KidSpirit

Social Media: Dangerous, Yet Beneficial

The Media That Raised UsFeatures
Artwork by: Omar Al Twal

I think we’ve all been there — precious moments of “work” turn into an unproductive session of scrolling on our phones, searching endlessly for any form of distraction and entertainment.

However, always to our avail, a wave of guilt hits us once we realize that our hopes to escape from reality are only temporary, and we are then left to lament the countless hours we will never get back.

Especially during the pandemic, many teens, including myself, have felt more connected with peers by interacting positively online. A study of over 700 adolescents taken during the COVID-19 lockdown suggests that teens who “found support online — such as chatting with friends and relatives via WhatsApp or joining multiplayer online video games — reported less loneliness.” By sharing and keeping up with other teens, young social media users experience an increased sense of well-being. So, while it is indeed detrimental to be online for several hours, it’s more important to measure how that time is spent. In short, there might be benefits to promoting positive online experiences instead of stigmatizing the effects of increased screen time. That isn’t to say that social media can’t get in the way of our daily activities — we must still be careful of how it’s used.

To understand social media, we must realize the format behind the apps’ mechanics to hook us and how their billionaire developers so successfully use cunning algorithms to make users dependent. According to a recent Harvard study, “self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance.” Whether it’s scrolling through Instagram or liking tweets, when submerging ourselves within the internet, our brain releases dopamine chemicals that produce feelings identical to those produced while gambling or using recreational drugs. The exact feeling of not knowing what you will see next is what keeps so many people glued to their devices for long periods of time; app designers take advantage of this behavioral flaw to keep consumers on their products.

Within each like or comment the app also runs several algorithms, searching for “indicators of interest.” For example, on TikTok, a platform for creating and sharing short videos, users that finish watching a specific video from start to finish would show high levels of interest in contrast to a video that is skipped after a few seconds of exposure on a feed. The algorithm then uses this information to expose similar videos with high indicators of interest to, once again, guarantee users’ active engagement with the app. Additionally, this algorithm allows for apps, like Instagram or Twitter, to create an infinite stream of content — that way, your brain continually feels excited as it anticipates the next thing you click on. However, thanks to these witty creators, research shows that our attention spans slowly decrease as we continuously search for entertainment — training our brains to move at faster, more exciting paces.

Not only do these apps impair our daily activities, but their promise for connection has simultaneously begun to induce mass alienation. We subconsciously follow a constant loop of creating and perfecting a mirage of our false online personas, choosing to show only the mere seconds of happiness to target a greater audience and, in turn, gain more followers. Often, we become so latched on to the idea of perfecting an online persona that we forget our true selves. By pushing away the ugly moments and displaying only the filtered moments, we are creating a much more dangerous society, especially as more teens and children are exposed to this fake reality at a younger age.

In fact, many experts have proven that social media and texting have in fact resulted in increased anxiety and lower self-esteem. In a survey that asked teens ranging from 12 to 24 how social media platforms impacted their health, the results found that “Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness.” The internet is social in the way that it centers on individual identity; however, while connecting communities, it simultaneously brings those viewers apart from their reality. Social media was a place you could turn to for self-expression and find someone you could easily relate to. This, in turn, pulls you further away from your current reality as you indulge in a world in which you have no physical interaction or true grasp of.

However, while the implementation of parasocial relationships into media users’ lives may seem to impose a greater sense of isolation, it actually provides a greater sense of identity and comfort to viewers. Parasocial relationships refer to a one-sided relationship between a user and an online figure (usually a celebrity), in which one person extends emotional energy, interest, support, and time to the other party, while the online persona is completely unaware. Mainly seen in pop culture, these relationships create the “illusion of a face-to-face relationship” without the factor of rejection.

Though the normalization of connections between celebrities can be seen as a dangerous social media development, especially to parents who worry that their kid may become too attached to a public figure they “know” solely from videos or photos, studies show these relations actually provide companionship and inspiration, as well as comfort and belonging. I too have felt significantly motivated by watching my favorite music artists document their hard work or cheered up by tuning in to their live chats after a long day; through these heartwarming online interactions, I can attest that the idea of having someone there for you, even if it’s from a distance, can provide entertainment and comfort in our monotonous lifestyles.

While social media holds a negative stigma around its addictive elements and harmful mental effects, it is proven to just as effectively provide a great sense of comfort and community. So next time you catch yourself in an unproductive scrolling session, think about whether you’re utilizing the positive or negative sides of social media.

Sources:

“Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations.” Find a Psychologist, 11 June 2019, https://www.findapsychologist.org/parasocial-relationships-the-nature-of-celebrity-fascinations/.

Hilliard, Jena. “Social Media Addiction.” Addiction Center. Accessed 5 Oct. 2021.

McGlew, Molly. "This Is How the TikTok Algorithm Works." Later Blog, 23 June 2019, https://later.com/blog/tiktok-algorithm.

“Wait, What The Heck Is A ‘Parasocial Relationship?” HuffPost, 26 May 2021, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/parasocial-relationships-with-celebrities_l_60a56a18e4b0d45b75248115.

What’s the Science Behind Social Media Addiction? | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy. https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/15/whats-the-science-behind-social-media-addiction/. Accessed 5 Oct. 2021.

Rachel Gai is a junior who lives in Houston, Texas. Besides writing, she loves dancing, photography, art, and learning about filmmaking.

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