety, or if depressed or anxious young people spend more time on social media.
But the way social media is used is important. For example, active (compared to passive) social media use can be beneficial. Although browsing instagram has been associated with increased depression, talking to others online increases life satisfaction.
And some individuals may be more susceptible to the negative aspects of social media than others. Research suggests personality traits and the level of envy felt towards others online influence whether one will be negatively impacted.
The pathways to mental illness are many and varied, and to suggest mental health problems can be attributed to social media alone would be an over-simplification. But we need to acknowledge the risks and platform administrators, parents, mental health organizations, schools and universities, and young people themselves have a role to play in minimizing these risks.
It is unlikely social media use will decrease in the near future, so we need to manage the risks and harness the potential benefits to improve the mental health of our young people.