Anxiety and depression are considerable problems for US society and the international community. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA, n.d.), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses affecting almost 40 million adults in the US. These conditions also affect 25% of children from 12 to 18, which may lead to decreased academic performance, missing critical social activities, and substance abuse (ADAA, n.d.).
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According to Bailey Parnell (2017), numerous studies have linked high social media (SM) use with high levels of anxiety and depression in adults and children. In her speech called “Is social media hurting your mental health?” Parnell (2017) claims that inappropriate use of SM may lead to considerable complications for mental health. In other words, SM use is not connected with adverse outcomes, while SM abuse may lead to addiction and mental health implications. Therefore, SM should not be seen as a negative phenomenon, it is a tool that is to be used with caution to promote positive change and experience.
Social Media as an Addiction
In today’s society, SM is often viewed as an addiction because frequent SM users often demonstrate behaviors similar to those of substance abusers and alcoholics. According to Parnell (2017), with every unit of social currency, which are “likes” and “shares,” a person gets a little dose of dopamine. People experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not have access to their accounts (Parnell, 2017).
Moreover, SM users often experience problems controlling the time spent on the matter, and they always want to make one more post or check the likes one more time (Parnell, 2017). According to Hartney (2019), addictions are associated with the inability to stop using, obsession, and taking initial large doses. Considering these symptoms, SM use can be often viewed as an addiction since most of the people have witnessed similar behavior in chronic SM users.
Some people may have a higher chance of developing addictions than others. For instance, recent research demonstrates that extraversion, neuroticism, attachment style, and younger age are positively associated with developing SM addiction (Blackwell, Leaman, Tramposch, Osborne, & Liss, 2017). At the same time, almost all users are affected by the fear of missing out (FOMO), which is a certain addictive feature of SM (Blackwell et al., 2017).
As cited by Parnell (2017), 70% of students of Canadian Universities claim that they would stop using SM if they were not afraid of being ‘out of the loop.’ The fact that SM use has addictive features similar to drugs having addictive constituencies makes people believe that SM users will develop an addiction at a point in time.
However, not all the people using SM develop addictions, which is confirmed by numerous studies. Parnell (2017) claims that almost 90% of 18- to 29-year-olds are on social media, but only some of them develop addictions. While there are no official statistics, it seems evident that extreme addictive behaviors are not common among SM users. SM is generally used to maintain and develop relationships, which is a neutral action.
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Moreover, recent research shows that there is no statistically significant correlation between SM use and satisfaction with life (Hawi & Samaha, 2016). The analysis shows that it is poor self-esteem that causes depression and anxiety associated with SM abuse and not SM use itself (Hawi & Samaha, 2016). Therefore, healthy online behaviors, such as using it for reassurance and motivation, may lead to positive personal changes.
Instead of being viewed as an addictive substance, SM can be considered to be a drug that should be used carefully to avoid side effects. Talking to people online, sharing a positive experience, reassuring peers, or looking at funny pictures is not a bad thing. Instead, it can help people to overcome their fears, improve their mood, and find motivation. However, abuse will lead to a negative experience, similar to drug overdose or improper use.
Following the rules is the key to receiving all the benefits and avoiding the side effects of both drugs and SM use. Parnell (2017) offers a coherent framework for averted adverse outcomes, which may be treated as a general guideline. It includes recognizing the problem, auditing social media diet, creating a better online experience, and modeling good behavior. While these steps seem intuitive, it is vital that they are formulated and maintained to ensure positive outcomes.
Social Media as a Tool
While the negative impact of SM is widely discussed, the benefits of social media are undeniable. In her speech, Parnell (2017) refers to SM as “the most recent tool we use to do what we have always done: tell stories and communicate with each other” (11:03). Indeed, people use SM to keep in touch with distant relatives or friends, create study and groups, learn essential job skills, and express themselves (Smart Social, 2019). SM can also be utilized to spread social awareness and kindness or promote civic engagement (Smart Social, 2019).
In other words, SM is a tool that can help to address the public, find followers or like-minded people, and share happiness. A recent study proved that the use of SM by adolescents improves their ability to understand and share the feelings of their peers (Vossen, & Valkenburg, 2016). The research can be characterized by high validity and reliability due to its longitudinal design. Therefore, instead of emphasizing the dark side of the phenomenon, people may need to focus on promoting positive behavior and empathy.
SM is also a powerful instrument used by marketing and public relations managers to assess and address the needs of potential customers. Duffett (2017) states that SM marketing communications have a positive on each attitude component among adolescents.
SM is convenient since most of the merchandise and services can be ordered using SM websites. Moreover, SM helps to share feedback and experience about products, which helps to avoid dishonest service providers. Increased participation and responsiveness is associated with improved customer satisfaction, which increases the possibility of second sales (Agnihotri, Dingus, Hu, & Krush, 2016). In short, SM is a convenient tool used by business people to sell their products and address their customers.
Instead of considering SM a drug with the possibility of side effects and addiction, it is better viewed as an instrument, which can harm if misused. One cannot cook without a knife, but a malicious intent can turn the tool into a weapon. Cars are vital for moving around the country, but an unskilled driver can take the lives of innocent people in an accident. SM used by people with unprepared minds is similar to tools being used by untrained people. The risk of adverse events may be averted by receiving a proper education, and Parnell’s four-step framework may help to establish the principles of such education.
A Note of Caution
While SM should be viewed as a powerful tool, which can facilitate positive change, it should be used with caution. Knowing about side effects is only the first step to averting them. Almost everyone in modern society knows about the side effect of addictions or unsafe driving. However, addicts are known to be arrogant and self-reliant, which can become a considerable barrier to recovery (Nowinski, Baker, & Carroll, 1998).
Learning is worthless if a person fails to believe in what he or she has learned and implement the findings. According to Blackwell et al. (2017), the possibility of addiction to SM decreases with age; therefore, parents and adults may need to take responsibility for the younger generation and help them gain sufficient coping strategies. As Parnell (2017) mentions, people should practice “safe social” to share all the benefits and avert all the adverse effects. In summary, SM requires cautiousness and responsibility to stay harmless.
The adverse effects of SM are widely discussed in the current literature. Its improper use may be associated with addiction-like symptoms and lead to anxiety and depression. However, instead of thinking of the SM as an addictive drug, it can be treated as a useful tool, which can cause harm if misused. Instead of focusing on the negative side of the phenomenon, the benefits of SM are to be emphasized. SM can be used for learning, sharing experiences, and expressing empathy. Moreover, it can be used to promote products or services efficiently. However, people are to be taught effective strategies and skills to cope with threats, such as FOMO, which leads to addiction.
Agnihotri, R., Dingus, R., Hu, M. Y., & Krush, M. T. (2016). Social media: Influencing customer satisfaction in B2B sales. Industrial Marketing Management, 53, 172-180.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Web.
Blackwell, D., Leaman, C., Tramposch, R., Osborne, C., & Liss, M. (2017). Extraversion, neuroticism, attachment style and fear of missing out as predictors of social media use and addiction. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 69-72.
Duffett, R. G. (2017). Influence of social media marketing communications on young consumers’ attitudes. Young Consumers, 18(1), 19-39.
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Hartney, E. (2019). Signs and symptoms of addiction. Verywell Mind. Web.
Hawi, N. S., & Samaha, M. (2016). The relations among social media addiction, self-esteem, and life satisfaction in university students. Social Science Computer Review, 35(5), 576–586. Web.
Nowinski, J., Baker, S., & Carroll, K. (1998). Twelve step facilitation therapy manual. Web.
Parnell, B. (2017). Is social media hurting your mental health? Web.
Smart Social. (2019). 10 examples of the positive impact of social media. Web.
Vossen, H. G., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 118-124.