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Social Media: Why it might be doing more harm than good

Social Media: Why it might be doing more harm than good

When we think about addiction most would look to drugs, alcohol and other harmful substances as the chief causes in which a dependency can take hold. However new research indicates that as we move into an increasingly digital age social media is one of the most destructive addictions in society, and more widespread than we might like to admit.

When it comes to usage of social media the numbers are staggering, and quite frankly speak for themselves. The average internet user spends 23 hours a week on social media sites which equates to the same amount of time as a weekly part-time job.

In an age where sites like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are a part of the fabric of our daily lives it’s unsurprising to think that there are 2 billion social network users across the globe, but as new studies indicate a growing problem connected to addiction and social media there is the potential for a huge number of people to be at risk of over-exposure to websites and apps, creating long term psychological issues.

Research shows that social media addiction is predominantly associated to those between the ages of 18-34 otherwise known as ‘millennials’ or even younger.  Forty percent of users in this age group admit that the first thing they do when they wake up is check their devices, highlighting the compulsive need that many have to be connected around the clock.

Why is it so addictive?

Compulsively checking our phones is born of the ‘Fear of Missing Out’, or FOMO. This fear is primitive and Dr Stephanie Rutledge shows how the human brain views social media, and why we may instinctively feel the need to be involved “We have a brain wired for collaboration, compromise, restraint, comprehending and managing one’s place in shifting-alliances. We notice when others are doing something that excludes us. It will trigger some primitive survival responses.”

Many of us have also become reliant on the buzz we get from social media ‘wins’. In a world of instant gratification we have become obsessed with the dopamine hit that can be gained from a well-liked photo on Instagram or a Facebook post that attracts a numerous likes and comments making us feel accepted, popular and powerful among peers.

Dr Rutledge also goes on to explain that as those under the age of thirty are at a point in their lives where relationships are still being formed and a sense of personal identity is still being created this compulsion to check devices is produced by our brains in order to make sure that our place in social hierarchy is safeguarded. This can also be perceived as problematic when we consider that we are using less and less traditional face-to-face forms of communication in influential years, but instead are relying on our phones and computers.

So, what’s the problem?

Whilst it might sound like social media is a harmless past time the truth is actually far more disturbing. Social pressure and the emphasis put on digital communication has been shown as damaging with a new study showing that the top five most popular social media sites can cause feelings of inadequacy & anxiety in 14-24 year olds with Instagram topping the list for being the most destructive to wellbeing and mental health.

Reasoning behind these growing feelings of anxiety and inadequacy are multi-faceted but primarily relate to young people comparing themselves (and their accounts) to peers and celebrities. Shirley Cramer the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health assesses this point, “It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people,”

With key formative years being influenced more than ever before by content on media platforms it is important for parents and professionals to make sure that children are informed and aware of the dangers that can come from placing too much emphasis on social media, and to gauge whether too much time is being spent in front of screens.

As the growth of social media shows no sign of stopping and adults as well as children spending significant amounts of time posting and receiving content there is no way of knowing how far this addiction will go, and whether or not it’s too late to reverse the detrimental effects that are starting to show.

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