Social media has become a part of our daily life, a business and a job for some, or a way of communication for others. It can be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, stay up to date with the latest trends around the world, and a place to share your thoughts and interests with others. However, it has also become a toxic and harmful place for many of its users. Many studies have shown that using social platforms causes negative effects on mental health and the quality of life of many people.

For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how Instagram affects its millions of young users. The company’s researchers have found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, and especially for teenage girls.

What does Facebook know about Instagram users?

According to Facebook’s research, more than 40% of Instagram users are 22 years old or younger, with around 22 million logging on each day in the United States, compared to five million teens logging on Facebook, where young users have been declining..

In 2019 and 2020, Facebook conducted focus groups, internet polls, and diary studies. The research also includes tens of thousands of individuals participating in large-scale surveys in 2021, which linked user responses with Facebook’s own data on how much time users spent on Instagram and what type of content they saw there. The findings showed that Instagram is the most harmful social platform. 

Teenage girls are affected the most by the negative side of social media. 32% of teenage girls surveyed said when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. “Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” states Facebook’s. 

The tendency to share only the best and happy moments, the pressure to look perfect, and an addictive product can lead teens to eating disorders, an unhealthy and negative view about their own bodies, and depression, according to an internal study from March 2020. The Explore section, which provides users with algorithmically selected photos and videos, can lead users to get into potentially harmful content.

Facebook has tried to defend Instagram and its negative effects, and has not made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it. “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” Mark Zuckerberg said.

What negative effects can social media have on your health?

Many social media users experience negative effects of the daily use of social media.  Social platforms undoubtedly have the potential to damage mental wellbeing through promoting unreasonable expectations. The extensive use and addictive nature of social media can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and lack of healthy sleep.

Anxiety & Depression

Social media can cause anxiety to its users by creating the popular concept of FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out refers to “a general fear that others may have rewarding experiences that one is absent from” and is “characterized by a desire to be constantly connected to what others are doing”. FOMO has been associated with heavy use of social media and with negative mood and lack of life satisfaction. We have become more aware of what we are missing, by looking at photos of other people having a good time, traveling or buying new things. These social platforms can create feelings of depression and loneliness by highlighting what others have.

Self-esteem

Social media has been linked to low self-esteem and self-image due to the emergence of image manipulation. The amount of fake, photoshopped and unrealistic bodies online has affected the self-esteem of young women. The daily circulation of fake and unrealistic images creates wrong expectations about the appearance people should have. The Royal Society for Public Health found that 9 out of 10 young women said they were dissatisfied with their appearance.

Sleep 

University of Pittsburgh has conducted a research with 1,700 participants, between 18 to 30 years, about their social media and sleeping habits. They found a link between social media usage and lack of quality sleep, and concluded that the blue light from screens played a big part of the disrupted sleeping cycles.  How often they went on social media, rather than time they spent, was a higher predictor of disturbed sleep, suggesting “an obsessive ‘checking’”, the researchers found.

It is clear that browsing on your phone right before sleep is causing negative effects on your sleep, however, the impacts of blue light exposure may be worse for those who wake up to check their phone during night, after falling asleep. Approximately 21% of adults say that they wake up to check their phone during the night, which disturbes their sleeping cycle and makes falling asleep again harder.

What can you do to mitigate these negative effects?

Using your phone or engaging on social media does not always have to be negative. If you want to prevent any unhealthy side effects, you should be mindful of the way you spend your time online. Reducing the use of your mobile phone before going to bed can greatly improve your quality of sleep and therefore other aspects in life, such as your level of productivity, your energy during the day and the overall health of your brain and body. It is recommended to not use your phone or laptop for one or two hours before going to bed.

Another important way of making social media a positive space is to be mindful of the content you are consuming and the accounts you are following. Social media can be a place where you get inspired and motivated by others, stay connected with your friends and family and up to date with any interest of yours. Therefore, doing a big clean up of any accounts or people that do not bring any positive value to you is a great practice to stay away from negativity. You are in full control of your social media feed and it is okay to click the “unfollow” button. 

Chloe Davies – Administrative Manager, papernest

papernest is a young company that helps people with their administrative procedures.