What springs to mind when you think about the controversial topic of social media use and mental well-being? I would argue; images of supermodels, gigantic yachts and designer clothes that conjure up jealousy in people. However, the latest research shows the effects are far subtler than this.
Facebook bought Instagram back in 2012 for a whopping $1bn, before acquiring Whatsapp 2 years later for $19bn. These two transactions solidified FB as the clear market leader, and showed stakeholders that they were taking hold of future social media development. As a result, FB has a responsibility to acknowledge their flaws, and in late 2017, they published an insightful blog post regarding the negative effects of excessive time spent on their sites.
The article highlighted how FB was built on the philosophy that online connectivity can strengthen offline relationships, for example, to reminisce on past experiences with the ‘On This Day’ feature and to remind users about their friends’ birthdays to enhance celebration. However, research from the University of Michigan shows that passive consumption of trivial social media posts, compared to actual interaction, worsens one’s mood thereafter. This is postulated to be because reading about others causes negative social comparison to detract from social engagement in person. Conversely, research from Carnegie Mellon University showed that sharing messages and commenting on posts by close friends is associated with heightened positive wellbeing, less depression and loneliness, which is hypothesised to be due to rendering a deeper sense of community.
A recent BBC news article described the new features of FB and Instagram built to attempt to battle the negative effects outlined above. Firstly, FB is working to improve the quality of the News Feed so that your friends’ posts are more likely to be at the top of the feed over clickbait headlines. Secondly, the platforms will soon allow you to set a personal time limit for scrolling, get notified when you have reached your allotted time, then ask if you wish to mute push notifications for 15 minutes up to 8 hours. And thirdly, AI technology is being used to detect suicidal posts and direct users to social support via FB Live.
Some argue this is just another way for the platforms to ensure users are spending a fair amount of time on their apps.
To conclude, social media is extremely relative. Despite these preventative actions, individuals have a responsibility to wisely choose how to use social media to ensure it does you more good than bad.