Social Media: Worth the Anxiety?

A picture is worth a thousand words…and if a casual internet user scrolls past a thousand pictures in a day (advertisements not excluded), what effects do they have?

If we do the math, that’s 1 million words per day, just in photo form, many accompanied by captions or videos. And then there are posts and tweets and status updates around the clock. Who knew regularly checking social media amounted to reading War and Peace 1,000 times a day. It’s definitely not as tiring, since the majority of adult internet users have multiple social media accounts from which to get their fill of photos and words. The Pew Research Center found that in 2015, 70% of Facebook users check the site on a daily basis. Research also found that 2015-08-19_social-media-update_A_01Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram were the main sites used by online adults. These are photo-heavy sites, on which users will share only their best sides, with their best pictures. This typically creates feelings of insecurity, jealousy, inadequacy, self-hate, and anxiety as users/followers compare their everyday life to the perfect snapshots of other people’s lives. There are even accounts or entire sites that are dedicated to topics such as ‘Thinspiration’, which relies on the low self-confidence of its followers to be successful, and eventually leads to disorders and upset in the lives of regular readers.

And it isn’t just adults that encounter a loss self-confidence on social sites. As it becomes common-place, social media increasingly affects younger generations. CNN recently produced #Being13, a documentary in which child experts analyze the social media usage of 200 8th graders from across the U.S. over a period of 6 months. What the project ultimately found was that 13 year old kids had high levels of anxiety concerning social media:

“61% of teens said they wanted to see if their online posts are getting likes and comments. 36% of teens said they wanted to see if their friends are doing things without them. 21% of teens said they wanted to make sure no one was saying mean things about them.”

The participants regularly encountered threatening messages, unwanted sexual photos and content, and profanity. And yet many of the kids parents underestimated the harmful content their children were exposed to on a daily basis. Surveys in English private schools found similar issues among their students involving cyberbullying, anxiety, high levels of dependency on social media, threats, depression, and disorders.

Constantly connected, updated, and post-heavy social sites offer an overload of information that, quite often, is completely unnecessary to living a healthy, balanced life. The communication that social media has allowed for is unprecedented, and truly impressive, but only when it isn’t used maliciously or excessively. Personal reflection may be the best technique for users to decide when cutting off the flow of photos and comments would benefit them more than drowning in it.

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